Wednesday the Register-Guard published a front page story headlined "Secret school emails released." The article outlined the contents of personal emails and text messages between individual Eugene 4-J school board members concerning Superintendent Sheldon Berman. (see statements below)
The documents were accidentally sent to the newspaper by the law firm representing the Eugene school district.
Wendy Baker is Chief Council with the Register Guard. She describes receiving the box of 500 documents. earlier this week.
Baker: "By the time I got to the fourth of fifth page I realized that they were not redacted and I'd expected to see redacted documents. So yeah, I was shocked."
Baker says after much discussion they made the editorial decision to publish.Baker: "What our responsibility was with regard to the other attorney or to that law firm and to the public. And once we saw what was in the records and there were these apparent serious violations of public meetings laws, we felt that that outweighed any concern that we had about not sharing them."
In a written statement, Shelly Berman says he is "surprised and saddened by the article." He also says he's "concerned about the damage it may do to …the district and the board, as well to myself personally.”
4-J School Board Chairman Jim Torrey has also offered a statement, saying "Mistakes happen. Now it is time to move forward and… reinforce our respect for consistently open and candid board discussions of school district business."
Eugene 4-J Superintendent Shelly Berman provided the following statement:
Statement from Sheldon Berman in response to April 29 Register-Guard article
A news article in today’s Register-Guard includes quotes from emails sent between school board members last year. Having never seen or read the emails it refers to, I am surprised and saddened by the article, and also concerned about the damage it may do to how some community members perceive the district and the board, as well as me personally. The emails were sent during a time that was particularly challenging for the district, the board and me. The year since has been a much more positive and productive time. I think it’s fair to say that the quoted emails and the article don’t begin to describe or reflect the many accomplishments we have achieved.
The 2013–14 school year was an extraordinarily challenging year for everyone in 4J, given the budget cuts and the burdens imposed on the district by both new state requirements and upgrades of key software systems. In spite of all the challenges we have faced over the past four years, the district has made progress in fully scheduling high school students, turning the corner on graduation rates and achievement gaps at the high school level, expanding programs for students in need of support, upgrading curriculum and technology, providing critically needed professional development, reducing the number of furlough days, addressing equity issues across schools and regions, upgrading facilities, and balancing the district’s budget.
When I came to Eugene I was asked to implement significant changes and improve student performance while implementing dramatic budget reductions and bringing consistency and coherence to a largely site-based system. These changes were not easy, nor were they always popular. However, I believe that they are serving students well and will continue to do so in the long term.
I have worked diligently to address concerns raised in my discussions with board members last year. I believe that I have addressed those concerns well this year, as evidenced by the acknowledgement offered by board chair Jim Torrey and sent to the entire staff just two weeks ago. My reasons for leaving Eugene remain largely personal and family ones.
My focus has always been on what is best for students. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in 4J and proud of the leadership I’ve provided. I am also proud of the collaboration among district leaders, particularly this year, in moving the district’s strategic plan forward. Most of all, I’m proud of the incredible commitment and dedication of the entire 4J staff in working to improve outcomes for students.
Eugene School Board Chair Jim Torrey provided the following statement:
As experienced public officials, we have a deep and abiding respect for Oregon's public records and public meetings laws. Those laws ensure that citizens are informed of how we conduct the public's business, warts and all. The school district's disagreement with the Register Guard on disclosure of a limited number of records was on its way to a proposed settlement when documents at issue were mistakenly sent to the newspaper's legal counsel by the district's lawyer. Mistakes happen. Now it is time to move forward and use this as an opportunity to reinforce our respect for consistently open and candid board discussions of school district business.
Chair - Eugene 4J Board of Directors