The Bennett Pearson Academy (BPA) Charter School Fight

My name is Scott Bennett. My wife is Cherie Bennett, and both of us were members of the original Board of Directors, before Bennett Pearson Academy (BPA) was awarded its charter. We believed in the educational value of Microsociety from our first introduction, and have witnessed that value build exponentially with the skills and test scores of the students. One of our children attends BPA and she raves daily about her learning activities, so we have a vested interest in this school’s long-term viability.

In regard to the Statesman-Journal article, parents were picketing against the Board of Directors for its blatant disregard for public meetings law, refusal to answer budget-related questions or provide copies of public records, and efforts to exclude parents from participation in school governance. Scanned copies of the law violation charges presented to then-President Leon Scott, then-Vice President Michael Warren, then-Treasurer Hamil Poton, and then-Secretary Pamela Sloan, at the time they were removed from the Board of Directors are available via links below. I will henceforth refer to this group as the ‘Old Board’.
For those of you who do not know, Cherie Bennett, former office manager, is a founding board member. Prior to beginning the school year, she tendered a temporary resignation from the Board in order to accept part-time employment at the school. On Friday, 19 April, she gave notice to the Administrator, Deana Dean, that she quit her position. At the board meeting later that day, she rescinded her resignation which restored her position on the board, presented copies of the charges to the previously named individuals, read aloud a summary of the charges, relieved that group of their positions on the Board, and designated replacements (the ‘New Board’).
Precedent for this procedure was set last summer, when Mr. Scott and Mr. Warren ousted Cathe Pearson, another BPA original board member and then-President. Surprisingly, the Old Board refused to recognize the aforementioned actions (their own previously used tactics) and retreated to another room in the school building under the pretense of ‘Executive Session’.
Later that evening, fearing retaliation, some parents remained in the building to have the locks changed and begin the process of making board change notifications. The purpose of replacing locks was to prevent unauthorized access to areas in which student records were kept, particularly the open office area and administrator’s office due to previous unlawful access and non-student record removal by Old Board members. Unfortunately, the locksmith had replacement parts for only two locks, as the others were believed obsolete. A parent disabled the others as a temporary security measure until the locksmith could secure new hardware on Monday. There was no malicious intent in these actions.
Mrs. Bennett notified Matt Lowe of O’Donnell Clark & Crew, LLP, attorney of record for BPA Charter School, that the ‘Old Board’ was no longer authorized to incur expenses against the school. However, Mr. Lowe refused to recognize the ‘New Board’. His firm has petitioned the Marion County Circuit Court repeatedly for Restraining Orders and Injunctions against Mrs. Bennett and other BPA parents. Also linked below are scanned copies of the legal documents.
The school has no budget for all of these legal actions, which are yet more examples of the Old Board’s failure to uphold their corporate fiduciary responsibilities, and failure to put the school’s welfare before their own in accordance with the Oath of Office (that they wrote). Their latest document indicates that they are going to attempt recovery of their legal and other costs by seeking a judgement against us. Well, if we had piles of money sitting around, we would probably be using it for a lawyer, too. We don’t, so an unfunded judgement against us will not help the school any more than the Old Board’s actions.
The above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

- In regard to Leon Scott’s role as President of the Bennett Pearson Academy Charter School’s Board of Directors, and other matters as they relate to his qualification for, and fulfillment of, responsibilities of said position:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_20120419_Formal_Charges_Leon_Scott.pdf

- In regard to Michael Warren‘s role as Vice President of the Bennett Pearson Academy Charter School‘s Board of Directors, and other matters as they relate to his qualification for, and fulfillment of, responsibilities of said position:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_20120419_Formal_Charges_Michael_Warren.pdf

- In regard to Hamil Poton’s* role as Treasurer of the Bennett Pearson Academy Charter School‘s Board of Directors, and other matters as they relate to his qualification for, and fulfillment of, responsibilities of said position:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_20120419_Formal_Charges_Hamil_Poton.pdf

*We heard that Mr. Poton supposedly tendered his resignation from the Board. The most recent legal filing from O’Donnell Clark Crew LLP alleges that he still serves on the Board, however, in spite of a background check which revealed past deferred-conviction on multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors, apparently dismissed after treatment.

- In regard to Pamela Sloan‘s role as Secretary of the Bennett Pearson Academy Charter School‘s Board of Directors, and other matters as they relate to her qualification for, and fulfillment of, responsibilities of said position:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_20120419_Formal_Charges_Pamela_Sloan.pdf

- Legal filings with Marion County Circuit Court, Salem, Oregon, by BPA’s attorney at O’Donnell Clark Crew LLP (public records):

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120423_Complaint_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120423_Declaration_of_Roggendorf_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120423_Temp_Restraint_Motion_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120423_Temp_Restraint_Order_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120430_Prelim_Injunction_Motion_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/ODonnell_Clark_Crew_20120427_1st_Amended_Complaint_MCCC_12-C15082.pdf

Since this topic is rather depressing, I thought I would include something I find amusing: an open letter from Old Board Vice President Mike Warren, posted on BPA’s website on or about 24 April 2012 (link below). How is it that a ‘Department of Justice’ can, as he claims, accept two hours of one-sided testimony to determine who is in the right here?

Of particular interest is his claim, “[...] we have made our best effort to be prudent with our financial management [...]“. How could that possibly be true, in light of the fact that the Old Board agreed to amend the building lease agreement to limit the landlord’s obligation to complete necessary improvements? The attic is, in my estimate, only about 30-percent insulated (with what appears to be mineral wool) and the cause of an outrageous wintertime heating bill. A plumber indicated that the plumbing was not installed properly and is the cause of routinely backed-up toilets, a situation that to my knowledge has not been addressed. At last inspection, there were several air supply registers in the floors that have no ductwork connecting them to the HVAC units. The State Fire Marshall recommended some time ago that the fire sprinkler pipes in the attic needed heat-trace tape and insulation on them in order to prevent freezing; instead, electric space heaters were placed in the attic.

His attack of Teresa Campbell, former school administrator, is ironic. In addition to her School Administrator license, Ms. Campbell is also a licensed attorney and employed her legal knowledge daily for the benefit of the school. This took many forms, from assisting in navigating corporate and financial law, to repeatedly warning Old Board members of their public meetings and records law violations. She worked tirelessly to assist in mitigating risk to the school, including scheduling at least three Oregon Department of Education (ODE)-requested ethics training sessions for the Old Board. On the occasion of each training session, Old Board members either did not arrive or requested that the training be postponed. In her position of administrator, the de facto liaison with ODE, she was both legally and morally obligated to report unlawful actions of the Old Board to the ODE Charter Administrator.

The Old Board praised Ms. Campbell in public board meetings, but then chose to not renew her contract, without input from parents. While I certainly mean no offense to her replacement, Deana Dean, it must be pointed out that the Old Board installed someone with fewer qualifications than Ms. Campbell, and at almost twice the expense. This is yet another example of the Old Board failing in their corporate fiduciary responsibility, and failing to put the school’s best interest ahead of their personal feelings in accordance with their Oath of Office.

He states in the letter that, “[...] this written statement reflects my personal opinions and does not reflect the opinions of our entire board of directors”. However, the act of posting it in on the BPA’s website would have required the Old Board’s permission, so the fact that it was posted there contradicts his claim.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Mike_Warren_Open_Letter_Posted_on_BPA_Website_20120424.pdf

Hello, everyone! I wish I didn’t have more to say in regard to BPA’s Old Board, but their actions could serve as a business case study in what to not do.

Reading through piles of collected documents, I learned that charges were presented by Sarah Letterman and Teresa Hicks, parents of BPA students, to the Old Board at the December 2011 Board Meeting. The charges included public meeting law violations, entering the locked Administrator’s office without escort or Board approval to access financial records being held for an audit, independent actions of Board members in violation of corporate governance laws and the BPA Policies and Procedures, and failure to respond appropriately to public records requests. Copy available at this link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_2011_December_Charges_Against_Board.pdf

The Old Board responded with denial, excuses, counter-accusations, and threats of legal action. Copy available at this link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/34661001/Bennett_Pearson_Academy_2011_December_Charges_Board_Response.pdf

Are you now beginning to see the Old Board’s pattern of behavior? Every time they have been challenged on their decisions or actions, the result has been as stated above, rather than the behavioral changes sought by the school’s stakeholders. The Old Board members apparently lack the ability to take criticism of any kind, learn from it, and make positive changes. They have also proven repeatedly that they have no interest in following Federal and State laws, or the BPA’s corporate by-laws. It is my opinion that no good can come from mediation between the Old Board and parents, since the Old Board has proven itself incapable of accepting and appropriately addressing the concerns of others, or changing its behavior.

Recently, the Old Board presented contracts to the teachers for the next school year. I don’t know the contents of the contracts, but do know that the teachers were interested in a cost-of-living increase. Their request is perfectly reasonable, but raises questions related to BPA’s budget for next year which must be addressed. Where is the budget? Does it account for the fact that all charter school-related federal grant funding has been cancelled? Does it include costs to fix all the building issues from which they released the landlord? Does it include the debt incurred by the Old Board for attorney fees related to the defense of their positions and counterattack on concerned parents? If the Old Board enters contracts with teachers without a balanced budget, then how do they know the BPA’s limits in satisfying the teachers’ demands, and how can they confirm their ability to pay the teachers through the course of their contracts? Doesn’t it seem somewhat fraudulent to make promises that one does not know in advance that they will be able to keep?

The Old Board hired a replacement administrator at higher pay rate than that budgeted for the position. In light of this action, other financially detrimental decisions, their proven aversion toward acting in a public forum and keeping records of such, and my own questions, I am deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the BPA Charter School with the Old Board at its helm. You should be, too.

It is my understanding that BPA parents have appealed verbally, in writing, and/or with signed petitions to government agencies, including the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon School Board Association, Oregon Attorney General, and others for assistance in resolving these matters. To my knowledge, no agency has responded with any form of support, so you must understand the amount of frustration that led to the parents’ attempt to replace the Old Board.

We must ask ourselves, what value does this school have for the Old Board that would cause them to fight so hard for control where they are clearly not welcome? Why should a group of people who have no obvious stake here be allowed to continually violate the law regarding open meetings and public records, while simultaneously driving it to financial ruin with irresponsible decisions made in back-door meetings? What could possibly have caused them to avoid the ODE’s ethics training other than subsequent expectations of accountability? Do we want people running our school who see the rule of law as a nuisance except when a means to their own ends, a tool used to bully others, and a shield to hide behind?

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