Community voices distrust in Maxwell

Former teacher reads letter, cites financial, workplace concerns



Superintendent Bob Maxwell discusses the agenda with Finance Manager Diane Hodge.

IAN SMAY, Evergreen reporter

Members of the public, including a former multiple decade veteran of the Pullman School District, voiced concerns over the leadership of Superintendent Bob Maxwell and Assistant Superintendent Roberta Kramer at a meeting Wednesday night.

A group of community members led by Margi Vogel, who retired this year after 33 years as a teacher in the Pullman School District, criticized and expressed a lack of confidence in the district’s leadership by reading an open letter during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The concerns listed in the letter by Vogel included financial decisions during Maxwell’s tenure.

“We are in the business of serving children and families,” she said “That is why we’re here. Fat bank accounts don’t help children.”

Maxwell was not allowed to respond during the public comment period.

The “fat bank account” Vogel mentioned in her speech refers to faculty members learning the district had $8.1 million in their account at the end of May, she said.

Pullman Public Schools Board Member Nathan Roberts, who oversees the finance committee, said most of the money was planned to be spent on various areas such as payroll contingencies in case the state government runs in to budget trouble.

“It’s a very wise thing to be fiscally responsible,” Roberts said. “Especially in times of budget shenanigans like the state is doing.”

Roberts also said the budget only has $113,000 left when all expenditures are accounted for, but there still may be other issues in the district.

“I don’t disagree that there are problems,” he said. “But the finances thing is a little bit of how you present it and I want to make sure we are all on the same page.”

Another major point in Vogel’s speech was the treatment of employees, in particular former Jefferson Elementary Principal Craig Nelson, who left the school after 15 years due to what Vogel said was “the definition of bullying.”

After issues arose at the school, Vogel said Maxwell held a comment session for parents and staff to voice concerns over what was causing the problems at Jefferson Elementary. Vogel said Maxwell blamed Nelson for all of the issues instead of listening to some of the ideas people had for why the problems began.

“The main thing Dr. Maxwell took away from the meeting was ‘everything was Craig [Nelson’s] fault,” Vogel said. “What good is a listening tour when the listener doesn’t listen?”

The other reasons for people speaking out about a lack of confidence in Maxwell and Kramer included leaving principals out of hiring decisions, as well as a perception held by many faculty members that Maxwell tried to hire teachers that would work as a “mole,” Vogel said.

Two others in attendance gave Vogel their allotted three minutes of comment time in order to allow her to finish the letter. A round of applause was held for about half-a-minute by those in attendance.

A pair of community members, including district faculty, also spoke during the comment period. One asked the Board to be more transparent going forward as to how they addressed news reports on the issue, while the other voiced concerns similar to those Vogel listed.

Vogel said she spoke up due to teachers fearing their future in the district.

“Teachers are truly living in fear of losing their jobs,” she said. “They wonder who’s going to lose their job or leave next. We need conscientious leadership in this district.”

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that one, not both, speakers other than Vogel had echoed similar worries, while the other asked for increased transparency from the Board.