After two years of fractured decision-making, the Portland School Board signaled a new beginning Friday by avoiding a split vote on its next board leaders.
But the seven board members may have broken the rules of open government in the process, going into private "recess" to deliberate whether to have one vice chairwoman or two.
Because the board deliberated in small groups, it's an open question whether the groups created a quorum and, if so, whether that violated open meetings law against private board discussions.
In any case, the board agreed unanimously to make Julia Brim-Edwards, a senior director for Nike who served on the PPS board from 2001 to 2005, the chairwoman. The board also voted 7-0 after the "recess" to make Julie Esparza Brown, an education professor at Portland State University and a board member since 2015, co-vice chairwoman with Rita Moore, a political scientist who won election in May alongside Brim-Edwards.
Esparza Brown, the only non-white member of the board (not including the student representative who doesn't vote) told Willamette Week Thursday that a majority of board colleagues had lined up behind Moore in separate, private discussions. The first Latina on the board, Esparza Brown told the weekly that the PPS board ought to be making more space for diverse leaders.
The discussion to make Esparza Brown and Moore co-vice chairwomen happened during a "recess" in the public board meeting, in front of community members who, nonetheless, couldn't hear the talks, The Oregonian reported Friday.
PPS's new general counsel, Jim Harris, told the Portland Tribune after the meeting that board members were trying to show "courtesy" to colleagues who were being nominated for leadership roles in a way they may not have been expecting. Initially, there had been separate, competing motions to make Moore or Esparza Brown the vice chairwoman. "It may not have been a technical violation," he said in a statement, "but it may have been a violation of the spirit of conducting the public's business in public."
The election of Moore and Esparza Brown as co-vice chairwomen smooths over the most obvious rift on the board—concerns over the past conduct of Paul Anthony, the board member under fire last month from principals to resign.
Moore has been a supporter of Anthony, who is seen by many as a champion for parents and transparency. Esparza Brown, on the other hand, openly questioned whether Anthony could continue to be effective as a school-board member after having lost many principals' and administrators' trust. A group representing principals had called on Anthony to resign after the results of a public records request showed Anthony circumventing the superintendent to direct employees and privately using vulgar language to describe colleagues and PPS subordinates. Before that call, Anthony had been angling for the role of board chairman.
Board member Amy Kohnstamm joined principals in their call for Anthony to resign. She backed Esparza Brown, nominating her to be vice chairwoman before the board made the switch to have co-vice chairwomen.
PPS recorded Friday's meeting on video but stopped filming during the "recess."
Brim-Edwards later said the board would get additional instructions on public meetings. "This will give everyone a refresher as we start our new work," she said.
Correction: This article initially said that the vote to make Julia Brim-Edwards the chairwoman of the board also occurred after the recess. It occurred before.