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Forging ahead – SFSD interim positions focus on trust

By Stephen Floyd

The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) is preparing a two-pronged approach to temporarily fill the vacant superintendent’s position. The board plans to appoint both an interim superintendent and a goodwill ambassador.

During a March 21 workshop, the SFSD board members said they face the distinct challenges of repairing a growing budget deficit and restoring trust in district leadership.

“There’s more than just a financial, fiduciary oversight,” Board Vice Chair Aaron Koch said. “We have a major fractured trust in our district. We need to fix that… I think we need an individual who can unite us right now.”

For the budget crunch they plan to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the Willamette Education Service District (WESD). 

The agreement would allow WESD Superintendent Joe Morelock to act as interim superintendent for SFSD and tackle a more-than $825,000 projected budget shortfall for the 2023-24 school year.

Morelock’s service in this role would come at no additional cost to SFSD and would bring with it the staff and resources of WESD, according to board discussions.

To address broken trust the board plans to appoint Butte Creek School Principal Kevin Palmer as goodwill ambassador, a new position in the district. 

The board will first create an official title and job description before making a formal appointment.

Acting Superintendent Dan Busch said these tasks could be completed by the end of March and the board could make the appointments during a special meeting before its next regular meeting April 8.

If Morelock and Palmer are appointed, Busch would return to his role as assistant superintendent and head of human resources. Busch said between an ongoing hiring freeze and possible layoffs and furlough days to cut the deficit, the human resources department will have to manage difficult decisions.

The proposed positions for Morelock and Palmer would be effective through June 30. The board plans to appoint a longer-term interim superintendent to start July 1 as it searches for candidates for the superintendent’s position. Palmer said March 21 he was not interested in serving as superintendent. His goal is to return to Butte Creek.

“That is what I love, that is where I need to be,” Palmer explained.

Board members said Morelock’s experience helping districts in crisis will be an asset to SFSD. Board Member Owen Von Flue, who was part of recent talks between SFSD and education association, said he believes Morelock’s “competency was clear.”

Morelock became interim superintendent of the Newberg School District in 2018 as Newberg faced a financial crunch that resulted in layoffs. He won the regular position in 2019. The district teacher’s union  reflected positively on Morelock’s work. In 2021 it said he was “key in the transformation of a struggling district.”

The union’s statement was in response to Morelock being fired by the Newberg school board that year without cause. Conflicts over a new board policy banning staff from displaying “controversial, political, or quasi-political” symbols in schools lead to his dismissal.

Morelock became superintendent of the Woodburn School District in 2022, but left in 2023 to join WESD.

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