School & District Management

Portland, Ore., Superintendent Steps Down Amid Lead Controversy

By Denisa R. Superville — July 19, 2016 2 min read
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Carole Smith, the head of the public schools in Portland, Ore., announced that she was stepping down Monday following an independent report that was critical the district’s handling of lead-testing, record-keeping, and lead abatement policies, the Associated Press reports.

Smith, who has been superintendent for the last nine years, had already announced that she planned to retire in June 2017. She moved up the date in the wake of the report.

Parents had been angry with school officials since May, when the district reported that it had found elevated lead levels in water samples at two schools. The tests were conducted in March, but parents weren’t informed until May, the Oregonian reported.

The district’s senior health and safety manager and chief operating officer were placed on paid leave in June amid the fallout, according to the Oregonian.

Smith told the paper at the time that the two were unable to give “accurate and timely information about lead testing and abatement.”

But, according to the report by Stoll Berne, for the past 15 years the district “has had no established procedures or protocols for testing for elevated levels of lead in drinking water.” And while some practices were developed in 2002, they were not consistently applied, according to the report. It said that between 2002 and 2016, the district’s actions on addressing lead were mainly “reactive” in response to questions from parents and staff.

The district’s lead-testing database was also inaccurate, according to the report, and there was no process for communicating whatever issues arose with testing to those in leadership positions, the report notes.

In one instance, a former district spokesman “knowingly” provided incomplete water testing reports to a reporter, according to the paper.

Federal law does not require that schools annually test drinking water for lead. But since the lead-contamination water crisis in Flint, Mich., more attention is being paid to whether schools are testing drinking water for lead and the corrective measures they are taking if the water is found to be contaminated.

In a statement posted on the district’s website, Smith said that it was her 90-day notice.

She wrote that the report showed “no indication that anyone intended harm or to neglect his or her job duties,” and “highlighted funding, prioritization and systems issues.”

She also said that she had given the school board a list of recommendations “to address the health and safety of our schools, as well as systems and operational concerns we have identified over the last few weeks that align with many of the issues outlined in the report.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.