July 29, 2008

Bates Named Acting Hockinson Schools Chief

By Howard Buck, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Jul. 29--No. 2 is the new No. 1 at the Hockinson School District for the next several weeks, and perhaps longer.

The district announced Monday that Assistant Superintendent Maggie Bates is now "acting superintendent designee" while Superintendent Delcine Mesa-Johnson is traveling in China with high school band members.

The school board has inked a separation agreement with Mesa-Johnson that reassigns her as "superintendent on special assignment," effective Aug. 18.

Her resignation from the district is set for June 30, 2009.

Both sides agreed to the pact last week, following months of turmoil over Mesa-Johnson's management and personal style, followed by a blistering job performance review.

The agreement cites health concerns as her reason to seek different duties and her resignation, one year before her three-year contract was to expire.

"The level of stress in the district was really affecting people's health," said school board President Erik Mattson.

Conflict "ultimately came down to personalities and personnel" and mediation failed, he said Monday.

"It's a mutual agreement. People realize it for what it is," Mattson said. The district sought to avoid a legal battle, he added. "Out of all the possible outcomes, I think this is a good one. It's unfortunate, but the best thing is to make some adjustments, some reassignments, and to move on."

Mesa-Johnson will continue at full salary and benefits and retain access to district e-mail and voice mail, whether she works from home or a district office. Her salary for the 2008-09 school year will be $115,671.

Nothing keeps her from obtaining other employment before June 2009. Any new salary would offset the monthly amount owed by Hockinson.

Duties outlined for Mesa-Johnson include negotiation of a new teachers' contract and wetlands mitigation on district property.

Bates has taken charge before. She ran the district for 21/2 months in 2005, when one-year Interim Superintendent Dick Minarik was placed on leave during investigation of alleged sexual harassment (with no conclusion reached).

Mesa-Johnson was chosen from four job finalists and began at Hockinson in July 2005.

If asked to pinch-hit as leader for several weeks heading into the new school year, Bates said she's prepared.

"I have a sense of what it entails," Bates said. "If that's what the board directs, that's what I will do." Anything more "would require considerably more conversation" with the school board, she said.

Mattson said that discussion must wait until the board next meets on Aug. 26.

Howard Buck covers schools and education. He can be reached at 360-735-4515 or [email protected]


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