Vote shows lingering rift on Everett School Board

Three members of the Everett School Board will now be responsible for discussing Superintendent Gary Cohn’s annual review, leaving two board members with no formal role in the evaluation.

The move to have a committee discuss the review, rather than all five school board members, was approved 3-1 Tuesday evening.

Jessica Olson was the only board member to vote against it. Board member Carol Andrews was absent.

Prior to the vote, Olson said that if the change was approved, “we’ll cement our reputation as the laughingstock school board.”

After the proposal was first discussed two weeks ago, Olson said she felt the change was approved as a way to block her comments about Cohn, whom she has criticized in the past.

The change follows a well-publicized scrap in August. The board was planning to discuss Cohn’s annual evaluation in executive session, meetings that are closed to the public.

Olson contended the parameters for Cohn’s review should take place in a public meeting. School board members had been handed a draft review written by Ed Petersen, who was then school board president.

Olson contended that the meeting did not meet requirements for an executive session. She turned on her video recorder, which she also uses to record the school board’s public sessions.

A few minutes later, a tussle broke out over a copy of a draft of Cohn’s review between Olson, Petersen and Kristi Dutton, who decided not to seek re-election after serving on the school board for 12 years.

Police were called to take reports on the scuffle, but no charges were filed. A portion of the scuffle, videotaped by Olson, was posted online.

On Tuesday, Olson asked how the policy for the three-member committee was developed. Cohn said that the board had discussed “processes and experiences” that had taken place in executive sessions. He and Jeff Russell, school board president, met to review the board’s policy on committees “and created this revision to it,” he said.

The revised policy says school board committees are limited to two members, except the committee to evaluate the superintendent, which will have three members. Cohn’s base salary is $175,018.

Because the review of an employee is a personnel matter, much of the work of the committee will likely be conducted behind closed doors.

Prior to the meeting, Russell said he would choose the committee members and would be one of its three members. He also will write the superintendent’s formal evaluation. Copies of the document may be requested by the public, Russell said.

Russell said the new policy was required because the school board had attempted to discuss Cohn’s performance several times, but the discussion never occurred because Olson refused to turn off her computer and video recording equipment.

Olson has insisted that she would not record portions of executive sessions where personnel matters, such as Cohn’s performance, were being discussed.

The three-member committee also will be responsible for more informal mid-year conversations with Cohn about his performance.

The first of those discussions had been planned for January, but was not held because Olson would not turn off her computer, Russell said.

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