MONROE — The week before Justin Blasko was put on administrative leave in mid-December, two Monroe School District employees alleged the superintendent created a “hostile work environment,” including instances of “intimidation, abuse of power and unethical behavior.”
The employees reported they no longer felt comfortable having one-on-one conversations or meetings with Blasko. They requested an outside witness present for all meetings with the superintendent.
One of the two complaints filed Dec. 9 claimed Blasko repeatedly violated district policies on workplace civility, including calling current and former employees derogatory names, targeted at women: “angry BIPOC female,” “evil (expletive)” and a “raging (expletive), no wonder her husband divorced her.”
“BIPOC” stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.
The same employee reported enduring an “incredible amount of work related stress and trauma” since Blasko took over in early 2020.
“I honestly feel like a coward not reporting instances earlier,” the employee wrote. “Today, I asked myself what I would do if my daughter asked me for advice if she was in this situation and it brought me to tears. I have considered leaving Monroe School District many times but I am committed to making this district a better place, my family lives in this community, my children attend school in our district, and I cannot in good faith leave knowing that there is a hostile, toxic work environment for myself and many of my colleagues that has affected the district from the ground up.”
The written civil rights complaints were filed with the district’s executive director of human resources and the superintendent of the educational service district that includes Monroe. They were obtained by The Daily Herald via public records request.
In a brief phone conversation Thursday morning, Blasko asked how a Herald reporter got his phone number and then hung up.
Melanie Ryan, the president of the Monroe Equity Council, said she’s heard from dozens of other people close to the district telling similar stories of “manipulation,” “abuse of power” and “complete indifference.”
“This is real and it’s painful,” she said in an interview.
One of the complaints also alleged the superintendent, who was formerly the district’s executive director of human resources, called a Monroe High School teacher an “asshole.” The employee said there were many other similar violations.
District policy notes employees who “engage in uncivil behavior may be subject to corrective action or discipline.” And retaliation for reporting is also subject to discipline. The employees filed the complaints confidentially out of fear of retaliation from Blasko. One feared losing their job.
“Dr. Blasko’s behavior is unacceptable and needs to be addressed immediately,” one employee wrote.
As concerns over the superintendent’s leadership of the district and the handling of racism were growing in December, the employees report they heard Blasko say he’d had a recent meeting with School Board members. They claim he said, “I only spoke to the three that will support me so that I have the majority.”
In the same conversation, they allege Blasko also said if he did need to step down, a board member “already did me a solid and increased my severance package so I will be fine.” They also say he tried to shift blame away from himself for the lack of equity work in the district, a chief concern that put Blasko under the microscope.
They argued he was scapegoating for his own “lack of leadership.”
Amid calls for his resignation, the School Board put Blasko on administrative leave later that month and moved to hire an outside firm to investigate allegations of Blasko’s misconduct.
“The School Board takes all reports of harassment, intimidation, bullying, racism, and discrimination very seriously, whether they are from staff or students,” Monroe School Board President Jennifer Bumpus said in a statement at the time.
Former assistant U.S. attorney and civil litigator Kris Cappel is leading the ongoing inquiry.
Blasko arrived in 2010. He earned a superintendent credential in 2009 and a doctorate in education after hiring on with the district. In 2016, he was named assistant superintendent of learning and teaching. He got the district’s top job in February 2020.
He now makes almost $250,000 a year.
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