MONROE — An outside investigation has found numerous instances of inappropriate language, bullying and sexist outbursts by the Monroe school superintendent.
The report was posted to the web Friday evening, on the eve of a holiday weekend, five months after Justin Blasko was placed on administrative leave amid concerns over his handling of racist incidents in schools and reports of a troubling work environment.
Emails, text messages and other records were reviewed and 50 people were interviewed for the report prepared by Kris Cappel, a Seattle lawyer with the Seabold Group. Some of those interviewed said they had no issues with Blasko. Others working close to him were “some of his harshest critics,” the report states. Several reported Blasko “leads through fear and intimidation and has created a toxic work environment that permeates throughout the district.”
His future with the district remains hazy.
The investigation paints a damning portrayal of Blasko as a man obsessed with self-preservation and public image.
Some witnesses described him as “volatile and unpredictable” and not receptive to feedback. Interviewees also reported feeling targeted by Blasko if they confronted him. Multiple staffers were reduced to tears after he called them out in meetings. And he sometimes made comments “that were viewed as insensitive, unprofessional, and in some cases cruel,” the report said. For example, multiple witnesses told the investigator that Blasko — the district’s former executive director of human resources — referred to certain women with a sexist expletive or as “evil.”
District policy states employees will “treat each other and students with dignity and respect” and “refrain from use of abusive language.” While the investigator didn’t explicitly write that Blasko violated this policy, the allegations leave little doubt.
Blasko was interviewed multiple times for the investigation. He denied many of the statements attributed to him, but the investigator concluded he wasn’t forthcoming. He did concede to calling one former principal that sexist expletive.
In a written response also posted online Friday by the district, Blasko apologized “to those who were hurt by my actions.” He called the allegations against him “deeply troubling.”
“As I dealt with the stress brought on by the pandemic, I acknowledge that I did not always keep my emotions in check,” he wrote. “At times my professionalism lapsed, and I vented my frustration in private meetings with colleagues. I should have exercised more discretion.”
He added he didn’t recall many of the specific incidents alleged in the report, but “I do not question the integrity of the people who have contributed to the report, nor do I question the validity of their personal experiences or perceptions.”
Some of those interviewed reported Blasko promoted an “us against them” approach, according to the report. The teachers’ union later overwhelmingly voted no-confidence in the superintendent.
Three witnesses said he referred to a woman assisting the union as an “angry BIPOC woman trying to prove herself.” They also reported that he said he “feels sorry for her husband.” Another witness claimed Blasko said that her employer couldn’t “get rid of her because she’s a woman of color.” The superintendent denied making those comments.
In another conflict between the teachers’ union and Blasko, he ordered first-grade teachers to return to the classroom in November 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report. In a letter, he wrote that non-compliance could result in discipline, including firing. The union filed a grievance and prevailed.
Witnesses also reported Blasko instructed the public records manager to delay response to a records request until after he had renegotiated his contract. Blasko denied this. Last summer, the board approved a three-year contract with Blasko, effective through June 30, 2024, to replace his original three-year contract. Then, on Nov. 22, the outgoing board approved an amendment to the contract extending it to June 30, 2025.
According to the report, Blasko also directed administrators to stop taking notes in meetings because they would become public records. It was unclear to the investigator whether or not this alleged directive was followed.
Other comments attributed to the superintendent in the report include:
• Calling an elementary school principal a “cult leader.”
• Complaining about that principal bringing her newborn to work and stating, “Being a single mom is not my problem.”
• Referring to female administrators as “bipolar.”
• Calling members of his leadership team “(expletive) snowflakes,” because they took sick leave after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Saying someone was a “(expletive) idiot” that he would have fired, if not for lawyers.
• Joking about a male staffer who painted his fingernails.
• Being consistently and openly critical of “woke culture.”
• Surmising that only women disliked him because some can’t handle “really masculine men.”
• Saying teachers are “lazy,” which is why they didn’t want to return to in-person learning.
• Commenting that a pregnant principal was a “disaster” who “had no business having another baby.”
• Noting that “it’s not illegal to be an asshole” shortly before being placed on administrative leave.
• Lashing out when a building administrator insisted he wear a mask when entering the school.
Blasko joined the Monroe School District in 2010 as executive director of human resources. 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.
The Monroe School Board named Blasko superintendent on Feb. 10, 2020, just as a global pandemic was underway. He makes almost $250,000 per year.
Concerns over Blasko’s leadership of the district grew in the final months of 2021, when an argument at Monroe High School led to felony hate-crime charges against a father. It sparked a discussion of racism that led other Black families to report harassment in the district’s schools.
Around the same time, two employees filed anonymous complaints alleging Blasko created a “hostile work environment,” including instances of “intimidation, abuse of power and unethical behavior” that violated district policy.
As this was going on, Blasko told senior staffers he’d hired a consultant who recommended he urge district leaders to support him, according to the report.
In mid-December, parents and teachers called for Blasko’s firing, saying an inadequate response to the racism concerns and allegations of an unsafe work environment made him unfit to continue in the position.
Days later, he was put on administrative leave as Cappel investigated the issues.
The school board received the inquiry’s final report earlier this month. It was also provided to Blasko. The report remained confidential until it was posted publicly just after 5 p.m. Friday.
In his written response to the report, Blasko noted he “will continue to advocate for Monroe schools and for the students, teachers and families in the district.”
Chief Academic Officer Kim Whitworth has served as acting superintendent since December.
The Monroe Equity Council released a statement late Friday, calling for Blasko’s resignation:
“If we are to believe Blasko’s apology and his statement of his continued advocacy for Monroe school, there is no other option than to accept the accountability and consequences that come with resignation. To force the Board to act via termination, in order to receive a financial pay out from this district, is an abdication of moral responsibility.”
In a statement, School Board President Jennifer Bumpus said the board couldn’t comment on the merits of the investigation. She committed to “communicating clearly” with the public about next steps.
“We must keep ourselves to the highest neutral standards to protect the integrity of this process, and to ensure that any decisions the board ultimately makes are able to take effect without questions about neutrality or due process,” Bumpus told The Daily Herald in a text message.
In the two weeks since the board got the completed report, the panel has held multiple closed-door meetings “to review the performance of an employee,” including one lasting 1¼ hours Thursday evening. That meeting adjourned without action.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.