Marysville superintendent claimed a ‘hostile’ work environment

A newly released investigative report calls it a “contentious working relationship.” In any event, Jason Thompson is gone.

Jason Thompson (Marysville School District)

Jason Thompson (Marysville School District)

MARYSVILLE — Outgoing Superintendent Jason Thompson filed a complaint against the School Board president and the former deputy superintendent on March 16, days before the district announced Thompson would be taking a medical leave of absence.

“The Board of Directors of the Marysville School District — specifically the Board President — have created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment,” Thompson wrote in the complaint. “This environment has made it so that I do not feel safe, trusted, or protected.”

It took another six months before the district released a public update on his status.

Thompson, who was in his late 50s at the time of his complaint, alleged age discrimination. He also accused School Board President Vanessa Edwards and Deputy Superintendent Lori Knudson of working together to “target” executive-level employees.

Investigators hired by the district found insufficient evidence to support most of Thompson’s claims.

“There was no grounding to any of the accusations,” said Paul Galovin, the Marysville School Board vice president. “We’re in a position right now where we can move forward.”

On March 18, an attorney assigned to lead an investigation into Thompson’s claims advised the district’s human resources department to put the superintendent on administrative leave, according to documents obtained by The Daily Herald through a public records request.

The next day, the superintendent of three years began his leave, District spokesperson Jodi Runyon told The Herald in a March 24 email. Publicly, the district continued to maintain it was a medical leave.

“Please be assured that he does not have a severe illness,” Runyon wrote.

Meanwhile, the district was grappling with its response to two separate racist threats involving students. A group of parents called for Marysville School District leaders to resign.

Thompson will not return.

In September, the district agreed to pay him $21,629.85 per month until his resignation takes effect at the end of the school year.

“It was ‘fight it’ in lawyer terms, or ‘not fight it’ and seek what we got,” Galovin said.

After the board approved the deal, Edwards sent an email to Marysville families, describing the investigation into Thompson’s claims and adding the agreement saved the district money.

“Handling the terms in this manner saved up to $250,000 in additional costs,” she wrote.

Before Thompson complained, the district completed his mid-year performance review.

On a four-point scale from unsatisfactory to distinguished, board members ranked Thompson one step above unsatisfactory in five out of seven categories. He was evaluated on his ability to fulfill the schools’ mission, meet equity goals, support academic rigor and engage with the community.

Then, in a 3-2 vote, board members denied Thompson a contract extension that would have added a year to his two-year contract. Three years is the standard contract length for most school districts in the state, said Joel Aune, executive director for the Washington Association of School Administrators.

Thompson told investigators his complaint was not related to the results of his evaluation.

His complaint was filed three weeks after the board’s “no” vote.

According to the investigation, Thompson said, “Ms. Edwards has been obsessively focused on (Thompson’s) performance evaluation since she was elected, and that her obsession grew worse after she became board president.”

Investigators interviewed 15 district employees: current and past School Board members, executive directors of elementary and secondary schools, the communications director and the finance analyst.

The report showed evidence of a “contentious working relationship” between the board president and superintendent over the past “several years.” However, investigators wrote, “there was no factual support for (Thompson’s) claim that Ms. Edwards knew that (he) was vulnerable because he was not ready to retire and that she used that as leverage to force him into ceding to her demands.”

Knudson, the deputy superintendent at the time, and Edwards had used their private emails to communicate, but “the emails do not appear to be controversial,” investigators wrote.

With a concluded investigation, the district is moving on. Dr. Chris Pearson was named interim superintendent for the rest of the current school year. Pearson has been acting superintendent since summer.

The district plans to contract with an outside agency to lead a national search for a new superintendent, Galovin said.

“The board is fighting tooth and nail to make sure we get a superintendent that supports our community,” Galovin said, “and supports Marysville getting better results and better education for their students.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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