Sessions resigns under fire

A $49,000 payment to former athletic director Glenn Elliott has led to the resignation of Superintendent Jerry Sessions of Hood River County School District.

Sessions resigned Wednesday but plans to complete the 2002-03 school year as Hood River County School District.

Saying his resignation was voluntary, Sessions said, “I felt there had been a change in relationship with the (school) board and it was time for me to step down.”

However, it was Session’s decision to pay Elliott and his failure to disclose it to the board that prompted his resignation. Elliott was assistant principal and athletic director until June 2002.

The School Board accepted Sessions’ resignation, effective June 30, 2003, following a 45-minute executive session at the district office. Sessions is in his second year as superintendent. Sessions’ resignation comes just three days after the abrupt departure of high school principal Ben Kolb. The vote was 6-1, board member Susan McCarthy dissenting.

In a written statement to the board, Sessions said, “I am writing to provide you with the considerations and circumstances upon which I authorized and directed payment to District administrator (Elliott).” Sessions read the statement to the board Wednesday in executive session, and released it to the Hood River News Friday.

“I believed that this action was in the district’s best interest,” Sessions wrote. “However, I should have consulted with you before the payment was paid, and I should have reported this action to you promptly. I did not do either one,” he wrote.

Elliott, athletic director for 19 years, left the district in July after the board eliminated his assistant principal position due to budget cuts. Elliott is now an assistant principal at Newberg High School.

Saying it was “basically a severance,” Elliott declined to elaborate, though he added that his departure was “a tough process ... the whole lack of process they went through with some of my personnel issues.”

Jeff Baker, the district’s attorney, said that Sessions termed the Elliott payment as one for “services.”

“It was a payment to finish out his job and assist in the transition to the new person,” Baker said. The payment was made in two parts, in June and July, Baker said.

Sessions added in his letter, “I apologize to you for my lapse in judgement. I did not mean to be disrespectful of you nor your responsibilities as Board Members. I believed I was heading off what were likely to be future problems for the district.

“My decision was influenced by what I saw as an opportunity to improve the working relationship with the administrative team, to accomplish a smooth transition period, to help the high school leadership team and to any further contention.”

Sessions declined to elaborate.

“I am sorry about this,” Sessions told the board verbally on Wednesday. “I’ll finish up the year in a positive way. We’ll keep things going on a positive note. This is a good district and I want to leave it as such.”

Dan Bubb replied, “we didn’t want to do this. It pains us to have to make that decision.”

Sessions added Friday that “the Hood River School District is an excellent school district with a quality staff ahd I have enjoyed my experience here and have met many wonderful people. But it is time. I felt my resignation was in the best interest of the board and myself.”

Asked if Elliott had been asked to pay the money back, Baker said the board has considered it and so far has decided not to ask for it back.

“I believe he (Elliott) was entitled to rely on the fact that when he dealt with the superintendent that he had the full authority of the board to make that decision,” Baker said.

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