Security concerns at CGCC highlight board meeting

April 29 incident prompts calls for review of safety policies, procedures

Faculty members and a student voiced strong concerns over safety policies and procedures at Columbia Gorge Community College facilities in Tuesday’s board meeting at Indian Creek campus.

The matter centered on an April 29 incident involving an alleged attack by a 50-year-old student on instructor Jim Pytel. The suspect has since been trespassed from college properties, and the college has created a Facebook page featuring the suspect’s photo.

Yet one student, Ashley Platt, said she has not been informed of this response, and has never been shown the photo.

“I don’t know about it. Nothing has been done to inform students,” said Pratt, who attends Indian Creek.

“We’re not ignoring it,” chief operations officer Robb Van Cleave said.

“She’s a student and she has not been informed,” responded Rob Kovacich, who teaches at Indian Creek.

In other business, CGCC president Dr. Frank Toda told the board he was fulfilling Policy 7/A by informing them of an email he received from faculty member Tim Schell, notifying him that on April 25, the faculty had voted to censure Toda, citing “budget mismanagement; his inability to include faculty and staff in a process to address the current budgetary crisis; his decision to close the Hood River Indian Creek Campus resulting in the community’s lack of confidence in Toda’ and other issues.”

Toda nor any board member made any comment on the letter which, also cites “his dismissal of key employees resulting in the college being understaffed to the point where servicing students has become a dire problem.”

The letter concludes, “Because President Toda’s actions collectively constitute a threat to the viability of CGCC, the faculty asks that the president resign immediately and that the college initiate a national search for a new president.” The CGCC board has taken no action on the request.

Board chairman M.D. Van Valkenburgh opened Tuesday’s meeting by talking about the success of a recent open house at the college’s Fort Dalles Readiness Center, and made passing mention of “a recent violent incident”” occurring in the same location.

Late in the meeting, board member Stu Watson brought up the subject and asked for more information.

“I talked to Mr. Pytel and he was pretty vocal about his concern over progress and the administration’s response to this,” Watson said.

Pytel said he had asked the college Board of Education to investigate and is demanding information about past incidents and the policy on notifying others of such incidents.

“A student could walk in any time he chooses, and nothing is being done to prevent it,” said Hood River instructor Tim Schell.

According to reports, Pytel was repeatedly pushed by student Kelly B. Petteys, 50, of Parkdale, who was apparently upset over a test. Pytel, who has martial arts training, got the man into a hold with help of two students, until police arrived. Petteys was arrested on charges of harassment, second-degree disorderly conduct, second-degree criminal trespass, fourth-degree assault and resisting arrest, said The Dalles police Chief Jay Waterbury.

Van Valkenburgh told Robb Van Cleave that he wants to meet with academic dean Laurie Ufford and facilities director Jim Austin “before the next meeting” to deal with Pytel’s concerns.

Watson said, “It’s a month before (the next meeting) and meanwhile (Petteys) is out on bond. Have you added any security personnel? Has anyone got (Pytel’s) back?”

Van Valkenburgh initially said that the issue “involves a personnel matter, adding “we do need to take quick action,” a sentiment reiterated by board members Dr. James Wilcox and Ernie Keller.

Van Cleave said, “we are working on it right now. Yes, we have his back.” Van Cleave initially told the board Tuesday he was hesitant to say much because Pytel had informed the board he had contracted legal counsel. “When someone is threatening litigation you have to be careful,” he said. Van Cleave largely deferred to academic director Lori Ufford, who is handling the administrative response, as it is governed by policy on student-on-staff violence, rather than general policy.

“We’re still working with (Pytel) to meet his requests,” Van Cleave said.

Van Cleave provided some details on what the current emergency response procedures are in college facilities, which include lockable doors, phones in each room and selected staff throughout the campus who are trained in texting procedures in case of an active shooter or other incident, to alert others in the buildings.

“The best response is to call 9-1-1,” he said.

In the April 29 incident, “the cops were on their way well before we even knew about the incident,” Van Cleave said.

In other business:

The college will need to allocate $300,000 in contingency funds to cover excess costs related to instruction in the spring term, according to financial officer Will Norris. The board approved Norris’ recommendation to bring the matter to the board for consideration at its June meeting.

Norris said that faculty wage data from the first month of spring term suggests that instruction is on track to exceed $4 million in expenses for the first time in college history.

Norris said this “overage” is due in part to the high number of courses that are under enrolled: 50 courses with fewer than 12 students – the class minimum, under college policy – and 21 classes have fewer than eight students.

“We’re spending a lot of money to teach under enrolled classes,” Norris said.

Board member Ernie Keller asked if “the ratio was likely to repeat itself” in future terms.

Norris replied that according to Ufford (who was not present) minimum class sizes will be enforced.

“The number of courses will be brought in line with enrollment,” Norris said.

He noted that classes cost $3,500-$4,000 to operate, and “you multiply the number of under enrolled by the number of courses” to figure the deficit.

Keller asked, “I presume we are running these (under enrolled) courses to serve the students?”

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