We are three community leaders in Portland, with widely different backgrounds, but each committed to the same project: making Portland a better place for all. With that goal in mind, we are supporting Roberto Rodriguez for City Council, and we rise to his defense now.

We feel that the Press Herald’s recent coverage has resulted in the unfair maligning of our friend. We see reporting on the resignation of school board member Jeffrey Irish to be incomplete, and feel that Bill Nemitz’s recent column severely botched the conclusion.

Here is what we think the public should have learned:

Earlier this year, the Portland Public School Department appointed Robyn Bailey as the interim principal of Lincoln Middle School. In June, her husband failed to win a seat on the Portland Charter Commission. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Bailey sent an email to members of the City Council and others that contained several important elements.

First, Ms. Bailey stated that “we simply don’t have the same racially charged issues as big cities …” Second, she criticized public comments made by two new charter commission members who are Black. Third, she stated that, “we all know that if the people saying these things were NOT people of color, they’d be done, gone, and trashed.”

Rodriguez obtained this email and raised the content during an executive session of the school board in August. He expressed to Superintendent Xavier Botana that Ms. Bailey’s opinions led him to question her ability to serve as principal. He did not ask for any employment action to be taken against her, and she suffered no adverse action as a result.

Enter Jeff Irish, who surprised his colleagues on the school board by abruptly resigning on Oct. 4, citing the August meeting as the reason. He released a statement that violated the confidentiality of the executive session and discussed Bailey’s email which was soon publicly released.

The Press Herald took the bait because it coincided with a favorite trope about Portland, namely “toxic politics” inflamed by “progressives.”

But wait. No one up to this point has asked the most important question: Was Rodriguez right to raise the issue at all? On this score, we have no doubt that he acted properly, and his judgement was sound.

The overarching strategic goal set by the Portland schools is the Portland Promise. It is a document that has existed for years, and is the foundation for many of the school department’s decisions regarding spending, staffing and curriculum.

The Portland Promise contains a significant commitment to improve equity in Portland Schools, and reduce the achievement gap that involves a significant racial component. In other words, one of the primary missions of the Portland Schools is to tackle disparate racial outcomes. Doing this means several things – among them acknowledging and confronting institutional racism.

Rodriguez has been at the center of this effort in his five years on the school board. Now, he reads an email from Ms. Bailey, who occupies a vital position in a school with 40 percent students of color, in which she says she believes that Portland’s racial problems are overstated and that a form of reverse racism over-protects public comments by Black people.

Is it appropriate for someone with views so divergent from the stated goals of the entire district to lead a school? Knowing her beliefs, could she retain the trust of students and teachers? Could she maintain the moral authority needed by every leader to be effective?

At minimum, these are valid and critical questions about a person in such a high profile and important position. Rodriguez was absolutely correct in raising the issue, and he did so through the precise official channel that personnel issues are supposed to be addressed. Portland should applaud his handling of a sensitive issue, and be thankful that we have such a leader in Portland who is committed in word and deed to the goals we have set for our schools.

At its core, this is simply a matter about an employee and her employer. Ms. Bailey made public several beliefs arguably at odds with her employer’s mission. Mr. Rodriguez properly raised the issue with those who have oversight over Ms. Bailey.

The fact that bad-faith actors intervened, and that this episode seemed to fit into a pre-existing narrative about the state of Portland politics, should not detract from Mr. Rodriguez’s actions. He did the right thing.


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