Portland Public School’s Superintendent Xavier Botana at a recent school board meeting. Botana announced Friday that he will resign effective Jan. 31 Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana announced Friday that he is resigning as of Jan. 31 or as soon as an interim superintendent can take over.

Eight of the nine school board members accepted Botana’s resignation Friday afternoon. Emily Figdor, the former board chair, dissented.

Botana was scheduled to leave in June but on Friday offered to leave early amid the district’s ongoing payroll crisis that has resulted in hundreds of employees being paid incorrectly, late or not at all and has left some burdened with interest, fees and debt.

Botana, who was hired in 2016, told the board that he had seen being superintendent of Portland’s schools as the capstone to his career.

“I never thought that the epitaph on that capstone would be: ‘He couldn’t get people paid on time.’ But, I recognize that, as the chief executive officer, I am accountable when things go wrong,” he said in a statement he read to the board.

No financial details of Botana’s departure – such as whether he will receive severance or remain on the payroll until his previously scheduled departure – have been disclosed. Board Chair Sarah Lentz did not respond to questions Friday about the financial conditions of Botana’s resignation.


“While I have worked tirelessly to find solutions and worked with the Portland Education Association to develop next steps to ensure that all staff are paid accurately and on time, I think it is in the district’s best interest that I step aside and allow new leadership to bring closure to these matters,” he said in an email sent to staff Friday

In his statement after the board vote, Botana recognized his responsibility for the district’s payroll problems, but said he was proud of many things he did during his time with the district.

“I believe my tenure is more than payroll problems,” he said, noting his management of the pandemic, support of marginalized groups and the length of his tenure compared to some of his recent predecessors.

He said he hopes the best for the district and its people, and thanked the board for the opportunity to serve the community.

Since October, the district has failed to pay hundreds of its 1,500 employees accurately, on time or at all. Over 750 district employees, half the district’s workforce, have told the district that they had or currently have payroll or payroll-related issues, ranging from queries about how to access certain payroll information to missing pay.

As Botana was scheduled to leave his position this summer, the district already has begun searching for a replacement. A 13-person search committee composed of five board members and eight community representatives is in place and the district signed a contract with a search firm this month.


Botana said he will be available to offer support in the transition if requested by the interim superintendent or Lentz, through June 30.

“I am committed to assisting the board as it sees appropriate in the transition,” he said. Lentz declined to say whether she would take Botana up on this offer.

Sarah Lentz

She thanked Botana for his time with the district and praised his focus on equity, but said his early departure is the right move.

“I agree that it is in our best interest to part ways with Superintendent Botana and I am grateful to him for understanding that it is time to step aside and allow someone else to bring in fresh energy and perspective to ensure our foundation is strong,” Lentz said in a statement.

The leaders of the district’s unions representing educators and staff responded to Botana’s announcement by saying they hope to rebuild the relationship between district employees and leaders.

“Moving forward, in a sincere spirit of collaboration, we turn toward restoring trust between the staff, the school board and district leadership,” Kerrie Dowdy, president of the Portland Education Association; Jen Cooper, president of the ed-tech union; and Liz Bryant, president of the school employees benefit association, said in a statement.



Earlier this week the district’s educators union seemed to be considering holding a no-confidence vote for Botana and Figdor.

The Portland Education Association, which represents district teachers and education technicians, sent out a survey to its members Wednesday asking whether they had confidence in Botana and Figdor and whether they would support a formal vote of no-confidence in Botana and/or Figdor.

“In light of and in response to the payroll crisis, PEA leaders would like to get a pulse check of the membership, and see where we stand as a collective entity,” the executive board said in the survey sent to members. “This survey is for the purpose of gathering information from both Educator and Ed Tech PEA members about possible next steps and what types of collective actions you would be willing to support and participate in.”

In addition to no-confidence votes, the survey asked members about their willingness to participate in other collective actions, including attending school board meetings, showing solidarity by wearing certain clothes or pins, or engaging in “work to rule” – doing the minimum contractually required of them – until all the payroll issues are rectified.

PEA leadership in the survey said that the union always tries to work proactively and collaboratively with the district, but that sometimes collective action is necessary to push the district to resolve issues expeditiously.


“Given our concerns about central admin’s ability or willingness to lead, manage effectively, and to fulfill the most basic obligations of the contract between management and labor, it may be time to start taking representative and collective action,” PEA leadership said in the survey.

The results of the survey were not available Friday and union leaders did not respond to questions about whether they are still considering any of those collective actions, including holding a no-confidence vote for Figdor.


The Portland school district’s major payroll challenges began in late October, following the departure of key payroll staff. But the underlying issues – including a lack of built-in oversight and checks and balances, and the use of an outdated system of payroll processing – that contributed to the ongoing payroll crisis have been present for longer.

An outside audit completed in March warned that the district’s financial system could be exposed to major problems.

The payroll crisis that began on Oct. 21 came to a head this month when it was revealed that Figdor, the former board chair, minimized the issues and  refused an offer from the city to help the district manage its payroll problems. Then around 50 district employees showed up at a school board meeting and shared their concerns about the payroll problems and the inability of district leadership to do its job.

Since then, the district and the educator union signed a legally binding document outlining how and when the district will remedy its payroll issues and agreeing to processes for employees to recoup money if they were paid incorrectly and if they were subject to incidental fees or debt due to not being paid accurately.

The district also agreed to an outside audit of its payroll system, brought on a technology specialist to work on the system and is making plans to outsource it by spring.

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