Lead Crisis in Portland Schools Puts 2 Out of Work
By Betsy Hammond
Superintendent Carole Smith put the district's chief operating officer and top health and safety manager on paid leave Thursday, saying the two men were in charge of a department that "didn't deliver" on handling lead hazards, communicating with the public and providing her with accurate and timely information.
Tony Magliano has worked for Portland Public Schools for nearly eight years, all in a supervisory roles overseeing facilities, and was promoted to chief operating officer two years ago.
Andy Fridley, the senior manager for health and safety, has worked for the district for a decade and was promoted into the senior manager role two years ago.
An obviously frustrated Smith said Thursday evening that she put both men on leave after "protocols were not followed" after March testing showed high lead levels in drinking water at Creston and Rose City Park schools and, as the crisis played out, the pair were unable to give clear, accurate answers to basic questions from Smith, the public and others. Parents at the schools weren't told of the tests until May 25.
Magliano and Fridley "could not provide information quickly enough for us to be responsive," Smith said. "We were in a position of having to validate data to make sure not giving out inaccurate information... Their department just wasn't functional in being able to do" its job.
Smith faulted Magliano in particular for not being able to provide accurate and timely information about lead testing and abatement. She faulted Fridley for being in the position to make sure that any school water fountain or faucet found to be giving off lead-tainted water be shut off immediately. She said he failed to make that happen at Creston over the course of more than a week and said it is still unclear whether water was immediately cut off to Rose City Park's fountains and sinks with elevated lead levels.
She said she wants more information before she decides whether to return the men to their jobs or fire them. She said other people also could be subject to discipline, depending on what further investigation turns up.
She said she has begun looking around for an interim chief operating officer to take over Magliano's duties on a short-term basis.
School board Chairman Tom Koehler announced Thursday evening that the board has hired Portland law firm Stoll Berne to dig into how Portland Public Schools bungled water testing and lead abatement to learn who is responsible and how to avoid a repeat.
He said the firm will be asked to look into systems and protocols for water testing and internal management of information related to lead testing and to identify the breakdowns in systems by personnel that led to the problems.
Koehler said the firm will launch its investigation next week and is to finish it within 30 days.
Smith said she is looking for an engineering firm with national credibility and a strong track record to recommend short- and long-term steps to get Portland Public Schools' water quality and safety assurance programs back on track.
(c)2016 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)