At a raucous special meeting Wednesday, Albany School Board voted 3-1 to terminate Superintendent Melissa Goff’s contract as of July 24 under a no-cause dismissal clause. The district will buy out her remaining time.
Directors Pete Morse, Roger Nyquist and Brad Wilson voted to fire Goff. Director Michael Thomson voted no and Chairman Eric Aguinaga abstained.
The board prefaced its move on the superintendent by first clarifying that actions taken at Monday’s board meeting were meant to end all COVID-19 restrictions, including social distancing, unless required by the state.
More than 100 people crowded into and spilled outside the board chambers for the 22-minute meeting, with roughly half the room cheering while the other half booed, depending on whether they backed the firing or wanted to retain Goff.
Signs carried by community members also spoke to the division in the room: “We Support Melissa Goff,” “We Support Our New School Board,””4 Goff 4 GAPS,” and “Fire Goff, Back the Blue, Say No! To CRT,” referencing Goff's dismissal of police officers from GAPS campuses as well as the nationwide controversy over teaching critical race theory in schools.
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Uniformed officers with the Albany Police Department stood outside the building. One walked through the board room shortly after the meeting. It was not clear who had asked the officers to attend.
Goff was not present, at the request of the board. However, she released a statement following the meeting saying she's grateful for the people who have worked with her for the past two years.
"When I began as GAPS superintendent in July 2019, it was with a Board who sought an equity leader who could guide the district through strategic planning where all voices were heard," she wrote.
"I believe our new Board has expressed a commitment to the priorities shaped by your voice," she went on. "I look forward to seeing the progress in equity and inclusion, in student and staff emotional and mental health, and in academic rigor and relevance."
Members of the previous board added a year to Goff’s contract and raised her salary at a June 7 meeting. Morse, Nyquist and Wilson, who took office on July 1, have not publicly discussed their issues with Goff, nor did they discuss why they made the motion to terminate the contract. Thomson expressed concerns about the silence of his fellow board members during deliberations.
“Just putting it on an agenda for a special meeting is not transparent,” he said. “Three of you have been on the board for just 13 days. Literally one regular meeting. And yet you’ve put it on the agenda, and you’re tackling an action which is the most serious thing a board can do, which is fire the superintendent. And I just want to ask why. … I’m asking as a parent and as a community member. Why? What is the community supposed to think?”
However, Nyquist indicated Thomson had reasons to understand why, alluding to an earlier conversation that he did not outline.
“You know we talked about this Monday night. I know you know we talked about this Monday night because you were posting about it on social media, about an executive session,” Nyquist said. “Wasn’t this same issue before you less than a month ago?”
“No. No, not at all. Terminating her contract? Not in the least,” Thomson said.
“A no-fault buyout of the contract was not before the previous board in the last month?” Nyquist countered.
“Not like this,” Thomson replied. He acknowledged a discussion took place, but as fellow board members reminded him the discussions had taken place in closed session, he said only, “No, that was not the same as this item that is before us right here.”
Thomson said after the meeting he could not elaborate on anything that took place in closed session, but acknowledged there was an earlier board discussion about Goff leaving the district. “But it was a completely different situation,” he said.
Nyquist said after the meeting he intends to ask that all executive session meeting documents from sessions held in the last 60 days to be made available to the public.
Goff’s base salary as of this fiscal year is $181,440. Thomson said he estimates adding in benefits and the cost of a new search could raise that total to more than $200,000.
Residents alternately cheered and shouted down the final vote, yelling, “Shame on you!” and “Where’s your fiscal responsibility?”
Staff members were not given direction Wednesday on naming an interim superintendent after July 24.
“The work we’ve been doing is the work we will continue to do, because we are here for our students and families,” Heather Huzefka, the district’s director of human resources, said after the meeting. “That doesn’t change.”