Think Out Loud

Eugene school superintendent facing allegations of discrimination, misconduct

By Allison Frost (OPB)
Feb. 6, 2024 7:33 p.m. Updated: Feb. 13, 2024 8:53 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Feb. 6

Eugene 4J Superintendent Andy Dey in an undated photo provided by the district.

Eugene 4J Superintendent Andy Dey in an undated photo provided by the district.

Courtesy Eugene School District 4J


The superintendent at the Eugene School District 4J is under investigation in response to allegations of discrimination and retaliation against a school employee, the Eugene Weekly is reporting. The school board hired Andy Dey in 2022 when similar allegations surfaced. A Seattle-area firm has turned over its investigation to the school board, which met for another executive session Monday night. Eugene Weekly editor Camilla Mortensen has been following the story, in collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Catalyst journalism program, led by investigative reporter Brent Walth. Mortensen joins us to tell us the latest about the 4J investigation and update us on the paper’s return to print this Thursday. It’s the first print issue after embezzlement came to light in December and forced the layoff of the entire staff.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. We start today in Eugene. The superintendent of the 4J School District there is under investigation, according to Eugene Weekly. Andy Dey was hired in 2022. The paper wrote recently that a Seattle area law firm conducted an investigation into Dey’s behavior and turned that investigation over to the school board. Eugene Weekly editor Camilla Mortensen joins us now with the latest, along with an update on the paper itself which ceased to print publication in December, but is about to start up again. Camilla, welcome back.

Camilla Mortensen: Thank you.

Miller: There are echoes in the current investigation that you wrote, about allegations that came to light when Andy Dey was one of the finalists for his now current job as superintendent. What can you tell us about those earlier allegations?

Mortensen: That was something that KEZI, the local news station, brought to light. And there were several anonymous letters and one letter that was signed. They made allegations that he was a bully, that he was dismissive of women when they didn’t agree with his viewpoints. Those were turned in, I think, to officials at the school and KEZI brought them to light.

Miller: What was his response at the time?

Mortensen: It was two different things. One, interestingly enough, he made a complaint against a fellow candidate for the superintendent position, someone who is currently the interim superintendent. And he accused her of abusing her authority for suggesting that a high school principal submit any concerns he had about Dey to the District. And then after KEZI ran their story about the letters, he responded with a statement. He called for a full and open investigation into the allegations.

Miller: The Board heard those allegations and then in a 4 to 3 vote, they selected him as Superintendent. What do you remember about that time?

Mortensen: Well, first of all, we thought it was interesting that someone would want to take a job with as lukewarm a vote as a 4 to 3 vote. That just doesn’t seem like you have a board that really has your back. Then secondly, that board itself had its own share of controversy. There were allegations of racism by one of the board members who later resigned. We had done an investigation into several of the members. We had done public records requests for the use of text messaging and later, using the encrypted messaging app Signal. And The Register Guard actually did some reporting on it. They won the prize for best headline. It read, “4J Board Gets Schooled On Public Records Law.”

Miller: How did you hear about the current investigation?

Mortensen: It was actually leaked to us by several reliable sources.

Miller: This would be a good time to mention the difficulty of the reporting for this story. Actually, I should say now, it’s a collaboration with the investigative journalist Brent Walth at the University of Oregon, and the Catalyst Program in the U of O’s Journalism School. What kinds of challenges have you all been facing?

Mortensen: The Catalyst Journalism Project is great. We were working with two students, Sophia Cossette and Tristin Hoffman and they have been just amazing. For one thing in my own personal experience, attending an executive session itself can be intimidating just because it’s very clear, there are a lot of rules around it. The public can’t be there. The media can but the media can’t report on it. And then for them to have to go back again, after we ran the first story, and go to more executive sessions, was a lot.

We knew about the investigation and when we saw that there was an executive session to quote, “consider the dismissal or disciplining of or to hear complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee,” et cetera, we sent the students there.

But under Oregon Law, we can’t report on what happened at the session. So we went on with what we already had before the session. We reached out to the board members for comment. And we were really clear that we had information that there was an investigation and even what the investigation was about before the session. They all sent us to the board chair. She repeatedly has responded that she is not in a position to comment on even the existence of any potential investigation.

Miller: I should say we actually got that same response today from the board chair saying, “We cannot comment on whether or not this investigation is even happening.”

Have you been able to get a copy of the actual investigation that, based on your reporting, was done by a Seattle area law firm?

Mortensen: We have not. We have done a public records request for it. We haven’t gotten the actual investigation yet. We have got feelers out everywhere to get it. So what we did is we actually started reaching out to sources that were familiar with the investigation, a lot of cold calling, a lot of finding phone numbers, a lot of people telling us, “I can’t talk to you but try to talk to this person.” And people made it really clear that they were worried about retaliation if anyone could tell that they were the one who spoke to us. They didn’t even want to be the person who confirmed anonymously. So that’s why “the sources familiar with the investigation” is the only way we can really phrase it. It just took a lot to get that confirmation.

Miller: What do you see as your chances of actually getting your hands on the investigation itself?


Mortensen: We’re definitely asking for it and I feel like we should be able to get it. For one thing, I would think that Dey and 4J would want to get it out there. Before we even did our story, there’d been so many rumors that the investigation existed. And if the investigation exists and all allegations are disproven, then you would want those rumors to be quieted. And if the allegations are to be proven, you would want to know that that’s happening with something as important as your K-12 superintendent.

Miller: The board met last night in another executive session. And as you noted, by law you can’t report on, in general, what happens in those sessions. Is there anything that you can tell us?

Mortensen: No, we had one of the reporters, Sophia, there but beyond that fact, they’re happening and they’re all on that same topic of looking into dismissing, discipline, et cetera.

Miller: You mentioned that there was a lot of drama with the members of the board itself not too long ago. How similar is the makeup of this board to the one that hired the superintendent in 2022?

Mortensen: There are only two board members still on the board that hired that particular superintendent. Five of the seven seats turned over. One was the resignation with the allegations of racism. Some folks didn’t run. And one of the incumbent members who did run, and really came across as a big proponent of Dey, was defeated. A lot of folks read that as a referendum on the board’s dysfunction. And others said it was because The Weekly’s editorial board endorsed the challenger. I’ll take either one on that one.

Miller: What are the board’s options? What could they do with this investigation?

Mortensen: They could find that there’s no merit in the allegations. I would think that they could do training. That was, according to the document I got on the complaint that he filed against the interim superintendent, they recommended that she work with a coach. But it would seem odd to do that, to keep someone on, if you felt they needed that sort of training, I guess. They could fire him. They could just not renew his contract. But we asked for a copy of the contract, including how much salary he makes. And we have not been given that.

Miller: I want to turn to what I mentioned at the beginning, the news about the paper itself. This is a pretty momentous week. The last time we talked, it was soon after you had announced that you had been the victims of embezzlement by somebody who worked there. And that you were out over $100,000, that bills hadn’t been paid, that people’s retirement accounts weren’t being funded. It was an absolute disaster. But you recently announced that you’re going to be printing a paper for the first time since then.

What is this issue going to be like?

Mortensen: Good, I hope. I’m hoping to get a follow-up story in about the superintendent investigation and get the things that folks have been missing. That’s very much what we’ve been hearing is that folks are missing the print paper and all the different aspects of it: opinions, news, the calendar. And we’re gonna - I’m sort of jumping off a ledge here - make it as good as we can.

Miller: How does it feel to be putting out a print issue again?

Mortensen: Both amazing because it’s been killing me to walk by our empty red boxes and a little bit terrifying. It turns out it’s a whole lot easier to run a paper than it is to resurrect a paper. But there’s just been so much community support and so many businesses and groups and individuals that made it really clear they want the paper back. So we’re still fundraising but we had to give it a shot. We have to.

Miller: Where does the embezzlement investigation stand right now?

Mortensen: It is in the hands of our accountant and the forensic accountants. And then my understanding is the police really get going once the forensic accountants hand it over to them.

Miller: Your paid staff went from 10 to zero right before Christmas. How big is the staff going to be going forward?

Mortensen: Right now, because we really need to make sure that the paper is sustainable and we don’t want to just print a couple of issues and disappear into the ether, it is four full-time folks and two part-time. That is part of what’s giving me a heart attack when you get the paper out with such a reduced staff.

Miller: Does it mean a different paper, by necessity, with that kind of a staff reduction, at least in the short-term?

Mortensen: For one thing, the aforementioned Catalyst Journalism Project and the School of Journalism, and the students there, and freelancers who I jokingly say are offering their work to us pro bono. In terms of the material that we’re getting, the content, the stories, the columns, that part won’t be different. We don’t have a classified sales manager. So I think this is the first time I know of that we won’t have a classified ad section.

Miller: What have you heard from the community in response to the news that you’re going to be back in print?

Mortensen: People have been really excited. They were actually pitching me stories when we weren’t printing. They were like, “Yeah, I know you’re not printing, but I still want you to write about this.” And they’re pitching stories. I realized that after six weeks, not all the folks that delivered the paper were going to be able to come back. They’d found other jobs. So, just on my own personal social media, I put out a call that I needed some folks to help deliver the paper. And within five hours, I had more than two dozen responses from people either who want the job or just like, “I’ll just come and help you out right now.” So yeah, I think the community’s been pretty happy. Even in the digital era, print is still in the red boxes and the calendar is still such a touchdown for people that they really want it back.

Miller: Camilla, thanks very much. Congratulations.

Mortensen: Thank you.

Miller: Camilla Mortensen is the editor of Eugene Weekly.

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