More New Plymouth turmoil: survey hints at exodus, board defends Barker

(UPDATED, 2:51 p.m., with statement from New Plymouth trustees.)

Dozens of New Plymouth school employees are job shopping, or considering leaving the embattled district, according to a survey released Thursday by the local teachers’ union.

The survey is the latest development in the ongoing controversy in New Plymouth, centered on high school principal Clete Edmunson’s resignation and Superintendent Kevin Barker’s turbulent time at the district’s helm. In response to the survey, New Plymouth trustees said they support Barker — and accused his opponents of dealing in “innuendo, rumors or gossip.”

Kevin Barker

Among the survey results:

  • Fifty-six of 74 survey respondents said they would be more likely to stay in New Plymouth if Barker left the district.
  • Forty-one respondents — 55 percent of the survey sample — said they were considering leaving the district, or are actively seeking work outside New Plymouth.
  • Of these 41 respondents, 40 said they would be more likely to stay in New Plymouth if Barker left. The other respondent didn’t answer the question.

“We were all extremely disheartened when we first saw the results. These are experienced and longtime employees and community members we are talking about here, people who have invested their lives into this school district,” said Pierrette Madrid-Harris, a high school teacher and spokesperson for the New Plymouth Education Association. “But the numbers don’t lie, Mr. Barker is the common factor here and as I understand it, it’s up to the School Board to make that change.”

The NPEA survey comes several weeks after Barker was the target of an employee vote of no confidence. Barker has said he has no intention of stepping down.

And trustees said they have considered all the facts presented to them, and remain “in full support” of Barker.

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“Posting unfounded allegations on social media or doing surveys that do not provide the factual basis for the questions being asked is not a proper procedure to resolve problems,” trustees said in a prepared statement. “It only makes us all more divided and increases the level of rhetoric and decrease the opportunity to communicate and resolve problems.”

The survey also allowed school employees to offer open-ended comments, which further illustrate the rift in the district.

“I feel like I’m on a sinking ship,” said one employee. “Mr. Barker has wronged us on so many levels. He has lied, cheated and manipulated his way to this position, and I can’t continue to work under these conditions.”

“Mr. Barker is not trying to lead this school district and has lost all decency,” said another employee. “He has become a ruler.”

“I am fed up with the behavior of the current NPEA and have resigned my membership,” said a third employee. “It is time for all employees to get back to educating students.”

More reading: More about the survey, and the mood in New Plymouth, from Christina Lords of the Idaho Statesman. From the Idaho Press-Tribune, an unidentified critic offers Barker $300,000 to step down.

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