Bellview parents troubled by layoff

ASHLAND — About 50 parents of Bellview Elementary School students questioned Superintendent Juli Di Chiro Tuesday night on why she recommended the district lay off the school's principal, Christine McCollom, as part of a third round of budget cuts.

Several parents said they left the two-hour meeting at Ashland Middle School feeling worse about the decision than when they came.

"I feel like it was a personal decision on the part of Juli that cannot be backed up with facts or good sense or reason," said Kimberly Bruhn, who has three children at Bellview.

Some parents said they felt uneasy when they learned more about how McCollom was selected to lose her job at the end of this school year.

The school board is scheduled to vote on whether to lay off McCollom at its May 11 meeting. If she is let go, McCollom likely will be replaced by senior administrator Michelle Zundel, whose current position as director of education would then be eliminated.

"It was an extremely difficult — but in my mind, unavoidable — decision to make," Di Chiro said.

Di Chiro said after she made her decision, she learned that language in the principals' contracts required the superintendent to "draw lots" between administrators that had the same amount of seniority to determine who would be let go during a layoff.

"I take full responsibility for not reading that," Di Chiro said of the contract. "That was a mistake."

McCollom and Walker Elementary School Principal Patricia Michiels were hired on the same day in 2006 and have equal experience in the district.

Di Chiro wrote the principals' names on two pieces of paper, folded them and asked Samuel Bogdanove, the district's director of student services, to choose one about two weeks ago. Bogdanove drew a name and it read "Christine," meaning that McCollom would be let go, Di Chiro told the parents Tuesday.

Rod Petrone, who has two children at Bellview, questioned the fairness of the drawing at the meeting.

"The process for selection doesn't seem very transparent to me," he told Di Chiro.

"It's not very transparent," Di Chiro responded, "and it's the same system I've used in the past."

Petrone said he was unnerved by the way the lot was drawn.

"It doesn't seem right to me. I just get the feeling that maybe it's some inside shell game," he said.

After the meeting, when asked how she would respond to parents who felt the drawing might have been unfair, Di Chiro said, "If they want to question my integrity, then they can do that. But I think that my record shows my integrity."

Julee Abel, who has two children at Bellview, asked Di Chiro whether her decision was at all based on the fact that McCollom is several months' pregnant.

Di Chiro's decision had nothing to do with McCollom's pregnancy, she said. "If anything, it made it even harder to do it," she said.

Because the layoff is a personnel issue, Di Chiro can't discuss the specifics of her decision, she said.

Although McCollom and Michiels have been with the district for the same amount of time, Michiels previously served as an administrator for three years in the Medford School District. McCollom had not served as an administrator prior to taking the job at Bellview.

Although many of the parents were upset at the meeting, Kim Lockett, who has one child at Bellview, said it was important to keep the students in mind.

"I'm not happy with this change, but we obviously set the tone for our children," she said. "We want to have as excellent of a school next year as we have had in the past."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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