New Plymouth staff demands superintendent’s resignation for ‘creating a culture of fear’

Kevin Barker, New Plymouth School District superintendent.
Kevin Barker, New Plymouth School District superintendent.

The New Plymouth School District’s employees have held a vote of no confidence in the district’s superintendent, Kevin Barker, and they are calling for Barker’s immediate resignation.

The employees, in a letter to the district’s board of trustees, said Barker “abuses his power by bullying and creating a culture of fear,” and said he creates a hostile work environment while refusing to communicate with staff members whom he disagrees with.

According to the letter, of the employees who participated in last week’s vote:

  • 73 employees voted to declare no confidence in the superintendent
  • 13 voted that they do have confidence
  • 14 chose to abstain from voting

Barker said he has no intention of resigning, and said he remains focused on the safety and education of the district’s students. He denies the district has a hostile work environment and said he has an open-door policy for anyone with concerns around the district.

Dozens of students from New Plymouth High School staged a walkout Wednesday morning after getting news via word-of-mouth that the school's principal had resigned the day before. The students claim he was "forced" to resign and say a formal announc

The letter said Barker has implemented and enforced a new insubordination and grievance policy “without any regard to the staff and what effect it may have, which has further fostered the non-communicative environment within the district.” Many people are fearful of retaliation if they disagree with the superintendent, the letter states.

If Barker does not resign, the employees call on the district’s board of trustees to remove Barker as superintendent at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 12.

The number of ballots cast in the vote of no confidence represent approximately 83 percent of the employees in the New Plymouth School District, according to the letter. The vote includes ballots cast district-wide, by members of the teacher’s union, or education association, and nonmembers alike.

Barker said those numbers are inflated, and he said many staff members have told him they were unaware of the vote. He said the letter, which he said he has not seen, is from a vocal minority and does not reflect the majority of staff in the district.

The district has about 55 teachers and about 120 to 130 total staff members, Barker said.

“It’s a small group that is reaching for the megaphone,” Barker said. “They can write what they want, they can address what they like, but I had evaluation with school board in January that was very positive … I am very secure with my relationship with the board.”

New Plymouth Education Association Executive Committee member Pierrette Madrid Harris said organizers of the employee vote stand by their final count and say the numbers are not inflated. She said Barker was emailed a copy of the letter.

“Mr. Barker was aware of these concerns,” Madrid Harris said. “We have met with him, and he categorically denied these concerns, that they were not his problems.”

The vote comes about a week after New Plymouth High School Principal Clete Edmunson said he was rescinding a letter of resignation that he said he was pressured to provide to Barker. The district’s board of trustees has voted to place the principal on paid administrative leaving pending an investigation by the district into a parent’s complaint, according to Barker.

The reason for the investigation into Clete Edmunson, which must be completed in 60 days, is largely a personnel matter, Barker said. The board voted 5-0 on the motion for the investigation.

That investigation is still ongoing, and there is no immediate time line for its completion, Barker said.

Clete Edmunson’s wife, Shelly Edmunson, who also worked at the high school, resigned, citing a stressful work environment and concerns for her health, according to the Argus Observer.

But Clete Edmunson’s resignation, which was met with a public protest from about a third of the high school’s students, isn’t the only reason the employees are speaking out against the superintendent, the letter said.

Many employees have had concerns about Barker’s leadership since he took over as superintendent two-and-a-half years ago, when Rep. Ryan Kerby left the district and became a state legislator.

“… Recent events and actions taken by the Superintendent have escalated to the point that we can no longer remain silent in an environment where we do not feel valued, respected, or safe,” the letter to the board stated. “We are disappointed and hoped we would not have to take these measures, however, recent events have brought several problems to such an elevated state that we can no longer remain complacent.”