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Newberg school board hires new superintendent who previously resigned from Beaverton schools over racist retweet

The move is the latest controversial decision from the Newberg board after banning pride flags and firing former superintendent Joe Morelock.

NEWBERG, Ore. — The Newberg School District Board of Directors has hired Stephen Phillips as the new superintendent of the district, the latest in a series of controversial moves from the school board.

Phillips most recently served as superintendent of the Jewell School District in Seaside, but before that he was a deputy superintendent at the Beaverton School District, a position from which he resigned amid public outcry in 2018 after he shared a racist tweet about undocumented immigrants.

A screenshot showed Phillips retweeted a tweet that said undocumented immigrants should be banned from the United States and that they were more dangerous to American safety than assault rifles. 

In a separate incident, the Jewell school board put Phillips on paid leave in early March pending an investigation, according to a report in the The Daily Astorian. The subject of the investigation was not disclosed. The district hired Phillips as an administrator in 2018 and as superintendent in 2019, according to the report.

RELATED: Newberg school board chair approached superintendent candidate a month before Morelock was fired

The Newberg board voted 5-2 to hire Phillips at the end of its Tuesday meeting following a 90-minute executive session. Board members Brandy Penner and Rebecca Piros were the dissenting votes.

Penner later explained her "no" vote, writing on her Facebook page, "I visited the Jewell School district as part of the interview process. Mr. Phillips left behind a school district team in shambles," and, "Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not equipped nor qualified to be the superintendent of the Newberg School District."

Some parents expressed distress over the hiring decision, including a mother with children in elementary, middle and high school in the district.

"It always hurts to see adults who are decision-makers choose themselves over what’s best for kids. I’m still really sick to my stomach about the decision," said Kristen Stoller.

KGW requested interviews from board chair Dave Brown and vice-chair Brian Shannon to learn why they supported hiring Phillips.  Shannon replied to an emailed request but did not respond to the topic.

RELATED: Oregon bill would protect superintendents from no-cause terminations

The seven member Newberg board has made headlines over the past year due to a series of controversial decisions including banning school staff from displaying Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride signs — later amended to a ban on all political displays — and firing former superintendent Joe Morelock.

Each of those decisions passed on a 4-3 vote, with the board's conservative majority — Brown, Shannon, and members Trevor DeHart and Renee Powell — voting yes and Piros, Penner and former member Ines Peña voting no.

The decisions sparked dual recall efforts aimed at Brown and Shannon, leading to a January election in which the two members each retained their seats with about 52% of the vote.

Peña resigned her position in February, claiming that she had been subjected to a toxic work environment and at one point feared for her safety. The board appointed Raquel Peregrino de Brito in April to serve the remainder of Peña's term, with Piros and Penner voting no.

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