A candidate for the Portland schools’ superintendent job was at the center of a March 2022 scandal over allegations he inappropriately sought a deal with the Minneapolis teachers’ union that would have landed him the top job in that district.
The Portland Superintendent Search Committee announced last week that Eric Moore, who is currently the senior advisor to the Minneapolis schools superintendent, was one of two finalists to become Portland’s next superintendent.
Although the Committee’s public statements about the process suggest they are aware of some of the controversy associated with Moore’s tenure in Minnesota’s largest school district, many of the details have not been previously reported in Maine news outlets.
An investigation last year in Minneapolis did not find that Moore, who has worked in public education administration for more than a decade, engaged in any illegal behavior.
But Moore was placed on leave for the duration of the investigation.
The Committee’s selection will replace outgoing Superintendent Xavier Botana, who accelerated his resignation earlier this year amid ongoing problems the district has had managing its payroll system.
Minneapolis based writer Sarah Lahm covered the story at the time in a blog post, showing text messages between Moore and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 (MFT) president Greta Callahan.
At the time of these text messages in January 2022, the MFT was in the middle of contract negotiations with MPS.
Just two months later the negotiations would break down, and a weeks-long strike occurred in March 2022.
According to Lahm, Moore was serving as a lead member of the MPS negotiating team.
But at the same time he was trying to make an under the table bid for the MPS superintendent position.
Moore, who was then MPS’ “senior officer of equity, research, and accountability,” was allegedly looking to force out then-MPS superintendent Ed Graff.
“Can I have your support?” “Ed likely 3 years. I’m it…,” Moore wrote to MFT president Callahan.
“Will you give me 100 support?” he asked.
“You know we’re in the middle of bargaining right?” Callahan replied, likely aware of the inappropriate nature of trying to make such a deal behind closed doors during contract negotiations.
“Honestly…on our future relationship…we have to gamble on each other,” Moore said.
“TRUST. This will happen quick. Can you carry?” Moore said.
Callahan denied Moore’s entreaty.
“There is a lot going on and we are in mediation and there’s no way I can commit to anything right now,” she said.
The text messages were emailed to then-superintendent Graff by Callahan, who was worried that these texts were an “implicit quid pro quo.”
Graff responded to Callahan saying he would look into it and to send him any other relevant communications.
Callahan then apparently went to Graff and asked why Moore was still leading MPS/MFT contract negotiations.
Graff responded that the Minneapolis School District’s legal counsel was investigating Moore’s texts and his alleged bid for the MPS superintendent position.
Moore was placed on a months-long leave during the investigation.
The text messages caused speculation in the Minnesota media about whether Moore’s pursuit of the superintendent job was affecting his approach to negotiations with the teachers’ union.
“It looks like, at this point, that he is indicating that he would like to be superintendent of the Minneapolis School District,” David Schultz, professor of political science at Hamline University, told KSTP-TV at the time.
“What I mean by that is if by some way, shape, or form, he stands to benefit from these negotiations, or has a personal interest in these negotiations, beyond being a negotiator for the school district … then he’s got a conflict of interest and he should no longer be negotiating,” Schultz told the outlet.
When an interim superintendent was hired in July, Moore’s previous position of head of equity, research, and accountability was abolished, and he became senior advisor to the superintendent.
The district found that Moore was not guilty of anything illegal in his communications.
Prior to the failed attempt to strike a deal with the teachers’ union, Moore was also involved in controversial initiatives in the district.
In 2020 Moore was one of the lead proponents of MPS’ Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan, a plan aimed at restructuring MPS in order to narrow racial achievement gaps.
The $11.5 million plan proposed moving about 20% of MPS students to other schools in order to equalize percentages of students of various races in the classroom.
“What excites me about Portland is its really the commitment to social justice that I see at the heart of your mission,” Moore said, in his video introduction on the Portland Superintendent Search Committee’s website.
“My core values of equity and voice and academic excellence align to your Portland promise,” he said.
While search committee chairperson Sarah Lentz said that she wished there was more “gender diversity” in their selected finalists, she said both Moore and the other finalist, Dr. Ryan Scallon, are solid candidates.
“We believe their strengths, experiences, and commitment to equity are solid and impressive,” Lentz said.
“Moore has been open and forthcoming to our requests for more information and we now have a complete understanding of what transpired and why,” Lentz wrote in response to concerns over Moore’s history in Minneapolis.
“I urge you and others to participate in the process to understand more about Mr. Moore and his experiences in Minneapolis,” Lentz wrote.
The Maine Wire contacted Lentz with questions about Moore’s disciplinary record in Minneapolis, including any previous suspensions and rumors that he had been fired from an administrative position in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin school district.
“We are deep within the final stages of this interview process which includes deep due diligence for both candidates. Until that is complete, I won’t be able to comment on your questions,” Lentz responded.
Lahm, the journalist who originally covered Moore’s 2022 scandal, said in a phone interview that Moore’s CDD initiative was really a marketing guise to cover the district’s budgetary issues, with MPS claiming the closure of schools needed to be done in order to address “achievement gaps” between white and black students.
Most parents of MPS students, Lahm said, would call the CDD initiative a “disaster.”
“I observed Eric Moore at numerous community meetings related to the CDD plan, which he was tasked with selling to the public, and it often seemed as though his numbers just didn’t add up,” Lahm said.
“Many parents who were closely involved and invested in the district’s plans often expressed frustration with his willingness to promise things that just didn’t make sense,” she said.
According to Lahm, CDD’s school closures and redistricting resulted in Somali siblings being separated across multiple schools.
Minneapolis Public Schools denied a public records request into any previous suspensions or other disciplinary actions against Moore, citing privacy laws.
Moore did not respond to an email inquiring about the 2022 investigation into his text messages to union officials.