After months on paid leave, Portland Public Schools’ communications director resigning

Communications Director Resigns After Paid Leave

Freddie Mack, the former senior director of communications for Portland Public Schools, at a press conference in 2022. He is resigning from his post and school board members will consider whether to approve a settlement of $90,000 at Tuesday night's board meeting.Courtesy of Portland Public Schools/Beth Conyers

The head of Portland Public Schools’ communications department is resigning, after spending seven months on paid leave then negotiating a $90,000 payout.

School board members will vote Tuesday on the financial settlement with Freddie Mack, a former public affairs deputy at the Pentagon who arrived in Portland in February 2022. State law requires that board members approve any settlement that exceeds $75,000.

When a local Oregon government pays an employee to depart, it typically signals that the employer wants the employee gone but wants to be sure the worker doesn’t sue over the ejection. Portland school district officials would not release details of the deal it reached with Mack apart from its $90,000 cost, citing confidentiality regulations.

Mack did not return a call and a text message seeking comment on the separation agreement.

Mack was hired as the school district’s senior director of communications under then-Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero. He made $187,567 a year.

Before landing in Portland, Mack served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, including as a spokesperson. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. He then served as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

His leave from the district began last August and included some state paid leave, which allows up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off to take care of one’s self or a family member. That meant he was away during a tumultuous public relations period, including during the district’s first-ever teachers strike.

His prolonged leave was taken in part to care for a sick family member, several people close to Mack said.

From the start, his tenure in Portland was complicated. His military background made him an uneasy fit in hyper-liberal Portland. And the department he leads has come under fire from the Portland Association of Teachers, whose president, Angela Bonilla, charged that the district was spending too much on messaging and imaging control.

The approximately $2 million a year in communications department costs could have been better spent in the classroom, she said, a talking point frequently cited by union supporters during the nearly month-long teacher strike.

The district’s communications staff includes 11 people, two more than in Beaverton, the state’s second largest school district, which has 56 school campuses, to Portland’s 81. The Portland communications department’s staffing level is on par with that in other districts around the country that also enroll around 44,000 students. The communications department in Tucson, Ariz., for example, includes 14 people, while the similarly sized Wichita school district has nine.

In addition to media relations, Mack oversaw communications staff who run the district’s social media channels, take photos and videos, help principals and senior leaders prepare communication with families, translate documents and respond to public records requests.

His departure has prompted soul-searching for some school board members. School board chair Gary Hollands said he’d abstain from commenting out of respect for Mack but has pointedly noted that the district has a track record of churning through leaders of color.

School board member Michelle DePass said she too was acutely aware of the district’s complicated racial dynamics. But she cautioned that board members traditionally have the authority only to hire and fire a superintendent, with administrative personnel decisions below that level not within board members’ purview.

— Julia Silverman covers schools and education policy for The Oregonian. She can be reached via email at Follow her on at @jrlsilverman.

If you purchase a product or register for an account through a link on our site, we may receive compensation. By using this site, you consent to our User Agreement and agree that your clicks, interactions, and personal information may be collected, recorded, and/or stored by us and social media and other third-party partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy.