December 19, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Shari Bennett resigned as a member of the La Grande School Board this morning after the board issued a no-confidence vote on Wednesday.

The resignation is effective immediately.

I do this with a clear conscience and I want to assure this community that I have never breached their trust nor abused my position, Bennett said in a written statement submitted to The Observer.

The board censured Bennett by a 5-1 vote for allegedly acting outside her authority. Sandra Roth was the lone board member who voted against the censure.

Why vote to have a board member resign when all you have is unfounded accusations, Roth said.

She noted that an outside investigation has not been done by the state. Roth said that the no-confidence vote should not have been on the agenda.

Bennett has been embroiled in controversy for much of the year over allegations that she exceeded her authority and was involved in a student grade change that eventually was overturned by the board.

The accusations are untrue. I have acted ethically and legally. My attorney confirms this. Be assured, if I were guilty of anything illegal or unethical there would have been an outside investigation with findings of violations, Bennetts written statement said.

Bennett said she is resigning because the politics, focus and ethics of the current district leadership prevent me from being effective in the job I was elected to do.

Wednesdays censure came 10 days days after the La Grande School Districts teachers and administrators also announced a vote of no confidence. The teachers and administrators released a statement on Dec. 10 indicating a strong vote of no confidence had come in against Bennett.

On Oct. 25 the school board released a statement that said Bennett had overstepped her authority in a matter involving confidential student records.

The boards statement acknowledged that sometime between June 20 and June 22 Bennett examined files containing confidential student records at La Grande High School.

Earlier this year Bennett was involved in another matter that resulted in a grievance being filed. The matter involved the changing of a students grade after the student was inappropriately retested for a class.

The grade was changed in cooperation with Jerry Sessions, who was the school districts superintendent. Sessions is now the superintendent of the Hood River County School District.

A grievance was filed by the La Grande Education Association, the teachers union, following the change. In August the school board heard the issue in executive (closed) session and upheld the grievance publicly, thereby overturning the grade change.

Bennett said in the statement she released this morning that as a board member she has consistently done her homework and always acted in the best interests of all students.

I am proud of my voting record of the past 12-plus years. There is not an administrator in this district (or retired) that could accuse me of micromanaging by being in their office, on the phone, e-mailing, or (in) any other form. We have a stellar, dedicated staff throughout our district.

Bennett concluded her statement by saying: I want to tell all the patrons of the La Grande School District that it has been a privilege to serve in this wonderful community that cares so much about its children.