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Interim superintendent remains undecided issue for Jeffco School Board

Whether the Jeffco School Board will appoint an interim superintendent remains an open question after the Feb. 18 special meeting.

The transition plan calls for five Jeffco Schools employees to report directly to the board, but the board agreed to discuss the possibility of an interim superintendent the next week on Feb. 27.

Under the current transition plan, board secretary Helen Neale, Chief Academic Effectiveness Officer Marcia Anker, Chief Academic Officer Heather Beck, Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis, and Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell will report to the board.

“The search effort intends to have a new superintendent selected before May,” Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt said.

Board member Jill Fellman questioned the short timeline.

“I’ve talked to a number of people in the local government arena and they think it’s absolutely absurd that we can even do this in two months,” she said. “I think we need at least minimum of three or four, which is what we originally stated.”

“I haven’t been part of the discussion of having it done before May, so I have a problem with that,” Fellman said.

Witt acknowledged that the search might take longer than May, but in an interview earlier that week he also told Chalkbeat Colorado that he intended to have a new superintendent in place by May.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper suggested a friendly amendment to select an interim superintendent to serve in the two to three month time frame of the motion.

“We’re the largest employer in Jefferson County. We have 14,000 employees,” Dahlkemper said. “I think we need one interim CEO who’s held accountable, who reports directly to the board.”

“It’s the board’s job to set policy. It’s not the board’s job to micromanage the day to day decisions,” Dahlkemper said.

Witt said that the four senior administrators could report to the board at the monthly meetings and call a special session if necessary.

“I don’t want to give the district the distraction of an interim superintendent at this time,” Witt said.

“Is it your expectation that the board will convene as a five-member body every time a situation arises?” Dahlkemper asked. “Who calls the final shot on different issues? How will you coordinate to ensure all five of us are available to meet with this team?”

“You’re asking five people to come to the board. Are we going to be meeting daily? What kinds of things should I be putting on my calendar in order to make sure those happen?” Fellman asked.

“For me, the bottom line is that there’s already too much uncertainty in Jeffco Public Schools right now,” Dahlkemper said. She recommended that one of the four chief executives named in the transition plan lead the district as an interim superintendent so the board could focus their efforts on finding the next Jeffco Schools superintendent.

Other candidates were also suggested. Dahlkemper suggested Anker, who is one of the four who will report to the board, while Witt mentioned that Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis might be a possibility. Board member John Newkirk suggested that an interim might come from outside the district.

Board member Julie Williams requested a week to review candidates before making a decision.

The board will revisit the question of an interim superintendent as part of the transition plan at its Feb. 27 special meeting.

Another issue concerned a letter Witt wanted to send to all district employees. The letter concerned Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s February resignation, and board members disagreed over the letter’s accuracy and whether members of the board can give orders to district staff.

“If we’re going to talk about why Dr. Stevenson is stepping down, I think that we should discuss that honestly with our employees and with our community,” Dahlkemper said.

Dahlkemper and Fellman also pointed out that board members do not have authority to direct district staff to send a letter.

“This is a letter that should go out under the person who is spearheading the district, not the president of the board,” Dahlkemper said. “I think it sets a bad precedent in terms of the board president or any member of this board endorsing a letter that clearly micromanages the work of the district.”

According to board policy, the board only supervises and directions one employee: the superintendent. The superintendent, in turn, has the authority to direct all staff.

Witt argued that the last line of board policy GP-05 gives the board president authority to direct staff to send the letter, but no such wording exists in that document.

Fellman read the last line of GP-05: “The president may delegate to other members the responsibility of making statements to the media when appropriate.”

“This says the media. This is not staff,” Fellman said.

The policy also states that the president normally serves as the Board’s official spokesperson and that the president represents the board to outside parties. It specifies that the president has no authority as an individual to supervise or direct the superintendent.

That same policy also specifies that the president should “ensure that the entire Board is fully informed about Board business.”

Witt agreed to table the letter and review the policy at the March 6 meeting.

Williams also asked the board to add a discussion of appropriate use of Jeffco social media to the March 6 agenda. She gave board members a handout that she claimed came from the district's Twitter feed.

Dahlkemper asked Williams to clarify if the tweets came from the Jeffco Schools Twitter feed, and Williams replied, “Yes, it’s a screenshot saved from that.”

What was on Williams’ handout is not clear, but days earlier Williams told attendees of a South Jeffco Tea Party meeting that the tweets had been made by two people who are not Jeffco Schools employees.

If the comments Williams made to the Feb. 13 Tea Party meeting are true, the comments were posted from personal Twitter accounts and not associated in any way with the Jeffco Schools Twitter account or communications department.

"I would like the board to reconsider the committee membership of the people who had tweeted these things,” Williams said.

Jeffco’s Communications Services is expected to give a presentation about the district’s social media policies at the March 6 board meeting.

District Policy GBEE, staff use of the internet and electronic communication, is also posted in BoardDocs.

The Jeffco School Board’s next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 pm in the Education Center Board Room.

The school board is expected to approve the contract with Ray and Associates for the superintendent search, review the budget, discuss the upcoming community engagement meetings, and revisit the superintendent transition plan at that meeting.

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