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Superintendent search, budget planning focus of March school board meeting

Members of the Jeffco community questioned the school board’s decision to not appoint an interim superintendent as the board heard direct reports from the four executive Jeffco School administrators at a packed March 6 board meeting.

Members of the Jeffco School Board hear an update by the Choice and Enrollment Steering Committee during the March 6 meeting at Golden High School.
Lisa Cook

“The Board of Education is a policy-making board, not an administrative board,” Jeffco parent Tammy Story told the board during public comment.

She pointed out that board policies do not allow for individual school board members to direct staff, and said that not appointing an interim to manage a district with 85,000 students, 14,000 employees and a budget of nearly $1 billion was irresponsible.

“Such a decision seems more like an abdication of responsibility, rather than governance and leadership of the school district,” Story told the board.

Ann Cowie-Bozner also questioned the board’s decision during public comment.

“How does the board have the knowledge and expertise to supervise an organization as complex as the Jefferson County School system?” Cowie-Bozner asked.

“I think this is a very foolish policy,” she said.

Superintendent search gets underway

The Jeffco School Board also approved superintendent search timeline and related materials after hearing an update from the search firm Ray and Associates. The search firm asked the board to set a salary offer and provided a list of superintendent salaries in nearby districts and some nationally with a size comparable to Jeffco.

According to Ray and Associates, the Douglas County Schools superintendent is estimated to have a salary of $297,052 for 2013-14, plus benefits. That amount is projected to increase to more than $300,000 for 2014-15. Enrollment in Douglas County is 53,000.

Superintendent salaries in districts like Milwaukee, Wis., with 80,000 students and Baltimore, Md., with 85,000 are estimated to be $304,697 and $290,000 this year, respectively.

Board members voted to set the salary offer for the superintendent position at $280,000 plus benefits. Former Jeffco superintendent Cindy Stevenson's salary was $205,500 in 2013-14.

The board also approved a series of community meetings and a survey asking community members for input about what they want to see in a new superintendent. The community survey is available in English or Spanish and will be open through 5 pm on Friday, March 28.

Community meetings to provide information the timeline and give the community a chance for input will be held on Tuesday, March 18 and Wednesday, March 19. Separate meetings for employees will also be held on those two days. Times and locations for those meetings are listed on the Jeffco Schools homepage.

Board revisits school board president's role

The board also revisited the question of the school board president’s role regarding communications. The topic became a point of contention earlier this year when board members argued over whether board policy GP-05 allowed the board president to directly communicate with employees.

“Rather than proposing a change to the policy at this time…in the future if we need to reach out to the public or to the district, I’ll spend my own advertising dollars to do that to get some direct facts out that are accurate and correct, and I’ll certainly invite any other board members to join me who would like to do that,” Witt said at the beginning of the discussion.

Newkirk questioned how the board could effectively communicate what was true and what was not with so many rumors flying around unless the president was empowered to do so. He suggested that section three of board policy GP-05 be amended during the transition period, “until such time as a new superintendent is brought on board.”

Newkirk said he wanted to add the phrase “to represent the board to outside parties and to authorize the direct development in publication of district communications,” to the clause that gives the board president authority to represent the board to outside parties.

“There is no board that I am aware of, in Colorado or elsewhere, that communicates directly with employees. We are not employees of this district,” Dahlkemper said.

“It’s not this board’s role to communicate directly to employees. It sends mixed messages; it sets a bad precedent,” she said.

The motion was voted down 3 to 2, with Witt siding with Dahlkemper and Fellman.

SPAC presents budget recommendations

In other business, the board heard recommendations from the Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. SPAC Citizen Chair Bill Bottoms presented a number of budget recommendations that the committee had discussed recently.

Priorities included employee compensation increases, rebuilding the district’s reserve funds, increasing full-day kindergarten offerings, technology and reading proficiency.

A “minority report” was also presented by SPAC member Tom Coyne and Rachel Swalley, as had been requested by the school board’s three newest members earlier this year.

In his presentation to the board, Coyne alleged that the recent budget survey did not limit people’s ability to submit multiple responses to the survey, and that “all we can say is that the actual number of unique respondents was somewhere between 1 and about 13,000.”

Coyne’s statement ignored the fraud analysis provided at the end of the budget survey results by Jeffco School’s IT Department and the fact that the survey was in fact, limited.

Attempts to take the survey again on the same computer received the response “thank you for completing this survey” unless the user had deleted the cookie associated with the survey manually or if the web browser preferences were set to delete cookies each time the browser was closed, as per SurveyMonkey policy.

Coyne also asserted that the district should not worry about its credit rating and not build up reserves.

Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis disagreed with that idea, emphasizing that the district should not make decisions that would negatively impact the district’s bond rating, as that would affect rates on existing bonds and any future bonds.

Gillis also pointed out that the reserves have been essential for cushioning economic downturns as they did recently, and that another downturn is expected in a few years.

The board also: