Editor’s note: A recall effort targeting Chris Wright, Falcon School District 49 Board of Education vice president, had been initiated a few months ago but because of costs to do so community members behind it decided to dismiss the action. The NFH followed up because of agenda items that had been stalemated for months seemingly due to a lack of cohesiveness among board members. Chuck Irons refused to comment on the issues, and Henry Allen did not return phone calls.
At the Jan. 10 meeting of the Falcon School District 49 Board of Education, members finalized the chief education officer’s job description, after months of dodging the subject. Becky Carter retired as the CEO in August, and since then Don Begier has been the acting CEO.
After a six-hour meeting Jan. 10, the board asked Paul Andersen, personnel director, to make final changes on the CEO job description. They then voted on posting the position. The motion passed in a 4-1 vote, with Marie LaVere-Wright, board treasurer, opposed. Pending a review by the board’s legal counsel, the position will be posted for 30 days.
Initially, the job description was slated as a discussion item at the Jan. 10 meeting, but members amended the agenda and passed a motion to change the issue to an action item in a 3-2 vote – LaVere Wright and Tammy Harold, board president, opposed.
The CEO job description should have been posted in November, but board member attendance issues delayed the process, LaVere-Wright said. By posting the description at a later date, the field narrows because ideal candidates have already committed to other districts, she said.
In a separate interview, LaVere-Wright said the board had originally agreed to thwart all discussions on the CEO job description unless all board members were present at the meetings. But meeting attendance has been an issue. According to D 49 attendance records, the board met 34 times in 2012, which included all regular meetings, special meetings, work sessions and the board retreat. Five meetings were canceled. The following absences were recorded:
In another separate interview with the NFH, Wright said absences had nothing to do with the delay in the finalization of the job description. “We talked to Tammy about the job description from the moment she started (as board president), but it just kept getting put off and put off and it came down to an ideological difference,” Wright said. The majority of the board isn’t looking for a superintendent; they want someone with a larger skill set (more business experience), he said. And posting outside the ideal time-frame won’t matter, Wright added.
- Harold – absent from one special meeting
- Chris Wright, board vice president – absent from five regular meetings, four work sessions, four special meetings and one retreat; left early from one regular and two special meetings; arrived late to two regular meetings
- Chuck Irons, board secretary – absent from one regular meeting, one work session and one special meeting; left early from one special meeting.
- LaVere-Wright –no absences
- Henry Allen, Jr., director (term began June 25, 2012) – absent from one regular meeting; left early from one work session.
Agenda or agendas
Although some board members claim that the CEO posting had been delayed because of board members absences from meetings, Wright and Irons said that agenda items were just getting “blocked.” To counter that, the two introduced proposals to board policy.
According to D 49 documents submitted by Irons, he initiated a policy change that would require the board president and vice president, the CEO, the chief business officer and the chief operations officer to be present at separate agenda setting meetings, where members determine issues for discussion at regular board meetings. Currently, the president and one other board member are required to be at the agenda setting meetings.
Irons’ other proposal allows board members to remove the president or vice president from office if the majority of the board loses confidence in them.
These proposals were originally scheduled for a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 10, 2012, but that meeting was canceled.
“To put into policy that if those five specific people are not in there (the agenda-setting meeting) you can’t have an agenda setting, you could go a long time without having an agenda setting,” Harold said.
Harold said the issue is not about agenda setting, it’s about “changing policy for individual personality reasons.” Harold said she believes that Wright has a personal conflict with her for no specific reason. She said Wright has said agenda items had been blocked but it’s not true.
LaVere-Wright agreed with Harold.
“There are policies in place that allow a member to bring anything up and change the agenda at the beginning (of the board meeting),” LaVere-Wright said. “One person, i.e. the board president, is incapable of blocking anything that someone would want to bring forward to discuss.
“The true issue is disharmony among the board members as people … the rules say you can’t remove a president or vice president from office.” The Colorado state statute does not allow the removal of board members from office by other board members.
“The contention is not on ideas, it’s not a difference of agreement, but it has to do with board members feeling like their president doesn’t represent the majority feelings on the board,” Wright said. “And there’s no way to remove him or her.”
Wright said he plans to sit down with Colorado senators to bring the statutory law that blocks the removal of the president or vice president by board members “into harmony” with local control. He said the board should have the right to remove someone in a leadership role that the majority doesn’t support.
According to other submitted documents scheduled for the canceled Dec. 10 meeting, Wright had also signed on to Iron’s proposal to allow board members to remove someone in a leadership role. The proposal would allow the district to spend up to $50,000 to “work with legal counsel to seek state guidance and ruling regarding the Board of Education’s right to govern its own officer roles and duties.”
However, Wright said, “I’m not sure why it would cost any money to do this. I think you would have to go up there (to the Colorado Department of Education) and state your argument without a lawyer. If we have to fight legally because we couldn’t get that policy changed, I think that’s where that number ($50,000) came from. That piece (the policy revision) was not created by me. It was created by Chuck. I’m not sure how my name got on there but I fully support him on that.”
Irons declined to comment.
LaVere-Wright said she does not support the policy revision regarding the removal of the president and vice president. She said the president must have the freedom to express his or her voice just like any other member. “Otherwise, that puts pressure on the president to vote a certain way instead of voting according to their conscience,” she said.
Dissent runs deep
Parents and others are concerned about the board’s inability to work together.
Chris Sewell, D 49 parent, called the district board dysfunctional. “If I was someone reading all this stuff in the news and the papers and I was considering whether to move here or somewhere else, I would high tail it to D 20,” Sewell said. “As a homeowner, you think about selling your home and you think about this dysfunction and instability – and it worries you."
An employee of the district, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We represent the people who can’t be here, the people who are afraid to go to the meetings and speak. I speak out because I know other teachers feel the fear. They are intimidated into not speaking out and you should be able to speak your mind without fear of retaliation.”
Another district employee, also requesting anonymity, said, “There is that fear there among my coworkers. I always get the feeling that someone could say, ‘I really don’t like you so you’re out.’”
“The fear that I hear amongst employees from the cafeteria workers to the top administrators is that if they ever speak out against a board member their job is in jeopardy,” Harold said. “There are situations where board members have gone into employees’ offices, directed them to follow a course of action and that employee felt that if they didn’t do that, they would be fired.”
“We have seen the board buy out a superintendent just because they wanted him out,” said Kelle Stanley, D 49 parent. “Employees have seen it happen with people who should never be intimidated, and that just builds the atmosphere of fear."
Wright called the notion of fear and intimidation a “political tactic.”
“The general consensus from the people I’ve actually talked to is that it doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s just a political tactic used by a couple people on the board who are pro-union and pro-centralization, and one of those people is in a key leadership position.”
Wright said the dysfunction stems from “the disconnection between the leadership and the members of the board.”
“The board is completely at its wits end with Mrs. Harold,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how bad she does, nothing matters, she’s in that role and she’s staying in it, period. It’s clear that she doesn’t care about the needs of the district.”
“We have so many other things that we need to be doing but instead, yet again, we are having this discussion (about policy revisions) that is unnecessary and redundant,” LaVere-Wright said. “And it doesn’t serve the district and doesn’t serve the kids.”