Howell, board part ways | SteamboatToday.com

Howell, board part ways

Former superintendent agrees to contract buyout

Mike McCollum

Donna Howell waits for the Steamboat Springs School Board to return from an executive session Friday morning in Centennial Hall. Many in the audience spoke in support of Howell. Later in the afternoon, Howell accepted a settlement package from the School Board and tendered her resignation, effective immediately.

— Donna Howell’s tenure as superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District ended Friday afternoon when she and the School Board agreed to a contract buyout.

In exchange for her resignation, the district will pay Howell a lump sum of $270,000, slightly less than the $300,000 she would have earned in salary and benefits from serving out the remaining two years on her contract. Howell’s departure is effective immediately.

Board President Denise Connelly said the buyout was necessary because of differences that had developed between the board and superintendent during the past year. Connelly said those differences had distracted the board from other business.

“Simply put, it became apparent to the board that this employment relationship was not a good fit after three unsuccessful sessions that were facilitated by outside professionals to improve the relationship,” she said Friday after the agreement was announced during a special meeting at Centennial Hall.

The meeting began at 8 a.m. Friday with an executive, or secret, session. The board then opened the floor to public comments. More than a dozen people spoke in support of Howell. The board then went back into executive session, emerging at 10:30 a.m. to announce it would have to reconvene the meeting at 3 p.m. while it awaited word from attorneys on both sides.

At 3 p.m., the board went back into executive session. The deal was announced at about 4 p.m. The board voted 4-0 to accept the settlement. Board member Char Rusk abstained, saying she has not been on the board long enough to make a decision.

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Board member Jerry Kozatch said Friday’s executive sessions were the culmination of extensive negotiations with Howell and her attorney to find some sort of resolution.

“We’ve been going back and forth with options with her attorney for several days,” he said. “This is really details as opposed to anything substantive at all.”

Finance Director Dale Mellor will be responsible for the superintendent functions while the board looks for an interim replacement. Connelly said the board would begin the process of finding an interim superintendent next week. The board also is scheduled to meet Monday.

“We have already had people express interest in the interim position,” Connelly said. She said board member John DeVincentis, a former elementary school principal, is not a candidate for the superintendent position, on an interim basis or otherwise.

“We do know there are people, we’ve talked with the Colorado Association of School Boards, and we know there are a list of retired people that look for positions like this for a year until we can have a formal process of interviewing (for a permanent superintendent),” she said.

Connelly said she hopes to develop a list of about 10 former superintendents who might be interested in the position. She added that the board is looking for “an experienced superintendent” with team-building experience.

More than 50 people gathered at Centennial Hall for the morning meeting to watch the proceedings. About 30 people returned for the afternoon session.

Many of those who addressed the board, including Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Judy Harris, questioned the timing of the board’s decision, which came just a couple of weeks before the start of the school year.

Before the settlement agreement was announced, Harris said the district is coming down to the wire to complete the temporary Soda Creek facility and that she needed Howell’s help to get the job done.

“I need your support, as representing 385 kids, 62 staff members, and the parents of all those kids, to continue to support Donna Howell and let her do her job and support me in fulfilling the promises that I’ve made to our parents, our staff and our students,” Harris said.

At the end of the afternoon session, board member Jeff Troeger said the district has the right people on staff to continue to be successful.

“We’re very confident in the professionals we have, and we know the district is in good hands,” he said. “We’re going to move forward.”

Howell was hired in fall 2003. None of the current board members was on the board when she was hired. Troeger was on the board when she was given a contract extension in April 2005; Troeger opposed that extension, which included a stipulation that Howell’s contract be paid in full if she were fired without cause.

Following her dismissal, Howell said she has no plans to leave Steamboat, and she praised the administrators, teachers, staff, parents and members of the community she has had the opportunity to work with.

“They have all been dedicated to the education of our children,” said Howell, who reiterated her intent was to complete her full commitment to the district.

“I know they will continue to focus on what is best and what is in the best interest of our community,” she said. “I am, and I have been, touched and encouraged by the expressions of support I have received from teachers, administrators, staff, parents and the community.”

– To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

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