Leaders to attend mediation

Officials will attempt to better their working relationship


— Eight months after Superintendent Cyndy Simms' performance evaluation of Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis sparked controversy in the school district, the two administrators will go through mediation in an attempt to better their working relationship.

On Feb. 28, Simms and DeVincentis will appear in Denver before a professional arbiter at The Judicial Arbiter Group Inc.

Though details of the mediation process are unclear, the purpose is not.

"Our charge from the board is to establish a long-term working relationship," Simms said. "We are counting on it being a very productive experience."

The Steamboat Springs School Board wanted a mediator with experience dealing with school districts and employer/employee relations, Simms said. JAG provided Simms and DeVincentis with the names of five mediators who fit those criteria. Simms and DeVincentis each chose two names out of the five, and one of those names happened to match.

The mediation process will be a one-day affair, but a written plan developed during the mediation is intended to provide a lasting formula for how Simms and DeVincentis will communicate and maintain a professional working relationship.

Simms said she's hopeful the mediation and resulting plan will fulfill its purpose.

"You have to understand where the other person is coming from, and vice-versa," she said. "If it's something we've both had a hand in and both agreed to, it seems like it should work."

The written plan for maintaining a professional working relationship will be confidential, Simms said.

DeVincentis declined to comment about the potential effect of the mediation.

"I know very little (about the mediation process)," DeVincentis said. "I somehow expected a process of several meetings, but it doesn't sound like that."

Simms said she was unsure how long the mediation, which begins at 9 a.m., would take.

"I think you keep going until you have a plan both sides can agree to," she said.

Attorneys are not permitted at the mediation, but Simms and DeVincentis have the option of bringing a "listener," Simms said.

School Board President Paul Fisher said he does not know how much the mediation will cost the district. Arbiter fees range from $210 to $350 per hour, depending on the arbiter, according to JAG's Web site.

The conflict between the two arose in June, when DeVincentis received a poor performance evaluation from Simms. DeVincentis' pay-for-performance bonus and a salary increase were withheld because of the poor marks on his evaluation.

DeVincentis appealed the evaluation to the school board, which eventually awarded DeVincentis his bonus and salary increase but refused to change his evaluation marks.

On Dec. 19, Simms and DeVincentis signed an agreement to "use Judicial Arbiter Group for mediation purposes and create a future long-term professional working relationship including effective communication."

The school board did not renew DeVincentis' contract at its Jan. 13 meeting but instead offered him a revised contract with several additional clauses. One of the clauses mandates mediation. DeVincentis signed the new contract at the board meeting.

"What the new contract now says is that (DeVincentis) needs to go to mediation and he needs to follow the mediation plan," Fisher said. "If he doesn't, that is grounds for dismissal."

"(The board hopes) that we get back to professional working relationships and get all this stuff from the past behind us," Fisher added.


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