School Board to see change

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For the second time since 2003, the Steamboat Springs School Board is headed for change at the top.

School Board veterans Paula Stephenson and Tami Havener won't seek re-election in November, opening two seats and spurring speculation as to who might vie for a spot on the volunteer board.

The changes are reminiscent of November 2003, when board leaders Paul Fisher and Tom Sharp chose not to run for re-election, a decision that enabled newcomers Jeff Troeger and Michael Loomis to take seats on the five-member School Board. The shake-up also propelled Paula Stephenson to the board presidency.

But after four years as a Sch--ool Board member, Stephenson is ready to move on.

Her years of service to the district and the time constraints brought on by her new position as a lobbyist for rural schools made the decision to step aside an easy one.

"I love Steamboat, and I love being on the Board of Education," Stephenson said. "It's been 10 years volunteering in the district, and I don't have kids in it yet."

Stephenson was appointed to the board in April 2001. She was elected to a four-year term seven months later. Stephenson was elected board president shortly after the November 2003 election.

Stephenson, who also is executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, now spends much of her time in Denver and other parts of the state, lobbying on behalf of rural school districts. There simply aren't enough hours in the week to do both jobs as effectively as she'd like, she said.

"For everyone who thinks the School Board is only a two-day-a-month job, there are weeks when I spend 20 hours on school things," Stephenson said. "It's time to do something a little different."

Stephenson's represents the school system's 3rd Director District.

Havener, the board's vice president, was appointed in November 2000. She was elected to a four-year term the next year.

"I don't think I have the passion to complete another four-year term," Havener said last week. "I don't want to run (for re-election) and then run out of steam."

Havener, who said she's been frustrated by certain aspects of the district, is proud to have helped create the district's R-3 and R-4 results policies, which deal with the social and emotional development of children. It's increasingly important for school districts to keep the development of the "whole child" in mind, said Havener, who is director of the Family Development Center, which includes the well-respected Discovery Learning Center.

"I feel like I've learned so much," Havener said about her time on the board and in other volunteer positions with the district.

Havener represents residents in the school system's 1st Director District.

Possible replacements

Stephenson and Havener said they plan to talk to people in their respective director districts about running for their soon-to-be-vacant seats, but neither identified anyone by name.

"This summer, we'll see who's interested," Stephenson said. "Hopefully, there will be at least one person who wants to do it."

A potential candidate for Havener's seat is retiring Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis. DeVincentis, an outspoken administrator who has led Strawberry Park to top rankings on the state-issued School Accountability Reports, stepped aside in June after 20 years at the school.

"I am definitely considering (running for election)," DeVincentis said last week.

He said he hasn't agreed with many district-level decisions.

"I just have an interest in seeing the school district live up to the potential that it has," he said. "I think I have a good understanding of the processes of the district, and I have a very strong interest in how our kids do and what we can provide for them in education."

DeVincentis also would like to see changes in the way the district uses revenue from the city's half-cent sales tax for education.

"I think we can provide more advantages for our kids than we do right now with the half-cent sales tax," he said.

DeVincentis said he'd support a different candidate from his director district if that person shared his views about the district.

Superintendent staying

Regardless of who eventually takes over Havener's and Stephenson's positions on the School Board, Superintendent Donna Howell likely will be around to see most of their four-year terms through.

Last week, the board approved a four-year contract extension for Howell that runs into 2009. Howell, hired in August 2003 by the School Board composed of Fisher, Sharp, Stephenson, Havener and Pat Gleason, signed a three-year contract at the time of her hiring. She agreed to a one-year extension the next year.

Her new contract includes at least one substantial change from her previous contracts. Instead of having to pay Howell the equivalent of one year's salary to dismiss her without cause, future boards will have to buy out Howell's entire contract if they want to change direction and hire a new superintendent

For a district that has cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from its budget in recent years, such a buyout would cost about $150,000 a year for each year remaining on Howell's contract at the time of her dismissal. The district would pay Howell nothing if it fired her with cause.

Howell said the provision protects her from being unilaterally terminated by a future School Board. Stephenson and Havener said that the community has identified the direction in which it wants the district to go and that Howell is the right leader for the job.

"If the new board comes in and for no cause wanted to get rid of (Howell), they'd have to pay a hefty price tag," Stephenson said. "And I don't think that's a bad thing. Donna's a tremendous leader."

Tom Fitzgerald, a teacher and member of the Steamboat Springs Education Association's executive council, wondered why there wasn't more public discussion about Howell's contract extension. He also said people are questioning why School Board members who won't be around to see Howell's new contract expire gave her such a long extension.

A School Board can't defer important decisions to future boards, Stephenson said.

"The job of the board members while they're there is to make the best decisions for the organization," she said. "It's not our job to wait until someone else comes in.

"This is the direction we need to go, it's in the best interest of the organization, and we'll continue down that path," Steph--enson said.


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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