School Board elects leader

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As its first order of business Monday night, the new Steamboat Springs School Board elected Tom Miller-Freutel as its president with a unanimous vote.

Miller-Freutel rep--resents District 5, a seat he won Nov. 1 in an uncontested election. Longtime board member Pat Gleason nominated him to lead the board.

"Thank you all for this honor," said Miller-Freutel, a businessman in the telecommunications industry. "This is not a position I will take lightly."

Colorado Mountain College professor Jeff Troeger will serve as vice president, also receiving a unanimous vote. New board members Denise Connelly and John DeVincentis will serve as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

With officers in place, the board quickly got down to business. In a meeting lasting more than two hours, the board heard comments from teachers, administrators and a representative of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, who pledged to bring master contract agreements for district staff "back to the negotiating table." Board members discussed reducing community forums about facility renovations and debated plans for a retreat to develop techniques for working together effectively.

Don Schwartz, a fourth-grade teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School, asked for an additional staff work day, citing the heavy burden in November of preparing for report cards and parent conferences.

"This is probably the most stressful time all year for teachers," Schwartz said, noting that he saw many of his colleagues putting in extra work hours at the school last weekend.

Jerry Buelter, assistant principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School, said the number of parents attending conferences has tripled in recent years, making scheduling difficult.

The new School Board got an idea of its own big work load when Buelter returned to the podium, this time to speak on behalf of all administrators in the district.

"We believe the events that happened at the last board meeting were inappropriate and detrimental to our healthy, positive and supportive district environment," Buelter said, referring to public comments made at that meeting after teachers were given a one-time monetary bonus that administrators did not receive. "We were disappointed that a few individuals ... presented the appearance of a division between staff and administration."

Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knez-evich said the previous School Board allowed public comments to "get out of hand," and that the perceived division bothered him.

"It wasn't about the money," he said. "We are in this with the teachers; I don't like the feeling that lines are being drawn."

Buelter's comments changed the tone of what had been a light-hearted meeting, one that began with cake and laughter as the board thanked outgoing members Paula Stephenson, Michael Loomis and Tami Havener.

Miller-Freutel took the opportunity to make his position as president known.

"The respect issue starts now," he said. "From this point on, I will insist on respect at all times, and on all levels."

Miller-Freutel also asked his daughter Taylor, a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School, to stand up.

"This is the reason we are here, right there," he said, pointing.

"We have made excuses after excuses here -- it is about time we put those excuses aside and dig in."

Bethany Aurin, a school bus driver who has two daughters at Strawberry Park Elementary School, said after the meeting that she welcomed Miller-Freutel's statements.

"As a mother, I am very excited about this new School Board," she said, citing what she thought would be a more open, respectful forum for public comments.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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