Our View: Bad decision at a bad time

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— The Steamboat Springs School Board's decision Friday to buy out the final two years of Superintendent Donna Howell's contract brought a needed conclusion to what had become an embarrassing, drawn-out affair for the school district and the community. Unfortunately, we believe it was the wrong conclusion.

The School Board voted 4-0 Friday to pay Howell $270,000 to immediately walk away from her duties. Board member Char Rusk abstained.

Make no mistake, hiring, firing and maintaining a good working relationship with a superintendent is one of the most important duties of a School Board. Howell was hired in 2003 by a previous board, and she was given a guaranteed four-year contract two years later. We criticized the decision at the time, particularly because it was made, in part, by board members on their way out instead of those on their way in.

It would be logical for some of the current School Board members to think they were forced into the decision they made Friday because of that four-year contract. It's ironic then that Howell was dismissed with votes by board members who must run for election in just three months, if they run at all. After waiting so long to act on Howell, it would have been appropriate to wait another couple of months for a potential new board to establish a relationship with Howell and decide for itself whether she should stay or go.

The upcoming election isn't the only awkward timing involved in Friday's announcement. A new school year starts in two weeks, and the district is in the midst of several major construction projects. The temporary Soda Creek Elementary School facility isn't ready for students, and the district lacks a transportation plan for student drop-off, pick-up and parking at "Camp Soda Creek" on Seventh Street.

Furthermore, a new principal at Strawberry Park Elementary School, a new food services director and a new curriculum and instruction director are without a boss to guide their transitions, not to mention the many new teachers and support staff members.

Perhaps we could be swayed with some - any - indication of why Howell's dismissal is in the "best interest of the district," as Board President Denise Connelly said Friday when announcing the buyout. Connelly went on to say it was clear Howell was not a "good fit" after three unsuccessful facilitated sessions with third-party professionals. Those sessions were held in March. If it was clear it wouldn't work out with Howell then, why not move forward with your decision and immediately begin a superintendent search process while the best candidates were still job hunting?

Instead, we're left to wonder why our elected representatives spent $270,000 to say goodbye to a well-respected, accomplished superintendent at such a critical time for our school district. In her four-year tenure in Steamboat, Howell was the guiding force behind the successful school construction bond issue and a mill levy override to increase staff salaries. She was a tireless proponent of the district throughout the community and was instrumental during the past two collaborative bargaining sessions, which resulted in salary and benefits packages that received tremendous support from teachers and staff. A dozen district teachers and administrators spoke in support of Howell at Friday's School Board meeting; none spoke out against her.

The spotlight is now on Connelly and the remainder of the board. We hope, for our children's and community's sake, they have a good plan for the future.

Comments

Carrie Requist 7 years, 4 months ago

And again I ask - who is going to run and do we have any idea if they can do a better job?

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Gadfly 7 years, 4 months ago

Friday was a shameful day for the RE-2 school district. When will elected officials learn that the entities they govern are not toys for them to play with?

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kingsride 7 years, 4 months ago

In the past I have voted for Denise, (and to retain her husband) John D. and for the sales tax. Guess what is never gonna happen again?

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another_local 7 years, 4 months ago

The school board now has the honor of being the public body I have the least regard for. At this point I will vote for pretty much anyone that is not currently on the board.

What an amazing, anti-productive, wasteful decision. We will now run in circles until after the election.

Good luck passing the half cent tax next time around!

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id04sp 7 years, 4 months ago

Kingsride,

Okay, so that makes TWO of us. All we need are about 5000 more willing to do the same, and local conditions will improve.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 4 months ago

Hey Sara-

I've got 12,358 people who disagree with you. Of course, I can't get them to properly fill out forms such as with recalls, but that's not the point, is it?

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sarakg 7 years, 4 months ago

Hey king and ido4sp...There's at least 2,300 people who may feel this way. There's also a convenient list made already, just make sure people give you right information this time. And add at least one name to the top...

While we're at it, let's take back the small town we used to know and love. Encourage everyone you know to vote and to know the candidates. We may be very close to becoming Aspen, but there's still time...let's take Steamboat back, "Out Cold" style (or at least with that attitude). See you all at the polls...

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 4 months ago

Carrie- That all depends on when someone announces that they are running, and what their qualifications are. Unfortunately, there are people who'd vote in the "anybody but D" candidate. They won't care if the person is qualified...just that it's not D. That usually works to straighten things out for the better.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 4 months ago

Carrie- I agree: we probably won't see too many "great" candidates. That's true throughout politics. There's also too many cooks on this kitchen who won't bother to actually cook something for the district. They prefer to be food critics instead of cooking something they like.

As for my closing comment, I was being facetious. People do tend to vote that way, though. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that a lot of people tend to vote against someone probably more often than they vote FOR someone.

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Carrie Requist 7 years, 4 months ago

Matt -

Many of the current and past board members look really good on paper in terms of their background and experience in education and their community involvement.

Given that and that most races are uncontested anyway (partially becuase of the Director District stuff), I don't think the electorate will end up with much of a say and we just have to hope that they people who chose to run really are going to be great and able to make the necessary changes.

Sad situation.

And about voting Not D - no one will have that chance for another 3 years. And I am not as optimistic as you that voting not X usually straightens things out.

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