Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School Board and school district administrators squared off Monday night over access to performance surveys conducted in the fall.
After meeting in secret session over the objection of every district administrator, the School Board ordered Superintendent Donna Howell to turn the performance surveys over to board members.
The dispute is over anonymous surveys filled out by teachers. The surveys are intended as a way to assess administrators and instructional support specialists and provide them feedback about their performance. Howell had assured district employees that they and their immediate supervisors would be the only ones to see the survey results.
But four of the district's five board members have since asked Howell to release the results of those surveys.
"All school directors should have access to all school records at all times," board member and former Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis said.
The School Board went into secret session Monday to discuss the matter, but before it could do so, Steamboat Springs Middle School Assistant Principal Jerry Buelter read a prepared statement signed by all district administrators protesting the board's access to the surveys and requesting that any discussion of those surveys be held in public session.
District administrators include the four school principals, two assistant principals and eight department directors.
The district's four instructional support specialists also issued a statement objecting to the secret session. That statement was read by longtime district teacher Celia Dunham.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today similarly protested the secret session and will file a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain tapes of the discussion. The School Board cited a specific provision of Colorado's Open Records laws as its reason for meeting in secret session. The specific provision cited by the board states that personnel matters can be discussed in secret session unless "the employee who is the subject of the session has requested an open meeting, or if the personnel matter involves more than one employee (and) all of the employees have requested an open meeting."
Despite the requests, the School Board voted 4-1 to go into secret session. Pat Gleason was the lone dissenting vote, and he remained in the board room at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center while his fellow board members went into another room.
"I thought this matter should have been aired in public because they asked for it," Gleason said in reference to the request of the administrative team and instructional support specialists. "I think this is divisive to the district. It shows a breech of confidence." The other School Board members returned from the closed-door meeting after about half an hour and immediately made a motion to return to secret session, this time to seek legal advice from their attorney. That motion passed 4-0. Gleason was not in the room when the vote was taken. After emerging from the second secret session, the board ordered Howell to turn over the surveys.
District administrators insisted they have no problem with the release of the survey results. Rather, they said, they object to the School Board's insistence on viewing performance surveys that school staff were assured would remain private.
"I will share my results, so it is not the fact of sharing results," Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said. "I guess the part, right or wrong, was that it was made clear it was confidential. The rub is not seeing the results. The rub is (the School Board) knew we were told it was confidential and (it) still wants those results."
Administrators said another survey will be conducted next month and that the Board could see those results since it would be made clear in advance that the surveys will be public.
School Board President Denise Connelly said administrators and instructional support specialists had been misinformed when they were told the survey results were confidential.
School Board members also said it was they who ordered the survey, but they couldn't remember when that directive was made. Gleason disagreed and said he didn't remember ever voting on the survey or seeing it reflected in board meeting minutes. Howell said she didn't remember the surveys being initiated by the board, but that she would have to obey its orders. "I have to take the direction of the board," Howell said.
District grant writer Lane Malone said the dispute puts Howell in an uncomfortable position. Howell technically is an employee of the School Board and also is the direct supervisor of all district administrators. "This is a lose-lose situation for Donna," Malone said. "It's heartbreaking."