Howell's future uncertain

'Frank and damaging' discussion pushes Howell into executive session

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Job evaluation

Superintendent Donna Howell wanted her performance evaluation done in open session Wednesday night but changed her mind after she says two school board members told her what they were planning on saying would be very frank and damaging to her reputation.

Superintendent Donna Howell wanted her performance evaluation done in open session Wednesday night but changed her mind after she says two school board members told her what they were planning on saying would be very frank and damaging to her reputation.

— Superintendent Donna Howell's job appeared to be in jeopardy Wednesday night after the president of the Steamboat Springs School Board declined to commit to Howell's future employment with the district.

Howell met with the School Board for her semi-annual review Wednesday, three days after the board released transcripts of interviews conducted about how controversial e-mails were obtained from the school computer of John DeVincentis.

The School Board launched the investigation into how the e-mails were obtained after they were given to the Steamboat Pilot & Today by former School Board member Pat Gleason. Howell was interviewed twice during the investigation, and the transcripts revealed variances in her reasons for accessing the e-mails. School Board members indicated her investigation interviews would be discussed during her review.

Grand Junction attorney Earl Rhodes conducted the investigation and determined Howell had a legal right to access DeVincentis' e-mails and that it was appropriate for her to give them to former School Board President Paula Stephenson.

Rhodes also said Howell could have done more to protect the e-mails from public release.

The School Board took no action following a two-hour executive session Wednesday. Asked after the session if Howell still had a job with the district, School Board President Denise Connelly said no definite decision has been made. The superintendent has two years left on a four-year contract that includes a $450,000 buyout.

"Nothing at this point has changed," Connelly said. "Action could not have been made in executive session."

Howell initially requested her evaluation be conducted in open session, which Colorado Open Meeting Law allows.

Howell and the board temporarily adjourned to consult School District Attorney Dick Lyons via phone for legal advice about discussing Howell's evaluation in open session.

Board member Jeff Troeger said the board consulted Lyons to ensure the board didn't violate any of Howell's rights.

Upon returning to the boardroom, Howell withdrew her request to be evaluated in open session because of comments made by two board members during the break.

"After consulting with my attorney and considering comments made by two board members that what they have planned to say would be very frank and damaging to my reputation, and without knowing what they are planning to say, I can't put myself in that situation to approve of them making those comments in a public setting at this time," she said. "So I have no option but to hear what they have to say in private."

Connelly responded to How-ell's statement by assuring the superintendent that the evaluation would be, "very frank and regular."

After the meeting, Howell said she couldn't discuss specific information from the executive session. She would not comment on her job status.

"I went through the (evaluation) process, and that is all I can say at this time," she said.

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

80488mom 7 years, 5 months ago

I want to know....who killed Kenny......oh......wait......this isn't South Park. I got my cartoon towns confused.

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steamvent 7 years, 5 months ago

So when, say, a health inspector smells rat urine and opens a cupboard to see if there is any further sign of a rat and discovers rat droppings, she has only grazed the minimum level of discovery and should just walk away? You Dr. D supporters need to get a grip.

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Sunspot 7 years, 5 months ago

Years ago, I took an ethics class. One of the first things we covered in the class was that:

"The law is the minimum standard for society's behavior."

Not the highest standard, or even the middle, but the lowest standard. Anything below that standard is unacceptable. Meeting the standard required by law means that you met the lowest standard.

So when I read Howell's reasons for going into D's computer after hours, I see that the minimum standard was barely met. But the reasons Howell gave just don't make any sense. It looks more like Howell had to make up excuses to meet even the lowest standard.

This is the leader of our schools?

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BigOil 7 years, 5 months ago

Creating a work environment to attract and retain top teachers is a critical function of our school board. It's especially difficult to attract top talent given the low salaries and pathetic benefits the district offers. Long after this Super. & board are gone, the staff will still be here teaching our kids.

It's sad to see Denise Connelly let the District spiral out of control. Between the JohnD-Donna fight, email scandal, contract problems, resignations, survey issues, and others, what Denise (and the board) have done is created an environment of distrust & skepticism. Top talent will go elsewhere for a better work environment & pay. Ultimately this can have an adverse effect on the quality of our schools. Denise hasn't shown the leadership that our community and district staff expect.

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sportzmama 7 years, 5 months ago

BigOil: Very well put. I would have to agree with everything you've said here. The only thing we can't really blame on the board or the district are the health care benefits. What the district offers is almost identical to the package at the front range school I worked at. That's that industry in general and as they say "a whole other Oprah". Thank you for your very well written post.

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mom 7 years, 5 months ago

bigoil and sportzmama - I beg to differ. The things listed above which you put blame on Denise and the board seem to be confused. Donna is the one behind each of the things you list, not Denise.

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Mencken 7 years, 5 months ago

Sunspot: I think you hit the nail on the head; even if what Dr. Howell did was legal (which still remains murky, since the Arapahoe County case which potentially rendered it illegal six months later may be retroactively applied to Dr. Howell's behavior), legality or illegality is irrelevant for every purpose except for lawsuits, and most people live by a different (and higher) standard of ethical behavior on which to judge, and be judged. Based on the transcripts and what little information we know from the papers, Dr. Howell apparently acted unethically by accessing Dr. D.'s email in the evening, with no clearly articulable reason except for generalized suspicion regarding what she might find there. This is unacceptable. (Beyond that, we don't know much-was she trying to get information to use in Dr. D.'s upcoming election? Was she directed by Ms. Stephenson? Was she just curious about what she would find, and had no intention of using the material?) Although unacceptable, I don't feel that this is a firing offense, or at least not on its own. (Like I say, I am not privy to other information about her performance as a Superintendent, but the unethical behavior of accessing a computer doesn't seem to be enough to justify her termination, especially if it would cost the Board $450K. (Incidentally, is that true? Surely Dr. Howell could be fired "for cause," and the transcripts reveal that she did violate school policy by accessing private emails, even though the Arapahoe Country case didn't come out until six months later. It would all come down to the issue of retroactivity, and seems worth litigating, since it could save the Board nearly half-a-million dollars)). Either way, a little fairness to Dr. Howell is demanded since all of us have been demanding the same to Dr. D.

Dr. Howell voluntarily participated in the interview process, (she was under no legal obligation to do so, even though the Board had asked her to), and it was this interview process which revealed her unethical behavior and could now lead to her termination. Still, it was Mr. Gleason and Ms. Stephenson who clearly acted most unethically in this process, but the spotlight is off them since they (likely on legal advice) decided not to participate in the interviews. However unethical accessing Dr. D.'s computer was (and I think it was quite unethical), Dr. Howell nonetheless never openly disclosed the e-mails outside of the Board (as did Mr. Gleason, and Ms. Stephenson), so she shouldn't be condemned for the deleterious effects on Dr. D.'s reputation, at least not to any degree approaching the condemnation due to Mr. Gleason, Mrs. Stephenson, and the Pilot. Thus, if Dr. Howell is terminated, it should be for causes that range beyond the mere accessing of Dr. D.'s computer, and not as a mere proxy revenge against the true perpetrators of this egregious act, who will instead have to face justice in court, if at all.

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JustSomeJoe 7 years, 5 months ago

Mom- Donna Howell's responsible for the public release of a confidential teacher survery? Sorry, that was John's and the board's motion. The email scandal? Without the acutal emails John wrote, there would be no scandal.

There's plenty of blame to go around here and, unfortunately, things are about to get a whole lot worse. If you think it's all one-sided, then you are part of the problem as well. If the board lets Donna go, how long do you think it will take to get a new superintendent? I'm sure there are many great superintendents anxious to come work under this board's leadership (sarcasm). This power struggle has been brewing for years, easily since 2003/4. It will end up hurting our kids in the school district. It will likely jeopardize the 1/2 cent sales tax, and our school district can't afford that hit.

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

Low salaries? The average teacher in the district makes close to 50K with about 14 weeks off per year.

Low starting salaries, yes that is a problem. Low transfer credit to attract experienced teachers, yes, that is another problem. High cost of living? Yup, but not a problem that is limited to teachers.

Blame: place it squarly where it belongs, on the shoulders of the current board of education incuding Dr D.

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bikegirl 7 years, 5 months ago

bigoil I have to agree-I will continue to teach,but all these issues take it's toll on staff and families .Without trust in our leadership we are on our own,As you said,we'll still be here for the kids.I had support for Denise,at this point I think it's just going to get deeper and uglier.I don't think our board is effective anymore and I think If we lose Donna,it will be a loss to our community.

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bikegirl 7 years, 5 months ago

AS far as our health care benefits,the insurance industry is the problem there, I think the district works hard on getting us a decent package.I believe you can access all the salary info.from the district website.it is also a choice people have,to take a job here or not. I think we have hired excellent new teaching staff the past year.The newer teachers at the high school have added a positive energy and passion for teaching.I only hope we can keep them.

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

I do not find Dr H accessing of the computer to be unethical at all. As was determined in the board's own investigation she was well within her rights and responsibilities to do so and also to share the info with president of the board.

Dr D has a long history of conflict with superintendants. His own words in yesterday's newspaper article show again that he will lie to attack them. (regarding the hiring of a teacher where the teacher herself showed that his comments were lies intened to damage Dr H)

Dr H is a capable effective administrator that has been directly responsible for several important initiatives in the district, not least of which is establishing the funding source for additional teacher compensation through the tax that was passed last year. She also deserves the lion's share of the credit for get the new Soda Creek school project on it's way to completion including the funding mechanism.

These ineffective board members need to get over themselves and get out of the way.

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Mencken 7 years, 5 months ago

another_local: Did you read the report and the transcripts yourself, or are you relying on the Pilot's reporting of them in forming your conclusion that Dr. Howell was "well within her rights and responsibilities" in accessing Dr. D.'s computer? (I don't mean this sarcastically; it's a serious question). I fear that many people relied on the Pilot's first article about the school board report, which erroneously reported that Dr. Howell had acted "appropriately" in accessing and sharing the information with Ms. Stephenson, when the report concluded no such thing. Instead (as Mr. McCollum has done a good job of reporting in later articles), both the report and the transcripts report that it was a very close question as to whether Dr. Howell even acted legally, let alone ethically. As to the legal question, Dr. Howell may or may not have had a legal right to access Dr. D.'s emails as "public records" held by the school district, but even this is up in the air since a later court case (which may or may not be retroactively applied to her behavior) unambiguous held that emails such as Dr. D.'s were private and not public, and thus not available under the Colorado Open Records Act. As to the ethical question, Dr. Howell apparently gave no thought to the school district's policy that employee emails should be readable only if they are "public" and not "confidential." (See the transcript at page 122: Q: "[D]id you consider that information [i.e., Dr. D.'s emails] to be confidential?" A: "I don't think I thought about it."). In addition, her actions raise more pedestrian concerns about ethics, such as whether it's proper to access someone's computer in the evening, without ever telling him; whether it's ethical to access someone's computer for no specifically articulable reason (even if it is technically legal); and whether it is ethical to give conflicting responses about why the computer was accessed in the first place. So, in my opinion, I think there are ample questions as to both the legality and ethics of Dr. Howell's behavior even though, as I stated above, I doubt these should be firing offenses. The clearly unethical behavior was on the part of Mr. Gleason, Ms. Stephenson, and the Pilot in using emails in a smear campaign.

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mom 7 years, 5 months ago

Sorry, I know some still have it out strictly for John and won't see past that. Anyway, I was referring more to the way the post was pointed wrongly at Denise. As your reply to the rest, I would think it to be common sense the board would not only have the right to see surveys, but would see the surveys. Why would they do a survey but not want to see them? What would be the point? It was NOT the board that made the promise of confidentiality. Yes John wrote the e-mails and but he did NOT give orders for them to be pulled up after hours, nor did any (current) board member give them to the pilot or allowed them to find their way there by distributing them and not getting them back. Nor did they plot this whole smear compaign which I will agree with you on one point....only hurts the district.

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bikegirl 7 years, 5 months ago

Aides,{note spelling]are evaluated by either the principal or Department head-in this case whoever was Strawberry Park's head at the time,maybe you should ask them.The district is always short staffed on aides.I recall John D. questioning the need for aides at all a couple years ago.

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exteacher 7 years, 5 months ago

RE: BIGOIL (3rd post - way above):

AMEN - You hit the nail on the head! I would have considered myself a top teacher here (acknowledged by MANY others I might add), in relation to other teachers in CO who do what I do (did) here, ....and I had to leave - feeling victimized and abused by howell especially , and dconnelly as well (I had face to face conversations with both about certain intolerable "situations", only to be turned away with pathetic excuses, lies, and a "pass the buck" attitude from both). These people are killing the desire from many "top talented" teachers to want to stay here - including me. It's only only a matter of time before the newer teachers catch on and head for "greener" pastures as well. This entire school board, superintendent, (and HS principal and asst. principal for that matter - also pathetic excuses for educational leaders) all NEED TO GO AWAY. They are destroying the ability and desire of the REAL Educators in this district to do their job, a job of love and passion, because of their huge egos and their power monger mentality. This is an embarassment of a school district, and these so-called leaders are the ones creating this situation....at the expense of the students and teachers - who deserve much better. Good riddence to them all, and unfortunately for me - Goodbye to Steamboat......

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Scott Stanford 7 years, 5 months ago

All:

The DeVncentis recall effort has failed:

Scott Stanford Editor, Steamboat Pilot & Today (970) 871-4221

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jlkar 7 years, 5 months ago

Really Bike Girl, because I bet if you look into it you will see that this particular senario made it all the way to Howell. My information is correct, I assure you.

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mom 7 years, 5 months ago

LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!(the part about the failed recall that is)

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RoxyDad 7 years, 5 months ago

DeVncentis should resign even if the recall failed. I don't have any favor for either side in this issue, but I do know that change is not bad. Do not be afraid of any change, it can be for the better. If the situation of him staying causes so much division he should be a real man and resign to find some other way to benefit Steamboat. Even if you think he is the greatest person in the world you should not be afraid of him resigning this positon. The next person in his positon will also benefit the community and DeVncentis can do something else.

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BigOil 7 years, 5 months ago

Please note: I said "benefits" not "health care benefits." big difference. I realize that much in the healthcare industry is out of their control but there are more benefits that a creative organization can provide to employees - Free ski pass anyone?

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

If only ski passes were free......... I would not mind having 14 weeks off each year though.

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