Denise Connelly, a former Steamboat Springs School District teacher and the current School Board president, joined steamboatpilot.com last week for an online chat. Below is a transcript of that conversation.
Q: The School Board is working on revising many of its policies, including a change that would allow school district employees to serve on the School Board. Why is this particular change necessary?
Connelly: Reviewing and updating policies is a normal and necessary activity of any School Board. Presently, we are mainly simplifying our policies and eliminating unnecessary and repetitive sections. This particular policy was brought forward because in its original form in 1998 it contained no provision to eliminate district employees. In the past 40 years there has only been one teacher, Bud Romberg, who taught for one year during his four-year term. The policy was changed to exclude district employees from the School Board in 1999 when a School Board member was employed as a substitute teacher. A few years ago, an exception was made to allow a School Board member to sub as a bus driver.
In a small town, we have a limited pool of people to fill various positions in the school district as teachers, coaches, support staff, etc. We also have a small pool of people who are willing to volunteer to be on the School Board. We need to make sure that our policies do not unnecessarily restrict those pools and that we leave the final decision of whom the public would like to represent them in the hands of the voters per current Colorado state law.
Q: What other major policy changes can we expect?
Connelly: The main area I foresee changes to be made will be in those designated as a result of the district's internal investigation. Any new policies will be enacted to make sure we have adequate and enforceable procedures in place to protect district information, students and staff.
Q: Speaking of the investigation, what is the status of the Board's internal investigation into how e-mails sent by John DeVincentis were gathered and disseminated? When will the results be released?
Connelly: Most of the final interviews have been completed. Unfortunately, there are people that we believe have information that is relevant to the investigation, who have refused to cooperate with the investigation. From a recent discussion with our investigator, Earl Rhodes, I expect that we will be able to release a report within the next week.
Q: Did you consider asking DeVincentis to resign?
Connelly: Of course all options were considered. Any political position requires the ability to look at all sides of an issue. After discussions with friends and advisors and a private discussion with Dr. DeVincentis, I felt that the decision should be his. He was elected by a 75 percent majority of our community, and he needed to gauge his own support within the community. I do believe, personally, that some of the content of his e-mails was inappropriate, but I also believe that the release of the e-mails was inappropriate.
All decisions, especially of this nature, require a lot of information. At the time of the release of the e-mails, as a Board and as an individual, we did not feel that we had enough information to make this request. At this time, we still do not have all of the information or motives of the people who released the e-mails.
Q: You have expressed concerns in recent months about the way the School Board in particular and the school district in general have been treated by the Steamboat Pilot & Today. What is it that you would like to see the newspaper do differently?
Connelly: I would like to see an improved working relationship between the Pilot and the district. I understand that the press would like to have as much information as possible about what the board is doing. Within the limits of state law of required confidentiality of certain information, we are committed to open discussion and the sharing of information. We will certainly comply with any legal request for information, but we hope that the information is for valid purposes and not aimed at distracting the district from its main purpose of providing quality education to our students.
I also think it is important that the Pilot present information in an unbiased manner. Fairly presenting both sides of an issue is all the more necessary as the Pilot is such a widely-read source of news in our community. Recently, the Pilot asked the district to pay its $12,000 legal fee in a suit that was decided in the district's favor. An appeal of this decision was upheld by the courts, and now the Pilot is seeking another appeal on this same case. This continued distraction does not lead to an improved working relationship. We would like to see the Pilot work with the district to reach a settlement on this issue that leads to an improved relationship that benefits our entire community.
Q: Policy governance has been a sticking point for this board as well as boards in the past. Yet, after recent meetings with facilitator to review and update board policies, you and the board seem to have embraced policy governance. What has changed?
Connelly: A couple of members of the present board ran on platforms to review policy governance because of problems in the past with a lack of communication between the board and the community, and the board and the staff, and a lack of accountability at the highest level. Upon review of what the district has had in place for the past nine years, it became evident that prior boards really never completely or correctly implemented policy governance or the communication linkages and monitoring reports to ensure accountability.
I don't feel that the board has completely "embraced" policy governance, but we would like to see if it is a fit for our district if properly implemented. We are completely open to modifying the system to best fit the needs and direction of our district and continuing the high-level accomplishments of our students. As a part of policy governance, we are still dealing with the personnel issues of the past two years. We had three major facilitations to try to sort out the working relationship between the Board and the Superintendent. These discussions are ongoing and still a priority. The problem is not solely between Dr. DeVincentis and Dr. Howell, but between the Board and Dr. Howell and the correct implementation of policy governance.