Howell, Board still at odds

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School board member John DeVincentis is shown during a facilitated meeting between the School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell last month. Two board members who served with DeVincentis said he is attacking Howell in the same way he took on former Superintendent Cyndy Simms in 2002.

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School board member John DeVincentis and Superintendent Donna Howell listen intently Tuesday during a facilitated discussion to attempt to work out differences between the board and Howell. The discussion will continue next week behind closed doors.

— Three hours of facilitated discussion Tuesday could not resolve the differences between the Steamboat Springs School Board and Superintendent Donna Howell. Instead, both sides agreed to end the special public meeting early and continue it next week behind closed doors.

Facilitator Ken DeLay, who is executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, was in Steamboat on Tuesday to lead the discussion between Howell and the School Board. The relationship between the two sides has deteriorated recently, particularly after a disagreement over how and why an administrator's resignation letter was released to district staff.

DeLay will return to Steamboat on Monday to continue the discussion in secret. Several School Board members said Tuesday that they didn't feel comfortable voicing some of their concerns in an open forum, and Howell, who would be the subject of most of those concerns, asked for the board to continue the conversation behind closed doors.

DeLay's services likely will cost the district as much as $1,000.

He said Tuesday he did not know the relationship between Howell and the School Board had deteriorated as much as it has.

"I don't think I understood they were at the pass they are at," he said. "You won't be able to move forward without an executive session to delve into personnel matters. The executive session isn't to protect the board as much as it is to protect the personnel."

DeLay suggested the board reschedule for Monday because it had not included an executive session as part of Tuesday's meeting agenda and because he thought Howell needed time to prepare for the conversation.

"I think it's fair to say it will be a tough conversation," DeLay noted.

Before Tuesday's talks stalled, Howell and the School Board tried to get to the crux of the problems between them.

The conversation began with how Howell handled the recent resignation of director of curriculum and instruction Kelly Stanford. Stanford is the wife of Steamboat Pilot & Today editor Scott Stanford.

Howell said she forwarded Stanford's resignation letter - which was critical of the School Board - to district staff and the board via e-mail because she thought that was the best way to share the news.

Howell also said she was under the impression most people in the community already knew Stanford had resigned because Howell was approached at the supermarket and at district schools and asked about it.

School Board members expressed their displeasure at Howell's release of a letter that contained what board member Jerry Kozatch called "inflammatory" words directed toward the School Board.

School Board President Denise Connelly said it was not district policy to distribute resignation letters via e-mail, particularly before the letters appear in the School Board's meeting packets. Board member Jeff Troeger added that it appeared as if Howell deliberately sent the letter because it was negative about the board and positive about her.

"The perception is she went to the public arena with an issue that would look favorable to her," he said. "I'm still upset about it."

Howell disputed those perceptions.

"There was a perception that I did it to undermine the board because the board was being portrayed negatively," Howell said. "I took offense to that because I was trying to communicate to the board. : In hindsight, I might not have sent the whole thing."

DeLay then asked other board members for their feedback.

"I heard what (Donna) said," board member John DeVincentis said. "I still don't believe her."

DeLay suggested the School Board move on to other issues, but Troeger and DeVincentis said they wanted the issue addressed because the board needed to get information on specific issues rather than touch on subjects and move on.

Earlier in the meeting, several board members said the primary concern was a clear idea of roles and responsibilities within the district.

"One of the major hang-ups is someone needs to understand their role," DeVincentis said. "My sense of what's going on is there is an attempt to undermine the board through me. We have tried to keep things quiet, and that hasn't occurred."

Troeger and DeVincentis said several times Tuesday that they thought an executive session was necessary because open dialogue between the School Board and Howell could not happen with the presence of a newspaper reporter.

"If it's not working between the board and the superintendent, it's not working for the district or the community," DeLay said. "A pretty high level of trust (is needed for an optimal board and superintendent relationship). There is a sense here that people are doing things to not work together."

The School Board was scheduled to meet today and Thursday for workshops on policy governance, but board members decided to cancel the meetings because they wanted issues resolved with Howell before moving forward with other concerns.

Comments

reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

John DeVincentis needs to understand his role and stop micro-managing a person who he can't stand for personal reasons. Donna Howell has done nothing but her job, and just because DeVincentis cannot stand having an intelligent woman in a position of power does not justify his continued attempts at undermining what is best for our schools and our children. If I recall correctly, DeVincentis' platform when he ran for the school board opening was to put the children first. Will someone please explain to me how wasting thousands of taxpayers' dollars on his continuing feud with a superintendent (dating back to his denied pay-for-performance bonus, which he squabbled over until he got the check just to make the issue disappear) and persuing an agenda based solely on improving his wife's benefit package are really putting our children first? I agree that our children deserve the best and that we need to offer packages that attract and retain the best teachers, but bickering and pertpetuating personal issues is only costing taxpayers and, ultimately, our children.

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id04sp 7 years, 5 months ago

Fire Howell.

Don't fill the position.

She's being paid the same as a superintendent with 20,000 kids in the schools. She only has 2,000.

It seems that Steamboat business is always all about hiring somebody and paying them a lot of money to provide some service that we could do without in the first place.

Get back to basics. Hire competent teachers, keep discipline in the schools, and have school principals report directly to the school board.

The overhead of unnecessary admin staff is the biggest thing wrong with American schools today. When teachers decide they made the wrong career choice, it's not up to us to provide them with an alternate career path. Let them go work at BMC West and Wal-Mart like every other displaced worker in town.

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reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, most of Donna Howell's job has been spent in "discussions" with the school board. I wonder how much better off our schools would be if she were actually allowed to do her job rather than spend two or three days of every week in arbitration with the board. The issue at hand is beyond economics and yet it seems nothing can be separated from that. A competent superintendent is needed in order to facilitate all of the "growth and diversity" that our mountain town is expecting (but that's another issue). So that's fine, fire her. Then we, the taxpayers, get to finance another search for a suitable replacement so that certain board members can pitch a fit in another two years and fire the next superintendent. So then we can buy out that person's contract too. And all that money later, we probably could have actually hired a few more competent teachers. And maybe some of our policy would have actually effected the children in this community instead of giving board members a forum to persue personal agendas. So, yes, by all means. Fire her. I like wasting money and time and jeopardizing the education of children because of the stupidity of the people who voted for certain board members who cannot allow someone to do their job.

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beentheredonethat 7 years, 5 months ago

DeVincentis is the root of the controversy. His outsized ego makes him a poor school board member where getting along with people is required for the benefit of the community.

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one_more_citizen 7 years, 5 months ago

I find the current Board to be more concerned with the students and their education. Getting along with everybody shouldn't be the main focus of the school board - ensuring a good education for all students is the right focus. The board mission statement says it all, "All students are prepared to succeed in an ever-changing world." I have seen the board members work in response to this stated mission more often than the Superintendent or Administrators.

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Hammurabi 7 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, many have forgotten that this will be the second superintendent that Dr. D. has targeted. Cindy Simms left because of Dr. D's ego driven agenda. Perhaps he thinks that he is the only one qualified for the job and is looking to move up in the educaton world. After Ms. Howell has had enough who else would want to move here and take on the job as long as Dr. D. and his minions are still busy micro managing the school system. Next item of concern, how many sheets of toilet paper alloted for each student's use during the year? I know there was a previous discussion about Kleenex!

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Troutscout 7 years, 5 months ago

It appears as if the previous board was trying to insure that their choice, Howell, was guaranteed a job by issuing her a four year contract renewal before they left office. It is not unusual for superintintendents to be replaced when membership of a board changes. A four year contact seems a rather long time to burden a new board. This makes it difficult for both parties to part ways if their philosphies no long match. Issuing shorter term contracts like other district employees get would seem more reponsible.

I wonder how many applicants there were for the superintendent's job during the last search. There certainly have to be a lot of good candidates out there who would be happy to work for the kind of money Howell is getting. If they can't be found then maybe we need to switch to a different search company.

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Socrates 7 years, 5 months ago

Dr. Howell brings a level of professionalism and expertise that the Steamboat Springs School District will have a difficult time replacing.

The personal wars being waged by Dr. D seriously jeapordize the credibility of the School Board and put the 1/2 sales tax in a precarious position.

Didn't he benefit from the same principal contract he just so vehemently opposed? How do you recall a member of the School Board?

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reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

Contracts are now issued yearly to administrators due to DeVincentis' battle with Cindy Simms-another debacle that took money, time, effort and support away from the programs where these resources could have been put to good use. The board at that point decided that they did not want to have to buy out another contract, and so they began issuing yearly contracts. I think everyone would agree that yearly searches for a qualified candidate such as Dr. Howell would be detrimental.

This goes back to recruiting and retaining qualified individuals who can give our district the results it needs and deserves. There was a very thorough hiring process which resulted in the board hiring Dr. Howell. While I'm sure there are many other qualified candidates who would do a great job as superintendent of the district, continually changing upper administrators would do nothing but undermine the district by creating an inconsistent relationship between lower administration, the school board, teachers, parents, and, lest they be forgotten, students. Why can't we just make this work instead of pursuing personal vendettas against a highly qualified and dedicated individual, who would doubtless do an excellent job if she were not constantly having to defend her every action?

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steamvent 7 years, 5 months ago

For crying out loud, doesn't the voting public see the common denominator to the whole history of angst between the School Board and the sitting Superintendent, whether current or previous .... it's Dr. D ... HELLO! Why doesn't this guy just pull the thorn out of his paw and get on down the road. He is nothing but a self-centered agitator and doesn't belong in this town. Is he really the kind of person parents want to model their kids after ... I don't think so.

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linus 7 years, 5 months ago

I've seen firsthand that the current Board members are good people doing well at a thankless job and trying to do what's best for the students. The Pilot's relentless smear campaign against them has obviously brainwashed a few people. There have been legitimate problems with Howell and that's not just Dr. D's perspective.

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diensi 7 years, 5 months ago

Steamboat is a small community with expendatures that boggle the mind. Silly construction projects and non productive ego trips between "the leadership" are a disservice to the students and the tax payers.

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reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

I don't think that the pilot has conducted a "smear" campaign to portray the board in a negative light. steamvent is correct that this problem has been ongoing through two different superintendants and that the only common factor is DeVincentis. I'm not sure how much longer our district can continue to tolerate such behavior. I know I can't wait until 2009. If anyone in District 1 has the skills and committment to improve the way the board functions, recalling local elected officials is actually pretty easy. The Colorado State Secretary has a copy of the constitution and revised statutes on the website at www.colorado.gov. I would go so far as to file the petition myself, but it's useless to uproot one idiot for another.

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linus 7 years, 5 months ago

reallocal, you are real angry. Do you even know Dr. D? To anyone who knows him, your comments are ludicrous.

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trump_suit 7 years, 5 months ago

I find it hard to accept that a pubically elected school board keeps finding the need to meet behind closed doors. What exactly are they discussing that the general electorate is not smart enought to understand. It seems to me that any issue being dicussed by the school board should be in the best interests of our children, and belongs in the public domain.

Great comments by id04sp I have to agree completely.

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another_local 7 years, 5 months ago

Linus, he was a much loved principal no doubt, but have you observed his performance during his campaign and since joining the board? To anyone who has, your continued blind faith in him is hard to understand.

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reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

Yes I do. I've lived here longer than he has, and in fact attended Strawberry Park elementary school. I'm sorry that I'm "real angry," but DeVincentis' actions are jeopardizing the support of the community, which is essential to continue funding our schools so that we can maintain the level of excellence that our students deserve. Not to mention wasting valuable time and money to pursue his own vendettas, which I'm sure you share. Yeah, it kinda does piss me off. I'm sure that DeVincentis wants to improve on the existing situation, but he is seriously lacking the administrative and leadership skills necessary to hold his office. If someone can't do their job, you would fire them. It works the same way with elected officials. Unfortunately, this situation has been allowed to progress to the point that our district may very well lose a qualified, competent and dedicated administrator to DeVincentis' ego. I think my kids deserve better, don't you?

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forsteamboatkids 7 years, 5 months ago

John D and other members of the school board have done nothing but bring a cloud of negativity to the staff members and their classrooms within the school district. Since becoming a board member, he has spent many hours bleeding over with anger and spitefulness. A week doesn't go by without another example of him showing dissatisfaction with anything that he did not personally approve. It is obvious that the board president does not have the experience or ability to keep him or the rest of the board in check. It is John's way or the highway. Due to their antics, the administrators and teachers are having to put out fires and take on additional duties that are keeping them away from their real jobs- teaching our children! If things do not improve soon, good people are going to be leaving our district. Didn't John D work under the same type of principal contract that he is now tearing apart? Did he ever offer to return any of these "benefits" to the district? He took the money and ran. Morale is at an all-time low in the district due to the boards lack of professionalism. Leadership starts at the top and sets a vision for others to follow. Stop bantering like children and let the administrators and teachers do their jobs. It is obvious that John D has never had a vision and is using this platform to tear apart a high achieving district that he feels slighted him in the past. Revenge is a very strong emotion.

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dogdog 7 years, 5 months ago

How about a weekly question regarding whether the community supports the leadership, direction and actions of the board? Or perhaps just of Dr. D since he has led the charge to question and micromanage the superintendent and district.

I worry we are watching our district disintegrate from conflict that will take years to recover from. When do the the citizens decide to act? The employees surely can't. The principals only have year long contracts so they can't question the situation. The teachers really just want to teach and have a healthy climate. I would sign a recall petition so let's put it to a vote!

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elphaba 7 years, 5 months ago

John DeVincentis may have been a good principal, for some. For underachieving or challenged kids his methodology was to move them out of his school so he could maintain his "excellence"......As a school board member he has been negative- spiteful-destructive and damaging to our schools. Time for him to resign!

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Troutscout 7 years, 5 months ago

Reallocal, you seem so very angry at Dr. D. and I am trying to guess why. I have no information and don't even know if your children attend Strawberry Elemnatary school like you did. Could it be that Dr. D. was in his position as principal and had to discipline you or one of your children and you'er trying to get even? I mean no offense to you, just trying to understand you motives.

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reallocal 7 years, 5 months ago

No. I simply do not believe that DeVincentis is doing a good job in his position. Unlike Dr. D, I do not allow personal experiences with people in the district to determine my political agenda-I actually look at what's best for the district. I am angry not just at DeVincentis, but at the people who blindly condone his behavior due to his limited past successes. The fact of the matter is that he is not performing the duties he was elected to do. That's my only point. The Board's goals are listed on their website, and DeVincentis has not only not contributed to accomplishing these goals, he has actively interferred in the attempts at persuing these goals by other members of the board, administration, teachers and ultimately students. By the way, if my child did have to be disciplined, the visit to the Principle would be the least of his worries...

You can view the district's goals online at: http://www.sssd.k12.co.us/common/content.asp?PAGE=226

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