Howell’s future uncertain | SteamboatToday.com

Howell’s future uncertain

'Frank and damaging' discussion pushes Howell into executive session

Mike McCollum

— 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.

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“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