School Board finds no violations in Knezevich contract decision | SteamboatToday.com

School Board finds no violations in Knezevich contract decision

Zach Fridell

— Steamboat Springs School Board members decided Wednesday that no ethical violations occurred in the ouster of high school Principal Mike Knezevich.

In a special meeting facilitated by Jim Weigel, a training consultant with the Colorado Association of School Boards, the board reviewed its policies regarding conflicts of interest and made plans for how to address similar situations in the future.

At the June 9 meeting, when the board voted 3-2 to not renew the contract for Knezevich, board member John DeVincentis accused fellow board member Laura Anderson of having a conflict of interest.

DeVincentis’ actions, including making public accusations and yelling obscenities after the meeting, also were questioned by members of the audience at Centennial Hall.

On Wednesday, DeVincentis clarified that he thought Anderson was in conflict by meeting with parents critical of Knezevich and by having a son in the high school.

DeVincentis said he was unsure whether it was appropriate to make the accusations in public, but because the board did not return to a closed session as planned, he felt he had to make the accusations in public. The board had planned to consider Knezevich’s contract in closed session, but Knezevich requested that the meeting stay open.

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“I assumed that if I spoke out of turn someone would have stopped me,” DeVincentis said. “I hesitated, nobody said anything, so I continued.”

Weigel advised DeVincentis to not rely on anyone else to monitor his actions.

The board discussed which policy Anderson may have violated and decided there was no conflict from either statement, regardless of whether Anderson met with the parents.

When Anderson questioned whether DeVincentis was submitting a letter to an ethics committee for review, as he stated at the meeting, DeVincentis said he would not pursue the complaint.

“Why would I (make objections) after this discussion? If we had this discussion that night, it would have ended right there,” he said.

A chance to improve

Weigel suggested the board view future discussions as a matter of policy instead of emotion. Because the board has delegated authority in many matters to the superintendent, it does not need to assess the merits of each decision, only whether it is reasonable, he said.

Interim Superintendent Sandra Smyser recommended earlier this month that Knezevich’s contract not be renewed.

DeVincentis also raised questions about the policy and procedure of Smyser’s recommendation during the June 9 meeting. For future superintendent recommendations, Weigel suggested the superintendent also submit “monitoring assurances” to show the proper procedure was followed.

Incoming Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, who begins work July 10, said she met with Weigel on Wednesday to learn about the policy governance model the district uses.

“When I present something to the board for approval, it’s my job to show how it’s aligned with policy,” she said at a reception at the Steamboat Smokehouse, held to introduce her to the public. “I’ve always done this, it’s just not been as well thought out.”

During the afternoon meeting with the School Board, Weigel also suggested the board discuss possible conflicts earlier in its procedures, especially if the topic at hand is likely to bring high emotions.

“You have to do that when it comes to personnel (issues) because it is automatically emotional,” Weigel said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s good this happened. Now you have a chance to do better.”

School Board President Robin Crossan said she will guide the board to discuss potential conflicts beforehand.

“We have to be more aware and open with each other,” she said. “Get it all out on the table up front and see if there is a conflict here, and move on.”

– To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4028

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com