New Re-2 superintendent reaches out
A good deal of Brent Curtice’s days since officially starting as the Garfield School District Re-2 superintendent on June 1 have been spent getting to know people and listening.
Curtice, who was hired in March, is in the midst of meeting with groups, community leaders, parents and, as he said, anybody willing to meet. It is about building relationships, he explained earlier this month in an interview.
Seven days after the official June 1 start, Curtice counted at least seven meetings in the books, including one with the Rifle Rotary Club. Randy Winkler, Rifle mayor and a former rotary club president, said he was struck by Curtice’s energy and enthusiasm. While some leaders operate behind the scenes, Winkler was left with the feeling that Curtice will be heavily involved in the community.
“I think he’s going to be very good for the district and the community,” he said.
Much of the work this summer, Curtice said, will be spent building those relationships in each of the three communities that fall within the Garfield Re-2 boundaries, with the goal of “building a deeper understanding of our communities and our district.”
There is no expiration date for that outreach work, but the goal is to continue with the meetings, which Curtice referred to as a tour, through July and form a list of common points, both positive and negative, gleaned from the meetings.
“At the end of our tour we’re going to really try to come together with some really good themes that the community is talking about,” he said.
So far no solid themes have arisen, a point Curtice attributed to the limited number of meetings.
Although June 1 was his official start date, the new superintendent’s work started well before then. In addition to attending board meetings since being hired in March, Curtice, who previously served as superintendent in Moffat County School District Re-1, was able to tour each of the 10 schools and meet with administrators and staff prior to the district’s nearly 4,900 students leaving for the summer.
Completing the tour of the schools while the students were still in class was essential for Curtice.
“Our business is about kids, and when you can walk through those schools and see our children, our students, … it’s still what gets me going — it’s what makes me thrive. I love seeing the kids, and I love being in the schools,” Curtice said.
There were two main takeaways from the experience, he said.
“First, how dedicated the leadership and staff are to the children in this district — that stood out across our system. You could feel it, you could feel how genuine and how warm those buildings were … and just the level of commitment to the children in this district,” Curtice said.
The second observation was a sense of relief from district employees seeking more solidified leadership.
“You could sense the energy that it’s time to go forward,” Curtice said, adding that Dave Lindenberg, who served as interim superintendent, did an excellent job in guiding the district through a transitional phase.
Leadership in the district has been in flux since last summer when the then school board parted ways with the district’s former superintendent. At the time, the board stated it was seeking to go in a different direction.
Susan Birdsey, the former superintendent, said she was both saddened and surprised by the decision in the weeks following the change.
Outside of the superintendent position, the five-member board of education had three new members selected in the past year; however, one of those three, Jay Rickstrew, previously served eight years on the board.
Although one of the three finalists for the superintendent position raised the issue during finalists interviews in February, Curtice said he did not hesitate at the opportunity join Re-2.
“It’s full steam ahead. I don’t know what went on … that’s past history. It’s about where we go today,” he said.
There are plenty of issues to address moving forward.
Earlier this week, the board was presented with a draft of the 2016-17 budget — a document that includes a $1.2 million budgeted deficit. The board is expected to approve the annual budget this coming Tuesday.
From there, the board will dive even deeper into discussions on how to proceed faced with shrinking reserves.
After voters rejected a mill levy in 2011, the district began making cuts, which included the move to a four-day school week. With reserves at the time totaling more than $14 million, a decision was made to deficit spend in the neighborhood of $1 million per year, rather than make additional cuts.
With the reserve balance nearing the $8 million minimum threshold established by the board, the district once again will either have to make additional cuts or come up with additional revenue.
If forecasts in the draft budget hold true, the district will enter next fiscal year with $1.7 million remaining before hitting the $8 million minimum.
As board members discussed possible cost saving measures Tuesday evening, Curtice said he intends on bringing ideas for attracting more students to the district, which would bring more funding, to the board.
In discussing student retention, Rickstrew, board vice president, said education is very much a “people business.”
“[That is] the reason why we hired the guy to the right,” Rickstrew said of Curtice.
After the meeting, Rickstrew stated there are “tons of challenges” facing the district, but with Curtice officially coming on alongside other top level administrators, Rickstrew added he feels “really positive about the strong leadership [in the district]. ”
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Construction for the South Midland project is on schedule, though crews will continue to work on weekends to keep the course.