Re-2 chief Birdsey’s severance up to $220,000; no reasons stated for ouster
RIFLE — The Garfield Re-2 board of education is parting ways with the district’s top administrator, Superintendent Susan Birdsey, but neither party is providing a reason for the separation.
The board approved a resolution — after no public discussion at Tuesday’s meeting — agreeing to enter into a separation agreement with Birdsey, who was not in attendance. It was approved without dissent.
The initial components of the agreement, outlined in the resolution, state that Birdsey will receive a compensation package worth no more than $220,000 — $75,258 more than Birdsey’s annual salary, not including benefits, according to her contract — in exchange for her resignation effective Tuesday and a release of all claims. Those components were to be included in a finalized deal agreed to by both parties.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Board President Chris Pearson said she had been “out of pocket” for a while and was unaware whether all parties had yet signed off on the final agreement.
Birdsey did not reply to an email Tuesday morning requesting comment on the situation.
According to the resolution, which did not appear on the original meeting agenda and was obtained by The Citizen Telegram several hours after the meeting ended, the board and Birdsey “have been engaged in negotiations concerning the amicable separation of the superintendent’s employment with the school district.”
How long the two parties were engaged in negotiations and the reason for the negotiations is not spelled out.
According to the most recent extension of Birdsey’s contract, the board was instructed to evaluate her performance, pursuant to board policies, annually by June 1. Upon completion of the evaluation, the two parties were to mutually determine whether the contract should be extended another year.
An executive session to discuss final review of Birdsey’s evaluation was slated for the May 26 school board meeting. At the meeting, however, Pearson requested the item be removed for a later date, which was ultimately approved by the four board members in attendance, according to meeting minutes.
The evaluation was not mentioned at the two school board meetings in June. Birdsey attended both those meetings and delivered her standard superintendent’s report. During the June 9 meeting, Birdsey requested that the July 28 meeting be moved to the morning — as opposed to the standard evening meeting time — or the Monday before. After a review of schedules, the board agreed to meet at 8 a.m. July 28.
The board met July 1 for a special meeting with a lone action item on the agenda — superintendent evaluation. According to the meeting minutes, the board entered into executive session one minute after the meeting was called to order at 6 p.m. The board returned to regular session at 8:10 p.m., at which point Pearson made a request to remove the superintendent evaluation from the agenda. That passed unanimously and the meeting adjourned at 8:13 p.m.
The board then met July 8, followed by a workshop July 21. The agenda for the July 21 workshop included an executive session to discuss personnel issues.
Board members Scott Doherty, Anne Guettler, Shirley Parks and Pearson were in attendance. Patrick Burwell, the fifth board member, joined part of the discussion via telephone.
The topic of discussion was Birdsey and her future with the district. Pearson could be overheard from outside the meeting room saying that a majority of the board felt that Birdsey had not fulfilled her duties as superintendent.
Doherty questioned whether the board had worked hard enough with Birdsey to address displeasure with her performance.
The conversation then turned to numbers, with board members sharing how many months worth of compensation they felt comfortable with.
Asked Tuesday about the reason for ending Birdsey’s tenure and specifically the conversation in executive session, Pearson said she would not speak about discussions that happened in executive session, or personnel issues, such as the reason for the separation agreement.
“I’ve been on the board eight years, and I have never publicly discussed personnel issues,” she said. “It’s a standard procedure for personnel, regardless of who it is, what it is, you don’t discuss personnel issues in public meetings.”
In a phone call Tuesday evening, Doherty said he could not comment on the personnel issue, adding that he was “stunned” by the publication of parts of the conversation from the July 21 executive session. He called the reporter’s actions that day “offensive.”
The Citizen Telegram has requested a copy of Birdsey’s 2015 evaluation under the Colorado Open Records Act. The Telegram also requested a finalized version of the separation agreement be made available once both parties have formally agreed to it.
Birdsey was named superintendent of the district, which runs from Rifle to New Castle, in 2010 after serving as assistant superintendent for nearly two years. Prior to that, she served as principal at Rifle Middle School.
During her tenure, the district faced financial challenges brought on by decreasing funding, primarily from the state. Efforts to cut district spending led to the implementation of a four-day school week in the 2012-13 school year.
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