Re-2 search for superintendent remains on track
RIFLE — Among the most pressing issues the new Garfield Re-2 Board of Education must address after Tuesday’s election is the search for a new superintendent.
The process is already under way and is on track so far. The the district has contracted with the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) for the superintendent search. The five-member Re-2 board — which will welcome three new directors this week — and CASB already constructed a working timeline for the search that puts a hoped-for selection in mid-February.
Last week, CASB led a series of focus groups with community members, district employees and the board. Participants were asked to describe life in the community, the successes and challenges within the district and the qualities an ideal superintendent should possess.
Turnout at the focus groups was small but typical for such meetings in a district without publicly polarizing issues, Mark DeVoti, associate executive director with CASB, said last Tuesday during a meeting with the school board.
Although the district faces its share of challenges, and the circumstances surrounding the dismissal during the summer of former Superintendent Susan Birdsey remain unclear, Garfield Re-2 does not have contentious matters — unlike Jefferson County School District R-1, where a recall of three school board members will be decided Tuesday.
At the end of the day, all you can do is give people ample opportunities to participate, DeVoti said, and Re-2 has gone above and beyond in that respect, with the largest number of focus groups in all the superintendent searches in which DeVoti said he has participated.
Those who have attended the meetings have been fully engaged, he added. Among the consistent items mentioned at those meetings was the need to find somebody who can successfully build support for a future mill levy.
Garfield Re-2 last tried to pass a $3 million mill levy override in 2011. After voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot item, with 63 percent against it, the district engaged in difficult budget talks that at the time included conversations about closing Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle and Wamsley Elementary in Rifle.
Ultimately, the district kept both schools open, but moved to a four-day school week while implementing other cost-cutting measures, and started deficit spending of around $1 million per year.
Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton noted at last Tuesday’s meeting that despite tough financial times — an issue facing districts across Colorado as the state continues to increase the gap in state money allocated to education (typically referred to as the negative factor) — Re-2 has managed to retain programs, such as arts and physical education, that are typically the first to go during fiscal belt tightening.
Community members echoed that point in other focus group meetings, DeVoti said. Still, finding a superintendent who can build a coalition of support, especially in a community that rejected the last override, persisted as one of the challenges facing the district in those same meetings.
Given the circumstances, Re-2 has maintained a pretty positive financial situation, Scott Doherty, one of the three outgoing board members, said at the meeting. Doherty also noted the district’s facilities as one of Re-2’s strengths.
Those facilities were possible because of previous mill levies and bonds, Anne Guettler, one of the two remaining board members, said at the meeting.
In 2006, voters approved a $74.9 million bond and $1.6 million mill levy override. With nine years elapsing since then, continued cuts to state funding, and the failure of the 2011 override, Guettler said the question now is how to keep those facilities in good condition.
“We have fallen behind on maintenance,” Doherty stated. It can be hard to illustrate that point when much of the issue pertains to the infrastructure within the district’s facilities, he added. A boiler malfunction forced Rifle Middle School to close last Wednesday.
While the district has its challenges, there was “a lot of hope” in the focus groups, DeVoti said. Both residents who attended the community meetings and the district employees who participated in separate meetings all remarked at the quality of the staff in the district, as did the three board members present at last Tuesday’s work session.
Along with being able to build that support, board members said they also would like a future superintendent to have a broad range of administrative knowledge in education, as well as an understanding of the needs in a large rural school district.
CASB will compile the feedback gathered in the focus groups into a draft brochure for the position to the board for approval. Under the working timeline, CASB will initiate the application process in late November, after the brochure is approved. DeVoti said he has already received calls from superintendents about the search — which sparked some excitement from the board members in attendance. The deadline for the application process is set for mid-January, followed by interviews and a final selection hoped for in mid-February.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.