School board OKs Stein contract extension, despite public concerns
Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein was given a one-year contract extension through June of 2021 Wednesday, despite concerns expressed by some district teachers and parents that the decision was ill-timed.
With less than two weeks before three of the five school board seats will be decided in the Nov. 5 election, some suggested at a regularly scheduled board meeting in Carbondale that the decision should be tabled until the new board is in place next month.
“Quite a few of us were taken aback today by the announcement that this was going to be done,” Stephanie Wagner of Glenwood Springs said before the board.
“A lot of us didn’t know that this was even coming. It just seems like an appropriate avenue would be to wait until the new board is seated to decide if the extension should be awarded.”
Rhonda Tathum, president of the district’s teacher union, the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, said several teachers approached her with similar concerns after learning of the pending board action.
And, Carbondale parent Todd Kennedy questioned not only the curious timing before the election, but that the board made its decision the night before fall break when many families are headed out of town.
“I think it comes down to communication and transparency, to not only the teachers but the community,” Kennedy said. “We will be looking to our new board … to say this is how we feel about this decision. Why not let that new board make this decision?”
Instead, the current board unanimously agreed to an extension that board members said has been several months in the making through the annual performance evaluation process.
In addition to the one-year contract extension, the board approved a retroactive amendment to Stein’s three-year-old contract that acknowledges his 4.5% cost-of-living pay adjustment during that time was less than his original 2016 contract called for.
Stein now makes $167,228 per year — an increase from $160,000 when the contract was first signed. Had he agreed to take the full wage adjustment, he would have been making $180,116 by now, according to district HR Director Amy Littlejohn.
Board members indicated it makes sense for the sitting board to decide on the matter.
Ultimately, the job of negotiating a new contract for Stein beyond the 2020-21 school year will be up to the new board, current board members noted.
Outgoing school board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger pointed out that she joined the board amid the transition between former Superintendent Diana Sirko and Stein, and the often-intense negotiations that took place leading up to that change.
“As a new board member, I had no idea of all the things the school board has to work through,” Geiger said. “It’s hard to get caught up in that one issue and also get up to speed on all the other issues.”
Board President Jen Rupert agreed that the decision to renew the superintendent’s contract lies with the board that conducted the review process. But she also agreed there could have been better communication around that process.
In a year when the district is already transitioning from longtime Chief Financial Officer Shannon Pelland to a new CFO after this school year, Rupert said it didn’t make sense to reconsider Stein’s contract.
Board member Shane Larson, who is in a three-way race for his seat in the upcoming election, along with challengers Jasmin Ramirez and Amy Connerton, acknowledged he did question the timing of the decision on Stein’s contract extension when he saw it on the Wednesday agenda.
But, “while the timing wasn’t great, I do feel that it’s this board’s responsibility” to consider that extension, he said.
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