Parents put Re-1 board to the test

Crrie Click
Post Independent Staff

CARBONDALE – In a marathon session of discussion, debate, clarification – and occasionally heated words – Roaring Fork School District Re-1 administrators and board members met Tuesday night with nearly 200 Carbondale parents, teachers and community members at the Carbondale Middle School cafeteria.

“This is the beginning of pro-active dialogue,” said School Board President Robin Garvik, nearing the end of the three-hour meeting. “I want to thank all of you for taking the time and effort to speak out. We hope you’ll continue to talk to us.”

The meeting signified more than just talk.

Garvik encouraged community members to be a part of the district’s decision-making processes by joining several committees.

At the end of the meeting, people huddled around a table to add their names to sign-up sheets for the district’s strategic planning, building accountability, district accountability, and facilities master plan committees, and to receive the district’s weekly e-mail report.

The community meeting – the second this month – came on the tails of a recent controversy concerning Carbondale Middle School principal Cliff Colia.

When word got out that officials might re-assign Colia to another school within the district, lack of information about the situation distressed many in the community. Colia has strong parent, student and staff support at CMS, but state law prohibits district officials from discussing personnel issues in public.

Since then, Re-1 superintendent Fred Wall said Colia will continue as principal at CMS.

But the controversy prompted concerned Carbondale residents and district officials to hold public forums to air grievances and begin better communication and understanding.

At the first community meeting on May 15, Carbondale residents voiced their concerns to district administrators over the district office’s support of its teachers and staff, the conditions of Carbondale’s school buildings, school district funding, Latino and language issues, outdoor education, student testing practices, and what community members described as a general fear of speaking out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, district officials responded to many of these concerns by creating a 19-page response report to the community’s concerns. Each board member and administrator took turns going through the responses and answering questions.

“People have told me, `There’s a gag order on you,’ and that I’m to be quieted and discredited,” said Rita Overbeck, a CMS staff member, of community fears that Re-1 superintendent Fred Wall has created a “list of troublemakers.”

“We need to know what’s out there,” said board member Pete Delaney. “But there is no list. How and why would we even do that? I want to know if there’s anyone in this room that feels they’ve experienced some sort of retribution from being on a list.”

No one in the room spoke up.

“If there’s a list that exists, show it to me, and I will personally deal with it,” Delaney said. “but we cannot act on the rumor mill.”

At times the meeting got quite heated – parents’ and teachers’ frustrations came out strongly when they told officials Carbondale schools are considered “the ghetto in the valley.”

And Colia told Wall he didn’t want the meeting to “degenerate into an argument” during a discussion over a canceled CMS field trip to Moab.

The audience listened quietly as school officials explained the seriousness of state budget cuts. And Re-1 finance director Shannon Pelland got the only round of applause of the evening for keeping the district’s finances sound.

“The numbers are hard to deal with, and there’s not enough money,” Delaney said. “But we’re not facing what some other districts are facing in the news around the state, and we can feel really good about that.”

Contact Carrie Click, 970-945-8515, ext. 518

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