Re-1 gives press the silent treatment
When reporters ask questions of Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials, they may now be greeted with silence. The RFSD board agreed Wednesday night to cut off all verbal communication with members of the press and require all reporters’ questions to be sent via e-mail because each question from reporters is “a loaded gun that is aimed at our schools and our kids,” said board president Michael Bair. The board’s decision was made, he said, to “protect our kids,” and is a response to the Post Independent’s April 10 story alleging the board may have violated Colorado Sunshine Laws when the board on March 22 allegedly agreed behind closed doors which of three superintendent candidates to hire. During an acrimonious and at times angry 30-minute discussion, Superintendent Fred Wall called the newspaper’s story a senseless “opinion piece” that was “harmful” to local schools. All board members present agreed. Board member Susan Hakanson was absent. “I encourage all board members to not share openly with the press,” Bair said. “Ask for all questions to be forwarded to you in writing and take time with your responses.”Bair’s statement received nods from other board members and Assistant Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, who will become superintendent when Wall retires in June. Wall read a letter from RFSD attorney Patrick B. Mooney, who refuted most of the allegations made in the April 10 story. (See related story on page 2)He railed against the newspaper for “unethical” reporting, because it quoted board members who were responsible for hiring the next superintendent without getting the opinion of the board’s lawyer. But, he said, the fact that the newspaper asked whether the board broke the law “is fine.” It’s the newspaper’s methods he said he was upset about. “If the school continues to get an unfair representation in the newspaper, it affects all of us,” Wall said, adding that something must be done to allow the district to appear in the media in an “unbiased” light. Post Independent managing editor Dale Shrull admits that a comment from the school board’s legal counsel may have been appropriate, but it’s also up to board members to be familiar with open meetings laws.Board member Bob Johnson said it is “sad” that after the Post Independent endorsed Haptonstall as superintendent last week, the paper had to run a story alleging the board broke the law. “We rely on the press to help us out with the story we’re telling, and tell the good things that are happening in the district,” he said, adding that the newspaper is guilty of “destruction” in the valley, causing people to criticize the school board. Board member Brad Zeigel said the newspaper in the community where his daughter attends school reports on good things that support the community. The Post Independent’s reporting, he said, undermines residents’ commitment to the community. “I’m challenged and saddened by our need in my community for this kind of knowledge because it certainly hasn’t made anyone give a damn about what I’ve been up to on this board,” Zeigel said. Board member Bruce Wampler complained the newspaper prints only bad news about the district. Shrull says that statement is ridiculous.”Not only do we recognize the good news that comes out of the school district, which includes sports, extracurricular activities and feature stories about programs, teachers, and students, our newspaper provides the school district space to have a once-a-month column for its news to be passed along to our readers.”Shrull also says that shutting out the media is irresponsible on the board’s part.”This board has been elected by the voters, and it’s the board’s job to make decisions for a tremendous number of people who have a vested interest in the school district. To have a cooperative working relationship with the media is in the best interest of the parents and the children who attend our schools within the Re-1 school district.”I truly hope that we can come to an amicable agreement where we can continue to provide information to our readers. The Post Independent, in no way, did anything wrong when we questioned the school district and its use of making a decision in executive session. We merely explored the possibility that violations might have been made. That’s our job – to ask questions and examine things,” Shrull added.Wampler also said the school board is different than any other public body because it’s concerned with education, and, unlike other public bodies, the board has a vision for the future, thinking 20 years ahead of the present. “We spend all the money we can on kids, and not hiring lawyers,” Wampler said. “The spirit of what we do is about the kids. It’s very comforting to get a letter from our attorneys that we did everything right (except with the details the board divulged about its executive sessions.)”• In other matters Wednesday, Wall said RFSD will be responsible for repairing the “dip” on Grand Avenue in front of the RFSD administration building because the leak that caused the road damage came from a pipe going to the building. District architectural consultant Tim Brekel is helping the district scramble to fix the damage. It was unclear how much the project will cost, but “it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Wall said. The repairs will be made April 21-23, he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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