PI Editorial: RFSD board’s mistaken approach to superintendent housing assistance

Post Independent Editorial Board

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to correct information on the housing down payment assistance. While $500,000 has been discussed as a possible amount, it is still subject to further negotiations along with the terms of how repayment or reimbursement to the district would work.

There’s no way around it: Roaring Fork School Board’s bumbling approach to offering housing assistance to the district’s superintendent likely made current Superintendent Jesús Rodríguez’ job harder, not easier.

On Wednesday night, the RFSD school board brought forth a measure that would have provided Rodríguez housing down payment assistance (although $500,000 has been discussed, the amount has yet to be determined).

Board members stated the policy was their brainchild, and that the discussion began even before Rodríguez was hired.

Yet those discussions seemingly did not involve anyone from the school district’s housing committee or anyone else within the district. Afterward, we looked but could not find even a hint of those discussions before the item appeared on Wednesday’s agenda.

Siloing such a significant proposal without seeking collaboration or buy-in meant that people were shocked when they heard about it for the first time. While Rodríguez has wisely put the brakes on the proposal for now, telling the board Wednesday that he would likely decline the offer, the mistrust some district employees and parents are now feeling will likely linger.

Frankly, the discussion didn’t have to go this way. Marrying the housing assistance to a similar program that could more broadly benefit other district employees likely would have completely reshaped how many viewed and received the program. At the very least, creating more opportunity for input and buy-in from other district employees could have helped create a begrudging understanding why the unique challenges facing the superintendent position calls for a unique solution.

The school board chose to never even give those outcomes a chance, but the one most likely to feel the impact of their collective mistake is Rodríguez. There’s no doubt his job is now more challenging and that he’ll have to focus on rebuilding trust where it has eroded. 

If anything positive can be gained from the outcome, we hope it’s twofold. One, our school board should learn well the benefits of broad engagement and open discussion when crafting policy, even when that policy is seemingly directed at just one position. 

Two, we would really encourage the board to recognize it’s not “mission accomplished” when it comes to housing assistance for employees throughout the district. RFSD has made significant progress in developing employee housing, but many employees who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting still feel the pain of housing uncertainty. Keep those voices in mind as you consider what and who else the district should focus on with additional housing assistance.

Doing so will create a proposal that is unifying rather than dividing — and also help employees focus more on their mission of providing quality education for students and worry less about how they’re going to afford living here.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher and Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor John Stroud and community representative Mark Fishbein.

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