Emails: Re-2 board initially split on Birdsey decision
The Garfield Re-2 board of education’s decision to part ways with its former superintendent, Susan Birdsey, was not initially embraced by all the board members, according to a series of emails exchanged among board members.
The emails — obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request — make multiple mentions of a split decision, as well as a desire to avoid a divided vote of no confidence.
The board voted unanimously and without discussion July 28 to enter into a separation agreement with Birdsey. One week later, the board announced the agreement was finalized, and unanimously named Dave Lindenberg as interim superintendent.
The unanimity was less abundant earlier on. A request for all emails between the five board members from May 24 through July 30 using the search terms “Birdsey” and “Susan” netted five emails. Emails protected under attorney-client privilege were not disclosed. The first, dated July 1, from Board President Chris Pearson to fellow board member Scott Doherty — the other three board members were included in the email — is in response to a phone call the two had the day before. In the email, Pearson writes that she could sense Doherty’s frustration during the phone call, adding that she too has shared the same frustration. The email addresses the process, and more specifically, delays in the process.
“You are accurate when you question the timeliness of this process. My only defense is that we are all volunteers and sometimes ‘life’ happens at the most inopportune times,” Pearson wrote after attributing delays in June to vacations by various board members and a serious personal issue that she specifically had to deal with. Portions of the next two paragraphs are redacted for attorney-client privilege. Pearson decided to hold a special meeting before Birdsey left on vacation. Had she not called the meeting, the board would have been forced to wait until the end of July to act on a “no confidence” vote. Sensing a split vote, she asked board members Patrick Burwell and Shirley Parks for their thoughts on “moving in a new direction with a new superintendent.” The majority — consisting of Burwell, Parks and Pearson — agreed that it was ready to move in a new direction, according to the email.
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Asked about the email Tuesday, Pearson said in all her years of serving on public boards, she has never served on one that unanimously agreed on everything 100 percent of the time. Doherty followed by adding that the board went through a “big discussion” before reaching the final agreement. That included a two hour and nine minute executive session July 1 — the same day as the email exchange — to discuss the superintendent evaluation.
According to Birdsey, when reached by phone Tuesday, July 1 was when she discovered the board’s intention to go in a new direction.
Earlier that day, board member Anne Guettler sent an email to fellow board members stating Birdsey had mentioned to Doherty that she would be willing to resign, which “would avoid a split vote of no confidence and the outcry that would ensue, and allow us the time (to) get our act together.” It was important, Guettler explained Tuesday, to honor the majority and continue moving in the right direction.
With a combined 29 years of experience on the board among the current members, Pearson said she believed the board had some clarity regarding this issue. Asked if she thought the board handled the situation properly, she responded, “considering the circumstances, yes.”
Birdsey, while still saddened by what she called a “surprise,” said the situation is not unique to Garfield Re-2 — referencing the 2014 fallout between the superintendent and board of education in Jefferson County, as well as several other similar situations. “It’s a job that ends up being very political in nature,” she said of the superintendent position.
Lindenberg — who served as assistant superintendent for one year and as principal at Kathryn Senor Elementary School for nine years — has stepped into that job, for the time being. His responsibility, he said Tuesday, is to keep the district focused on its core mission of doing what is best for the students during this transition. Critical to that, is supporting and communicating with the district as a whole — not just one particular school or set of employees.
Both Guettler and Pearson congratulated Lindenberg on his work so far and a successful start to the school year. “The communication has been amazing,” Pearson said.
Both Pearson and Doherty are facing term limits, and Burwell, whose seat also is up for election, confirmed Tuesday he is not running for reelection because of an abundance of commitments. As of Tuesday evening, five potential candidates had expressed interest — one in District C and two in districts B and D each. Of those five, only two had returned the 50 petition signatures necessary to enter the race. Individuals interested in running for a seat on the school board have until 1 p.m. Friday to return the necessary paperwork to the district office at 839 Whiteriver Ave.
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