School board, community weigh in on superintendent search
Garfield Re-2 needs a balanced, experienced and knowledgeable leader who can build relationships inside and outside the district, school board members said Tuesday during a work session to discuss the search for a new superintendent.
The meeting was one of 12 with various community members on Monday and Tuesday organized by the district and the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), which the district has contracted with to facilitate the superintendent search.
Participants were asked to describe life in the community, the successes and challenges within the district, and the qualities an ideal superintendent should possess. Turnout at the focus groups was small but typical for such meetings in a district without publicly polarizing issues, said Mark DeVoti, associate executive director with CASB.
At the end of the day, all you can do is give people ample opportunities to participate, DeVoti said, and Re-2 has gone above and beyond regarding that aspect with the largest number of focus groups in all the superintendent searches DeVoti said he has participated in.
Those who have attended the meetings have been 100 percent engaged, he added. Among the consistent items mentioned at those meetings was the need to find somebody who can successfully build support for a future mill levy.
Garfield Re-2 last tried to pass a $3 million mill levy override in 2011. After voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot item, with 63 percent of voters voting against it, the district engaged in difficult budget talks that at the time included conversations about closing Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle and Wamsley Elementary in Rifle.
The district ultimately kept both schools open, but moved to a four-day school week while implementing other cost-cutting measures, and started deficit spending around $1 million per year.
Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton noted Tuesday morning that despite tough financial times — an issue facing districts across Colorado as the state continues to increase the gap in state dollars allocated to education (typically referred to as the negative factor) — Re-2 has managed to retain programs, such as arts and physical education, that are typically the first to go during fiscal belt tightening.
Community members echoed that point in other focus group meetings, DeVoti said. Still, finding a superintendent who can build a coalition of support, especially in a community that rejected the last override, persisted as one of the challenges facing the district in those same meetings.
Given the circumstances, Re-2 has maintained a pretty positive financial situation, said Scott Doherty, one of the three outgoing board members, who noted the district’s facilities as one of Re-2’s strengths.
Those facilities were possible because of previous mill levies and bonds, said Anne Guettler, board member. In 2006, voters approved a $74.9 million bond and $1.6 million mill levy override. With nine years elapsing since then, continued cuts to state funding, and the failure of the 2011 override, Guettler said the question now is how to keep those facilities in good condition.
“We have fallen behind on maintenance,” Doherty stated. It can be hard to illustrate that point when much of the issue pertains to the infrastructure within the district’s facilities, he added. A boiler malfunction forced Rifle Middle School to close Wednesday.
While the district has its challenges, there was “a lot of hope” in the focus groups, DeVoti said Tuesday. Both residents who attended the community meetings and the district employees who participated in separate meetings all remarked at the quality of the staff in the district, as did the three board members present at the Tuesday morning work session.
Board candidates Tara Rumery and Meriya Stickler, who are running for Re-2 District D seat, as well as Jacquelyn Johnson, who is running unopposed in District C, also were attended. Along with being able to build that support, board members said they also would like a future superintendent to have a broad range of administrative knowledge in the education field, as well as an understanding of the needs in a large rural school district.
CASB will compile the feedback gathered in the focus groups into a draft brochure for the position to the board for approval. Under the working timeline, CASB will initiate the application process in late November, after the brochure is approved. DeVoti said he has already received calls from superintendents about the search — which sparked some excitement from the board members in attendance. The deadline for the application process is set for mid January, followed by interviews and a final selection hoped for in mid February.
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.