Given all of the problems the Aspen School District experienced in the last four months of 2018, the current administration needs to look at how it does business.
For a quick review, the issues include the human resources director who didn’t tell her bosses about legal issues in another state, a parents group forming with claims of teacher dissatisfaction and low morale, the board deciding not to renew the superintendent’s contract and the need to hire a third-party to look into the climate and culture in the district.
In light of this, we urge the Board of Education and administrators to strive toward making the school district more open and transparent under new board President Dwayne Romero and Vice President Susan Marolt. The new leadership met recently with The Aspen Times editorial board to address our concerns, and they appeared open to making some changes.
First, working on the school district’s approach to public relations and communications with the community could go a long way toward improving its culture and climate that many have criticized.
• Open up board meetings — When the board knows it will be bombarded by parents and community members at a meeting, try moving the meeting location out of its shoebox setting into a more open venue, such as the high school seminar room. Last fall, when parents and community members attended meetings to voice their concerns, the boardroom was filled to capacity, forcing some to try to listen outside in the hall. The limited access ran at odds with the democratic process and was not acceptable.
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• Video-record the meetings — None of the board meetings are televised nor streamed online. Sometimes these meetings might last four or five hours. Most parents or interested parties, because of other obligations, simply cannot sit through every minute of every board meeting. Recording the sessions would provide the community with better access and a better understanding of board decisions and the reasons behind them. The Aspen government records its regular City Council meetings and work sessions, as does Pitkin County and Basalt. Aspen Valley Hospital also streams its meetings on its website.
• School board debate moderators — It was not a good look for the Aspen School District when Kathy Klug, one of its longstanding, high-ranking employees, was a co-moderator of the Board of Education candidates debate in advance of the November 2017 election. Having outside, neutral parties with no skin in the game will help in building public trust.
• In advance of that same election, the school district emailed profiles of all of the board members at the time, include the incumbents seeking re-election. While the profiles made no mention of the upcoming elections (that would have violated state campaign rules), this rubbed many people wrong because of the timing of the profiles, which were sent out in the fall of 2017. Curiously, no board member profiles were emailed to the public this past fall, when there were no board elections.
• Policy governance — The Board of Education adheres to policy governance, which, if enforced by the letter of the policy, permits only the board president to speak on behalf of the other four elected officials when outside of a meeting. We understand why the board doesn’t want to politicize issues, but the public has a right to know how each individual board member falls on issues, other than what is said in board meetings. If the board desires to stick with the policy, it should also come with an explanation of how the public benefits from this approach.
A significant development at the school district will happen this month when Denver consulting firm Wilson Foxen Inc. meets with individuals — from parents to teachers to administrators and others — to better understand what ails the district. However, this will mean nothing if the firm’s recommendations aren’t made public and the district follows through with the suggestions.
Additionally, Superintendent John Maloy announced Thursday that Ginny Haberman is returning to her old position as human resources director on a temporary basis. Haberman joins the district during its transition period after Maloy placed HR director Elizabeth Hodges on paid administrative leave because of her past legal transgressions in Missouri. Maloy also has said he is taking steps to terminate Hodges, who has requested a hearing before the Board of Education, and he plans to fill the position by February or March.
Maloy’s future also is in question; the board in October decided not to renew his employment contract past June 2021 after a rising tide of criticism among parents and others about the superintendent’s management style, purported low staff morale and declining academic performance.
This has not been a good time for the Aspen School District, which is one of the backbones of the community. At the very least, a more open government will help ease the criticism and get the board more in touch with residents of the school district. To dismiss them as “angry parents” is nothing more than a deflection tactic aimed at removing the focus from the school district’s problems, which are evident yet fixable.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.