Three Douglas County school board members say the new conservative board majority has taken steps to oust the district’s superintendent in a secretive manner, flouting board policy and Colorado’s open records law.
Colorado’s third largest district is now facing an uncertain path forward after board president Mike Peterson and vice-president Christy Williams told Superintendent Corey Wise he could resign or they had the votes to force him out, according to the three members — Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray — during a public Zoom call on Monday night.
Wise became superintendent last year and has been with the district for more than 25 years.
The move to get rid of the superintendent took community members and the three minority board members by surprise. There was no board discussion, either public or in a private executive session, no notice of the board majority’s intentions, and no prior discussion with Wise about any problems with his job performance, according to Hanson, Meek and Ray.
“We’re not just whining,” said Ray. “We’re genuinely concerned we’ve got a board that’s off the rails in terms of following not only the law, but also the policies that keep us governing effectively.”
Hanson, Meek and Ray said in Monday night’s meeting that they were told privately last Friday that Peterson and Williams met with Wise that morning and issued him an ultimatum — resign or they had the votes to replace him. They gave him a Tuesday night deadline, according to board member Meek.
The three were told that the board majority had collectively decided they needed to take the district in a different direction. Two board members asked board president Peterson for a reason why they wanted to force Wise out and he said, “The district needs to get back to academics,” according to Meek.
Colorado open meetings law stipulates whenever there are three or more board members discussing a district-related matter, it needs to first have 24 hours notice and the meeting must be open to the public to observe. Otherwise it violates the state’s “sunshine” laws, Ray said.
He also said two board members conveying to the superintendent that they want him immediately removed is a violation of board policy.
Ray asked if there were performance concerns that were conveyed to Wise and vice-president Williams said they had not given him a written copy of performance concerns.
“I asked why due process wasn’t being followed because that’s the law that we inform an employee who is not performing well the issues of concern and due process says we give that employee an opportunity to either respond to those concerns, refute those concerns…” Ray said.
Superintendent Wise did not issue a statement Monday night.
Board president Peterson told Meek that he and Williams had met with the contracted outside legal counsel for the board, Will Trachman, whom the board majority voted to bring on as additional legal counsel last year.
They did not involve district legal counsel in the matter, Meek said.
“It feels like a secret conversation because I as one board member have not received any kind of communication from Will Trachman or any kind of legal memo or information,” she said.
Meek said she discussed with Peterson her concerns that the removal of a superintendent can lead to significant employee turnover and turmoil.
“Frankly it creates mass havoc when you let go a superintendent, and he (Peterson) said he was aware of the risk,” she said.
The three board members said their concern was protecting students and staff from additional trauma that could be disruptive in a year already beset with instability and disruptions. They said they would like to meet with all board members or have a board retreat in order to have an open conversation about the “new” direction the board majority would like to move the district in. Peterson has canceled a board retreat scheduled for Saturday.
Board member Elizabeth Hanson, who is also an attorney, said she will file an ethics complaint with the state and regarding Trachman, whom she said committed a contractual and ethical violation by not corresponding with all board members if he met with individual members.
Board president Peterson told CPR he couldn’t provide a comment until he reviewed a recording of Tuesday night’s meeting.
In November, a conservative slate of school board candidates won big in Douglas County, promising more parental control. Immediately, the board took on controversial issues. It eliminated the district mask mandate and passed a new resolution that some worry is the first step in dismantling the district’s equity policy. The equity policy calls for establishing a system for identifying racist practices and discriminatory behaviors.
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