After a tumultuous year, the Aurora School Board is considering whether to take a hands-on approach to governing the district or submit to the superintendent as their own guidelines dictate.
The upcoming June 1st vote results from the most recent instance of the board of directors blocking the superintendent and his administration. The district wanted to initiate the downsizing process described in the district policy, but the board said no.
The board that oversees the fifth largest district in Colorado has struggled for years to define its role with Superintendent Rico Munn. Munn’s contract always stipulated that the board of directors had to follow a so-called policy governance model. This means that the superintendent makes decisions based on the goals and guidelines of the board of directors. According to the Colorado Association of School Boards, approximately 30 school districts in Colorado have this version of supervision.
But the seven board members, a majority of whom were elected with the help of the teachers’ union, have favored a more active role, despite an adviser urging them to stick to what they have approved. Board members vary from apologizing for overwriting Munn when they disagree with him to being more clear about the limits of their power. Some began to wonder if they were just used to stamp the district’s decisions.
A Board decision next week on whether to abandon the current governance model and adopt one that allows for a more active role would significantly change the Board’s relationship with Munn and could have implications for its future.
Four of the seven directorships are available for election in November. So far, none of these incumbents have announced that they will seek re-election. The board members say they want to clarify the role of the board for themselves and any new candidates before the election, so people know what to expect.
Council of the Great City Schools advisor and coach AJ Crabill, who worked with the board this school year, has warned that a lack of clarity about the board’s role is damaging the district.
“It is detrimental to your company’s ability to be effective as a board of directors to say, ‘this is how we will work’ and then to function in a significantly different way than this,” Crabill said at a board meeting earlier this month.
Aurora’s governance model was in place before Munn was named Aurora Superintendent in 2013. According to this model, the superintendent makes decisions based on the goals and guidelines of the board of directors. The Aurora board has also put restrictions in place to set guidelines for its work, such as: B. Not making important decisions without seeking input from the community.
“What you said is my job, my responsibility, to sort through all decisions, to make the best possible decision and to bring it to you,” said Munn, explaining his interpretation of the model. “You will then evaluate whether it is a reasonable interpretation of your policy – not whether you like it – but whether it is a reasonable interpretation. And if so, you will approve it. “
The statement appeared to be new information to at least some board members, including Nichelle Ortiz, saying that they didn’t like the pressure they felt to go along with whatever was presented. “I can’t stick to this plan if I’m supposed to keep saying yes,” she said.
This school year, the Aurora board reaffirmed its commitment to the model and adopted a new framework with new goals that set the priorities that board members wanted to focus on. This included goals related to early literacy, post-secondary readiness and bridging performance gaps.
These goals are also used to evaluate the superintendent’s work.
Munn and the district would not comment on the impact of a possible change in oversight.
In Munn’s contract, which runs until 2023, it says: “Should the board of directors decide to change the governance policy materially, such changes can be viewed by the superintendent as unilateral termination by the district.” If this happens before June 30th, it would trigger a $ 180,000 settlement. Munn would be required to provide written notice 30 days prior to exercising this right, and the board of directors and superintendent would be required to hold discussions during this period to attempt to resolve concerns.
The board created a timeline to track progress towards the goals over the course of the year. However, these initial conversations were hampered by limited data as the state and district dropped out of many tests during distance learning.
At least twice this school year, the board argued about whether the district was deviating from the board’s goals.
In July, the board of directors canceled Munn’s plans to reopen school buildings.
After that, Munn tried to get the board to clarify who would make the next decision to reopen. However, the board members found it uncomfortable to assume sole responsibility for deciding when it was safe to reopen and had problems with which factors to consider. They concluded the decision should be split, but again overturned one of its reopening decisions in November.
More recently, when district officials applied for approval to prepare for the downsizing, the board declined in a separate vote, deciding instead that the district should not lay off staff this year.
In response to complaints from board members that the administration had not considered other options and that the board had no other options, Munn presented alternatives to layoffs earlier this month. The board approved one that could cost the district up to $ 2.7 million.
Following this decision, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Kayla Armstrong-Romero, proposed that the Board of Directors discuss how to conduct a survey, including the administrative staff, about their perception of the Board of Directors and their work. The board will take this up on June 1st, as well as when it should be published and which groups should be interviewed.
Joshua Starr, a former school principal, said it was common for boards of directors to struggle for a long time following a governance model. But he agreed that it is harmful not to have clear roles.
“It makes an already difficult job even more impossible,” said Starr, CEO of PDK International, a professional organization for educators. “I would certainly advocate a governance model, but honestly, clarity is the most important thing.”
Starr said the damage caused was not only due to the superintendent’s work, but could also affect classrooms and the community.
For example, he said, if a school board is influenced by political rhetoric such as the recent police trend of how teachers talk about race, a school board could vote on banning certain books from schools.
Aside from having a direct impact on classrooms, this decision could also have an impact on how free teachers feel doing their jobs and how comfortable they are to raise issues with the administration or their board of directors.
It is detrimental for the public to watch the fighting and not see progress on the goals set, he said.
“When people struggle like this, people’s confidence in the system decreases, which means it becomes even more difficult to make changes,” Starr said.
But all of this also needs to be fixed by the superintendent, not just boards, Starr said.
“Part of the superintendent’s job is to make sure the board of directors and the public really understand each other’s roles and really spend time on them,” Starr said.