OURAY – After a special meeting last week, the Ouray School Board is still stalled on the matter of approving a new multi-year contract for Superintendent/Principal Scott Pankow. Board members are unanimous in their support of Pankow, but divided in how to structure his new contract.
The proposed contract guarantees Pankow’s employment at Ouray School for the next three years. It requires a sequestration of funds equal to one year of Pankow’s salary (about $110,000), which would be allocated from the district’s non-spendable contingency fund (also known as its “rainy day fund”). Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights requires such a set-aside for all multi-year contracts pertaining to public employees.
This money would be payable to Pankow in the unlikely event that the board terminates his contract prematurely without cause. If Pankow himself elects to leave the district before his contract is up, the district would owe him nothing.
Board member Don Mort continued to sound the alarm at last Thursday’s meeting, as he had done at a previous board meeting in December, that it is unwise and unnecessary to extend Pankow a multi-year contract that makes a portion of the school’s critical reserves untouchable in the event they should need to spend that money. He argued in favor of offering Pankow a series of one-year contracts instead.
The other four Ouray School Board members, however, indicated they were comfortable with the terms of the multi-year contract, and the sequestration of funds that it requires.
Senior board members President Mike Fedel, Secretary Jim Hellman, and Treasurer Christine Hinkson reminded Mort that they have seen the school through a period of instability during which they oversaw five administrative searches in the past seven years, and that they didn’t want to go there again any time in the near future.
Fedel argued that given Pankow’s many strengths, it was well worth the gamble to set aside funds to retain him over the next three years, during which administrative stability will be particularly crucial. Pankow, as superintendent, will be responsible for executing performance evaluations for all of the district’s teachers as Senate Bill 191 is implemented.
The so-called educator effectiveness law, passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2010, intends to improve student learning by increasing teacher effectiveness in the classroom. The law calls for a new educator evaluation system to help teachers identify and put into practice the knowledge and skills associated with effective teaching.
As board members parsed the legalese of the proposed contract, Mort maintained it was unclear as to whether the district needed to set aside one year’s salary, or two, and whether the school would owe Pankow benefits as well as salary, should they terminate his contract prematurely without cause.
Former county commissioner Keith Meinert, meanwhile, had submitted a letter to the school board prior to the meeting, stating that the county’s preference was for one-year contracts versus multi-year contracts with a mandatory set-aside of only three months’ salary, even for crucial positions such as the County Administrator and County Attorney.
Fedel, who is also a county commissioner, argued that the school’s situation was different. “What Keith says is true for the county but the superintendent position is especially important over the next three years because he will have it in his power to rate employee positions,” Fedel said. “The future of those teachers and staff are dependent on the process and procedures that Scott will be developing over the next three years.”
Fedel stressed he was most concerned about the security of the staff. “Putting our money where our mouth is on this contract will tell the staff we are very supportive of Scott and the way he is doing the evaluation of teachers,” he said. “To me the continuity of having him here for three years in the contract is very important to the staff and to us; it will (ultimately) provide a better education for our kids.”
“I agree with the value of Scott seeing the process through,” Mort responded. “But I still go back to the fluctuating budgets due to the state’s lack of revenues, and our own enrollment numbers that have been dropping.” Mort worried that “we might get in a situation where we might need that money” and reiterated Meinert’s point that multi-year contracts are “out of vogue.”
Board member Kentee Pasek, losing patience with Mort’s opposition, moved “to accept the contract before us” but her motion faltered as Hinkson argued it was important for Mort to have a conversation with the school attorney which would help him to understand the nuances of the contract.
Pankow indicated he was happy to wait on the matter until Mort’s concerns were resolved. The board suspended its meeting until Jan. 28, when it will vote on Pasek’s motion before moving on to regular business.