Current Board Decides to Make Decision Rather Than Leaving it to Next Board
RIDGWAY – In a vote late Tuesday evening, members of the Ridgway School Board, 3-2, approved a one-year extension to Superintendent Cheryl Gomez’s three-year contract, which would have ended in 2014.
While the merits of Gomez’s tenure as superintendent were a part of the often-heated discussion, the debate centered around the timing of the decision,
It is a decision the school board normally would make in January.
But with four of five board seats up for grabs in the upcoming November election, board members Steve Larivee, Jeff Synowic and Julie Wesseling, whose seats are up for reelection, voted in favor of extending Gomez’s employment contract “one additional year, with no additional pay.” Board Chair Roger Sagal and member Bart Skalla dissented.
To many in the Ridgway community, the contract extension came as a surprise on Aug. 21, when the board agenda was published; Sagal, who, as chair, has the duty of setting meeting agendas.
Sagal reported at the Tuesday night meeting that Gomez had asked the board for an early contract extension last month, whereupon Sagal canvassed the other board members about her request.
“I thought that was productive, and I came out that with a consensus that we were to not have the contract discussion,” Sagal said. Rather, he said, “the new board would” decide whether or not to renew Gomez’s contract.
On July 30, Sagal said the sitting board discussed, in executive session, whether it should vote on Gomez’s contract extension, and decided no.
When the agenda for last night’s meeting was published, Sagal said, he was surprised by the action item regarding Gomez’s contract extension.
“It was done without anyone confirming it with me first. It caught me by surprise,” Sagal said, going on to charge that the decision was “sloppy, and gives the public a cause for question.”
Citing board protocol, Larivee said he added the action item to Tuesday’s agenda, with the support, per protocol, of at least one other board member.
“I apologize to Roger for not getting a hold of him before the agenda hit the press,” Larivee said. “I apologize for that oversight. I thought I was following protocol.”
When the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was published, Ridgway teacher Jason Gunning, who is also a candidate for the school board, wrote the board a letter requesting postponing a decision on Gomez’s contract until after the new board’s installation.
“I write to you today as someone who daily teaches, and believes in, the value of representative democracy, asking you to please allow it to function properly,” Gunning wrote. “Vote whichever way you wish on the premature extension of the Superintendent's contract, but please allow the students, teachers, residents, and voters of the Ridgway School District to have their say in an appropriate fashion. Rather than force this issue, please take your time and consider your actions.
“Reschedule your vote to the September board meeting and listen to the voices of those parents, students, and teachers most directly impacted by your decision.”
Resident Darin Hill agreed with Gunning’s request.
“Why are we so aggressive to renew this contract again?” Hill said. “I would encourage the board to let the new board make the decision.”
Community members voicing support of renewing Gomez for another year included Connie Stapleton, a former board member, because the board faces two other administrative contract decision in the near future, as well.
With “three administrative contracts due at once,” Stapleton voiced her hope that this board would give Gomez “your vote of confidence.”
With the 2014 implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, a new state evaluation program, and other school reforms coming soon, Synowic said approving Gomez’s contract now, rather than in January, would maintain much-needed leadership continuity.
“The level of accountability for our principals in the implementation of SB191 will increase tremendously,” Synowic said, reading from a prepared statement. “It will be the responsibility of the superintendent to see that due diligence is practiced by our principals in this process and teacher evaluations are comprehensive and fair. The extension of this contract can provide the time necessary to move into the implementation of SB191 with the existing superintendent and provide a potential 80 percent new board membership additional time to assess for a full year cycle the responsibilities and duties of the superintendent.”
Being forced into making a decision on Gomez’s contract just a few weeks after the new board takes office in January was not an appealing proposition, Synowic emphasized.
“I fully respect the job the new board has to undertake,” Synowic said. “I also understand, through four years of sitting here, that coming to a conclusion within weeks of taking an oath could severely impact the district. That is a disservice to the district.”
Skalla suggested the sitting board discuss at least one of the two other administrative contracts up for renewal, and not Gomez’s, at which point Larivee made a motion to approve Gomez’s one-year contract extension that was then seconded by Wesseling.
Despite sharp disagreement as to whether or not Gomez’s contract should be renewed at this time, Sagal, the only current board member guaranteed a seat next January, said he was mostly upset at the board’s lack of communication in the matter.
“What I am most upset about is the appearance of dysfunction in this instance,” he said.