OURAY – The Ouray School Board stalled on talks this week regarding the terms of a pending new contract for Superintendent/Principal Scott Pankow, and agreed to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 in the Ouray School Library to further air the matter with school faculty and the public.
The board was unanimous in its praise for Pankow and fully supported renewing his contract for the fiscal year 2013/14 which starts in July. At issue was the matter of whether to earmark money from the school’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund” in order to extend Pankow a three-year contract commencing July 1, 2013 and ending July 30, 2016.
The school is bound, under the State of Colorado’s TABOR Amendment, to hold sufficient moneys in reserve when it extends such a multi-year contract. Board member Don Mort was concerned about tying this money up during uncertain financial times when the school is headed toward its own looming “fiscal cliff” due to declining enrollment; the school is down by over 50 students from its zenith enrollment of 250 in 2007.
Board member Kentee Pasek pointed out that the district would technically not be sequestering the money in the Rainy Day Fund, but rather just using it to “prove to the state we have the money on paper” to honor the terms of Pankow’s contract, in the unlikely event the district should need to dip into it. Pankow’s salary is already a line item in the school’s operating budget. The new contract under consideration does not propose a raise. In fact, Pankow would be taking a very slight ($8 annual) decrease in his annual salary of $110,000 plus benefits. “This is saying we have the money to be able to afford a contract,” Pasek said.
Board Secretary Jerry Hellman added that the Ouray School District entered a similar extended contract several years ago with former superintendent Nick Schafer in which it was required to sequester a year’s salary.
Mort reiterated he was uncomfortable with the sequestering of funds, regardless of his support for Pankow. “I would offer you a lifetime contract,” he said to Pankow, “but given the financial situation we are dealing with, we are at the mercy of the state, and our future finances are unpredictable and unclear. I can’t support this for economic reasons.”
Board president Mike Fedel said that the longterm contract under consideration would require the school district to show that it has two years’ salary in reserve – or approximately $220,000 – but that in a worst-case scenario, under the terms of the contract, the school would only be “on the hook” for one year’s salary, should it decide to fire Pankow without cause. If Pankow were to leave the district’s employ of his own volition before the contract is fulfilled, or if he were fired with good cause, the district would owe him nothing.
Fedel said he saw the extended contract as an investment in “good, competent administration. The only way I see to really make him feel secure would be to sequester those funds,” he said.
Other board members, including Hellman, also stated their support for the terms of the proposed extended contract. “From a realistic standpoint, we can live within the Rainy Day Fund that we have (the fund currently contains about $300,000), and the sequestration will decrease as time goes by month by month,” he said.
Pasek agreed. “We are in some ways being financially frugal,” she said. “We can plan a lot with a three year contract.”
“If we brought in a new administrator we could not find one at this price,” Hellman added.
Mort maintained that the board has not been transparent in sharing the terms of the proposed contract with the public. “I support the multi-year concept but I’m not comfortable with putting that money aside,” he said. “The question is, if that money is needed elsewhere, how flexible are we?”
Fedel pointed out that not many school districts even have the luxury of a Rainy Day Fund. “It is not a typical account at most schools,” he said.
Mort remained unmoved. “I am here to protect the district, not any staff member over the district’s interest and I feel the district’s interests are not served by creating this fund,” he said. “We are making ourselves vulnerable.”
“I know where you are coming from but to me this gives us more certainty,” Fedel replied. “We know we will have administration in the school. Your ‘Number One’ will be in the budget regardless. As the contract runs its course the (amount of sequestered money in the Rainy Day Fund) declines. I feel your pain but I feel it is better to do it this way. It will be very hard to change my mind. I think we have a good contract in front of us.”
Pankow was promoted to Superintendent/Principal at Ouray School a year and a half ago, as a means of saving the district money by consolidating two former school administration positions into one. He originally joined the district in the fall of 2010 as Elementary/Middle School Principal.
In other news, the Ouray School District received notification this week that it is among the top 10 percent of schools in the state that got an “A” from ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, a coalition of 18 community organizations that has launched a nearly $1 million Internet-based project that translates state rankings of public schools into simple letter grades.
Based on last year’s rankings, Ouray Elementary School received an overall grade of A- and was ranked 95th of 998 elementary schools in the state. It was the only elementary school in the region to receive such a high grade. Ouray Middle School, meanwhile, received an A and was ranked 14th out of 491 middle schools in Colorado, with an A+ in the category of academic growth. Ouray High School received a B+ and was ranked 41st out of 327 high schools in the state.
Telluride School District and Ridgway School District also got top grades from ColoradoSchoolGrades.com. Telluride received a B- for its elementary school, an A- for its middle school, and an A for its high school. Ridgway School District got a B for its elementary and middle schools, and an impressive A+ for its high school, which was ranked 5th out of 327 high schools in the state.
The input data used by ColoradoSchoolGrades.com for calculating the overall grades for the schools includes academic achievement, academic growth, and at the high school level, college and career readiness.