Durango school board members conducted a 1½ hour special board meeting Tuesday reflecting on how they could have better handled a proposal to cut nine jobs from schools next school year.
The proposal from Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger to not renew the nine school positions comes as the district struggles with a projected shortfall in state revenue as tax receipts decline because of restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
School board members removed Snowberger’s proposal to eliminate the nine jobs, which was made based on recommendations from school principals, from his consent agenda at the April 28 board meeting. Instead, they voted 4-1, with school board member Mick Souder opposed, to review the cuts in a work session May 12.
Board member Andrea Parmenter said she regretted her vote to review the job cuts and said it was based on an incorrect belief that district policy had not been followed in deciding which jobs to cut.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with staffing and hiring decisions,” she said, noting the board is responsible for one district employee, the superintendent, and it is the superintendent’s ultimate responsibility to handle hiring, firing and nonrenewal of employment.
Souder, the dissenting vote objecting to school board review of the job cuts, said allowing public participants to speak beyond the alloted three minutes played a role in creating a difficult environment to conduct the vote and noted other procedural difficulties also hampered proper handling of the issue.
Board member Erika Brown said her vote to review the nonrenewal of the nine job contacts was not based on a lack of trust in decisions made by school principals, but instead taken to ensure proper policies were followed in the decision-making process that identified the nine jobs for cutting.
“I want to ensure that we have the information we need and the community is informed,” she said.
Brown added she was unsure she had the full information she needed to make a decision about the job cuts at the April 28 meeting. She said it would have been helpful for board members to have been informed about the proposed cuts before the day of the meeting. In handling future job cuts, she said it would be ideal if board members could be informed about proposed cuts with more notice.
“It’s not about information only. We also need an extended timeline,” she said.
Board member Kristin Smith also said her vote to review the nonrenewals came because she wanted more information about whether all district policies were followed in making job-cutting decisions, not because she lacked confidence in decisions made by principals.
“I did not feel comfortable voting. I thought tabling was the best way to delay,” she said.
Smith said her vote was not made to weigh in about whom should keep a job or whom should be cut, but to obtain more information about how job-cutting decisions were made based on community concerns.
Smith said she would have been helped in making a decision about job cuts if documentation in support of the nonrenewals included a certified statement that all district polices were followed.
The suggestion for a certified statement assuring board members that all policies were followed was made by consultants Linda Dawson and Randy Quinn from the Aspen Group International, a consulting firm that aids the board on good governance issues.
Ultimately, Snowberger said the board will have to decide whether principals and administrators will make decisions on job cuts or whether allowing the community a bigger role in the decision-making process will be adopted as a new policy for the district.
Additional job cuts are assured given the dire situation of the state budget, and there is likely to be community concern about future cuts, Snowberger said.
Board President Shere Byrd said voting to ask for more information about how job-cutting decisions were made was “reasonable.”
But she added, “It unintentionally moved us into day-to-day operations of the district.”
Community members and 9-R employees who object to daily administrative decisions, like job cuts made in the budgeting process, should first address those concerns to Snowberger and the top 9-R administration.
Parmenter said employees have the right to begin a grievance process to challenge the elimination of their jobs, and that would be the proper course for an employee to follow.
“A principal made a decision. Did he violate policy? No. The guy was doing his job. We have opened up the floodgates to a place where I don’t want to be,” she said.