In a rare split vote, the Durango school board gave Sheldon Keresey, the Durango High School athletic director whose job is in jeopardy, a reprieve Tuesday.
Numerous parents, students and colleagues pleaded with the board to keep Keresey. After an executive session, which is closed to the public and news media, the board voted 3-2 to delay a decision on Keresey's position until June 9.
Keresey's job was set to be eliminated as part of staff reductions at DHS. The athletic director's responsibilities would be split among DHS' four vice principals.
Keresey's supporters packed the board room of the district's 19th century headquarters Tuesday night, rallying support for the athletic director. In all, 17 people asked the board to reject the district's recommendation to cut Keresey's job. Each speaker's testimony was followed by a round of applause from the audience.
"He's a vital part of our children's programs, and we cannot afford to lose him," said Heidi Morris, a DHS parent and athletic booster.
Joe Civiletto, president of Youth Baseball of Southwestern Colorado, said Keresey is Durango High's "most important guidance counselor."
Four DHS student councilors, Elena Breed, Lyda Phillips, Sophia Johnson and Kelcie Scott, also urged the school board to retain Keresey, saying they like and trust him.
"Why replace someone when we already have that connection with him?" the students said. "It's hard to find an adult who cares that much about that many students."
Keresey, who did not attend the meeting, said in a phone interview that the community's support was "gratifying and flattering."
"I think at this point it's about the position itself, that the high school needs and deserves a full-time athletic director," he said.
Keresey added, "I'm glad that the community expressed its feelings tonight. I think that's the way the system's supposed to work and hopefully we'll do what's best for the students and our district."
Several speakers said Keresey's job was too big for the school's assistant principals to tackle part-time. DHS has 46 teams in 23 sports involving 295 students, said Deawne Maddox, Keresey's assistant who spoke in favor of keeping him.
Greg Spradling, the former principal of DHS, stood in the meeting to ask the board to remove action on Keresey's job from the consent agenda so it could be voted on separately.
Shortly afterward, the board entered an executive session.
After about 45 minutes, the board emerged and Superintendent Keith Owen, who is finishing his first year leading 9-R, said he wanted to show "a willingness to listen to people when they come forward."
Board members Melissa Youssef, Wendy Rice and Padraig "Paddy" Lynch voted to remove action on Keresey's position from the consent agenda, effectively giving him a reprieve.
Board President Floyd Patterson and Jeff Schell voted no.
Two other board members, Jim Callard and Tammy Capdevielle, were absent.
Owen said Keresey's termination was pulled "for further evaluation," with a decision expected at the board's June 9 meeting.
"We'll try to look at funding, look at other options," Owen said.
Lynch cautioned that 9-R is in tight budgetary times.
"There are some hard and fast decisions that have to be made," he said. "We are trying to do what's best for the students."