The Douglas County School Board fired the district superintendent on Friday night in a tense meeting that exposed deep mistrust among its members and ended a week of drama and protest against the leadership of one of the area's largest school systems, the metropolitan city of Denver.
Corey Wise's term as superintendent will end two years before it expires in 2024. He was dismissed without cause by the board's new conservative majority in a 4-3 vote, and the district's two deputy superintendents, Andy Abner and Danelle Hiatt . acting superintendent role, said board chairman Mike Peterson.
“It's more about finding someone who fits better,” Kaylee Winegar, majority board member, said during the meeting. "It's just what we want with this district is different."
In voting against Wise's dismissal, board member Elizabeth Hanson called the superintendent's dismissal "an attack on public education".
The vote came at the end of a meeting that was scheduled to include an executive session during which the board would discuss Wise's future behind closed doors. But the superintendent requested that this discussion take place in public.
“I think we're doing a phenomenal job leading this district,” Wise told the board. “I believe in this district. I believe in our people. We have a chance to come together."
Friday's meeting was hastily scheduled after three board members alleged earlier in the week that school board president and vice president Peterson and Christy Williams privately told Wise to resign or be expelled.
At a board meeting on Monday, the three minority members, Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray, revealed that they learned of the ultimatum presented to Wise on Jan. 28 and that there was no vote, meeting or notice. This, they said, violates Colorado open meeting laws because school board members are not authorized to take such actions on their own without informing the rest of the board.
The allegations sparked outrage among Douglas County School District officials and parents, many of whom were already upset by the board's plans.change district equity policy🇧🇷 on Thursday approximately1,000 teachers, staff and parents gathered at Castle Rock to support Wiseand demand board transparency.
the districtclasses canceled for the daybecause many teachers and other staff convened as part of the protest.
The November election rocked the school board as four new conservative members were elected. They now have a majority and haven't wasted a lot of time implementing changes, including raising thedistrict mask mandate for schools.
Most board members expressed a need to reach common ground during Friday's meeting, but struggled to do so when it came to how Peterson and Williams handled the discussion with Wise about his performance. They discussed whether this violated open meeting laws and whether an ultimatum was delivered.
And by the end of the three-hour meeting, two board members were in tears.
It is not entirely clear whether the board members violated public records law in their conversation with Wise, as alleged in that meeting.
According to state law, if at least three (or at least if it means a quorum) members of the school board meet to discuss public matters, such as deciding whether to retain a superintendent, then notify the public and other members of the board and the meeting. That includes whether the meeting takes place in person or over the phone, email or text message, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
Frustration among board members was most evident Friday night when they voted on the motion to fire the superintendent and board member Becky Myers initially voted against firing Wise. So when asked by Peterson if that was really her vote, Myers backed down.
This drew the ire of Hanson, who said, “You can't go in and force her to change her vote. And if she can't keep up with what's going on, it's not your responsibility to update her. Your vote is no."
A frustrated Myers finally said, "Oh, I can go home!"
Wise served as interim superintendent for six months before being chosen from 100 candidates to assume the full-time position in April. Wise worked in the Douglas County School District for approximately 26 years, including as a teacher and principal.
His contract was supposed to last until June 30, 2024, Ray, one of the school board members, said in an email.
Before he was fired, Wise asked the board to give him another chance.
“I love this district and I believe in myself. And I believe in our people and in all of you," he told the school board. "We can do this. Give us a chance. Give me a chance, a real chance."
The four majority members expressed concern over Wise's implementation of policies established by the previous school board, such as the now-ended mask mandate, and his lack of response or knowledge of the actions of others in the district, such as staff. this week in protest.
"I don't think he's going to do a good job representing the board to the team," said Williams. "I've heard from leadership that there are times when it misrepresents our intentions, and I don't think that's the kind of overseer we need."
Ray, sensing the comment was broad, asked for details. Williams replied that it was about the equity policy and that Wise commented that he was surprised the new board did not rescind the policy. (They voted to instruct the superintendent to recommend possible policy changes by September.)
“It came from a number of people – they felt like intentions were being misrepresented,” Williams said.
Meek said he felt the conversation about Wise's performance was about "retaliation".
"So far, I haven't seen a single (piece) of evidence showing harmful behavior shared tonight," Ray said. “It would just encourage me to find a place where we can move forward to show our community that we stand together when it comes to doing what's best for our school district.”
But Peterson said he felt "completely betrayed" by the three minority board members during Monday's meeting.
“I was absolutely amazed at what was being done to this district and this council,” he said. “This is not retaliation. This is my ability to trust that we won't get hit by (the) other three people that will show up when we're trying to solve a problem."
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