Board Unplugged meeting sparks debate

Audience members criticize DCSD financing proposal, regular meeting format


Criticism of the school board was the theme at the Douglas County School District’s “Board Unplugged” meeting March 3.

The evening focused on CFO Bonnie Betz’s presentation about a funding measure the district is seeking. Small-group discussions followed, and group after group then chose representatives who said they didn’t trust the school board and would never vote for more funding until the board regained their trust.

While the agenda included a second topic for discussion, it never was entertained. The first-of-its-kind meeting — billed as a way to start bringing people in the divided school community together — instead ended.

“That was great feedback,” Board President Kevin Larsen said to the approximately 60 people in attendance. “Rather than get feedback on another issue, we can do that at another meeting.”

The November 2014 or 2015 voter proposal Betz outlined calls for issuing certificates of participation that would help address the $265 million in capital needs anticipated over the next five years. While Betz called the idea a “win-win” that would keep tax rates level, audience members repeatedly said it won’t get their vote.

“I’m that parent and most of us are that would (in the past) have voted and have voted `yes’ for the bond every year of our lives,” Laura Alfano said, but noted money spent to bring in a pro-district speaker before the November board elections, update the website and other financial decisions raised concerns. “If we need new phones and the roofs are falling down, why do we need a PR firm? Please help us trust you and we will help you build and fix everything.”

“Teacher trust is huge; I feel we have no trust right now,” teacher Kevin DiPasquale said. “We have a presentation, a dog-and-pony show telling us about the needs of our district. How about a parent survey? A teacher survey?”

Julie Keim, a former board candidate who filed a lawsuit against the district for violations of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act, noted the district found a way to fund its widely criticized pay-for-performance program despite voter denial of a 2011 ballot measure to finance it.

“The district took our money … and did it anyway,” she said. “Unless we feel we can trust this school board and they honor our true needs, we will as a public be unwilling to support a bond. You need to as a school board address our issues before we address yours.”

Shaylee Holland, a board member with American Academy charter school and candidate for the open board seat vacated by Justin Williams, said she feels there is some misunderstanding about the board’s reform effort and school financing.

“I do want to share how the reform effort has saved everybody money and put money back in the classrooms,” she said. “We have 1,600 students in our two buildings that the district doesn’t have to pay for. If those two schools were shut down, that’d be 1,600 extra students vying for the finite dollars. People just need to educate themselves.”

Several also criticized a briefly discussed plan to build a K-8 special education facility similar to Plum Creek Academy, which serves middle- and high-school-aged special needs students. Goals of the new facility would include quickly mainstreaming those students back into the general DCSD school population, school leaders said. But several audience members said building the new school would constitute segregation.

Larsen said after the meeting the board will continue to work on the format for the Board Unplugged events.

“We’re seeking and trying different formats right now we think will lead to productive exchange of information,” he said. “Last night was one element of trying something. We may find different ways to do the April and May meetings.”

Larsen said he heard “loud and clear” the comments from audience members about trust and other issues, but said he wants to be sure the district is hearing from a broad cross-section of the community.

“I don’t think the message we got last night was necessarily (from) a cross section of our entire population,” he said.

The next Board Unplugged meeting is planned for April 1. Location and time have not been announced.


4 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

First, I was not at the meeting last night. I have attended many BOE meetings and other community forums. I am responding to the quotes from this article. Ms. Holland is quoted as saying that American Academy Charter is part of the reform efforts of the current BOE. AAC was around long before this BOE took their seats on the Board. For her to say that "People just need to educate themselves" is condescending. I also take issue with Director Larsen's comment "I don't think the message we got last night was necessarily (from) a cross section of our entire population." Well, who are the people who took the time to COME to the meeting? Aren't those the people who are dedicated to what is happening in this district? The truth is that last November, the candidates who won the seats had a lot of help from a political party who emailed their members over and over. They had a lot of help from the Secretary of State who stopped his own campaign to work on the "Reform" candidates campaign. So to say that the message that was given last night was not a good cross-section is insulting. The same message is given at every Board meeting. Overwhelmingly, teachers, parents and community members tell the BOE that they disagree with the direction of the district. Every survey given in the last few years has given that same message. Director Larsen, if you and the other BOE members are hearing that message "loud and clear" then the only question that needs to be asked is - what are you going to do about it? The election is over. 52% of the voters checked the names of the current Directors. Are you going to represent 100% of those voters, or only 52%? And we all know that a portion of those 52% have no idea what the district is even doing. They received information from their political party and voted that way. The way our system works is not only the informed get to vote, everyone does. That doesn't mean that 52% of the people support these "reforms."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Report this

Does Ms.Holland realize that the state allocated dollars per student would follow those 1600 kids back to their school of choice? Does she also realize that DCSD keeps over 50% of the dollars allocated to each student in the administrative offices?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Report this

I have 4 students in this district and we have been here since my HS Senior was in first grade. They are all in middle/high school. This is the first year, since we first chose to move here for the schools, that I considered moving to another school district.

I couldn't agree with the other two comments more. Ms. Holland seems to be the one that must educate herself. Those Charter schools get 100% of the PPF that the neighborhood schools don't get. Of course the district wouldn't be paying anything for them, they receive NO funding for that, the Charter school does. The neighborhood schools, which I feel are far superior to Charters anyway, get only about 40%. The dollars follow the students, so if 1600 students walked out of American Academy, then AA would have to give back all those funds.

Parents do NOT trust this board. They have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on stuff that does not benefit students; like multiple website redesigns, speakers to sway the election, teacher in-service that degrades teachers, illegal campaigning, PR firms, outside lawyers for appealing/defending their illegal actions, Fagen's salary, Bonnie Betz's salary, communications department, no oversight for theft within the district, and many other wasteful things. There's a long list now. I have voted in favor of every bond measure our school district has put forth to a vote. However, this time I WILL NOT. I refuse to give this wasteful board, whom doesn't care about parents, students or teachers, anymore funding. I REFUSE. They have not proven that they can manage money. Bonnie Betz is incompetent and needs to be replaced. Liz Fagen is incompetent and needs to be replaced. If Larsen "heard loud & clear", then he better start enacting changes. This board will NEVER have FULL community support and that 52% that voted in their favor....has dwindled. I know many friends that voted their way simply because of party lines, which shouldn't even be a factor, but now I have helped them open their eyes and changed their future votes. This board can not still claim that 52% support. If the election were to be held this November instead of last, they'd all lose and parents/teachers/students would have voices and majority on the school board. As it should be.

Our school district has fallen from grace and it needs to be restored to it's former glory.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Report this

I find it ironic the big red word at the top of the photo doesn't even come close to representing anyone on the DCSD school board. That word is boldly printed in the middle of one of our beautiful middle schools. Take note.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Report this