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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 fires superintendent

In a statement released March 4, Falcon School District 49 announced the termination of Superintendent Grant Schmidt’s employment contract. Acting Superintendent Eric Paugh will continue leading the district until further notice.The cost to the district to end Schmidt’s contract four months early is at least $46,480. An e-mail from Amanda Mountain, D 49 spokeswoman, stated the payment includes $23,200 to Schmidt’s legal counsel, Brenda Heinicke, and $23,280 to Schmidt.According to Mountain’s e-mail, Schmidt and his family will receive medical benefits though June 30. He is not entitled to a bonus, severance pay, relocation payment, unused vacation or sick leave or any other compensation or payment.D 49 Board of Education director Mark Shook said the payout to Schmidt favors the district. The $46,480 total equals Schmidt’s pay for four months but does not include the cost of medical benefits and employer contributions to retirement accounts. By paying Schmidt’s lawyer directly, the district avoids paying retirement contributions or FICA on her portion of the buyout.”This way is better for the taxpayer than if we’d paid the full $46,000 to Grant,” Shook said.The March 4 announcement ends a six-week process that began in January after board members met in closed-door sessions to hear testimony from current district employees and those who had worked with Schmidt. On Jan. 17, the board formally announced their intention to sever ties with Schmidt.”Grant Schmidt came to the district with the best intentions,” Shook said. “He interviewed well and had a bunch of good ideas. (While superintendent) he went out of his way to communicate, but at some point he lost the faith of the board of directors.”Shook said the board’s investigation uncovered about 40 charges, including questionable financial decisions and violation of the district’s standards on sexual harassment and professional workplace conduct.While he could not discuss the details of the board’s findings, Shook said the $20,000 Schmidt spent last summer on a staff training meeting at the Broadmoor Hotel was the least of their concerns.”That was just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.In a released statement, Schmidt defended his time as superintendent and said the district remains in good financial condition.”My response to the allegations presented to me by the board remains strong that they are inaccurate,” Schmidt said. “Since arriving, I have worked closely with key staff to better align resources, create needed operating procedures, and begin to move the district forward in order to become more competitive.”Schmidt called on the community to become active at the district level. “Parents and community must be more involved by asking more questions around district transparency, holding leadership and board members accountable, and require the board to act as a true policy governance group.”Jackie Vialpando, D 49 parent and an active participant on district committees, said she is not surprised to see Schmidt’s contract terminated. During the superintendent search and interviews last April, Vialpando said she heard information that led her to believe Schmidt was a risky choice. When she took this information to board members, she said they dismissed her concerns.”This could have been avoided,” Vialpando said.Vialpando said she wants to know the extent of the damage caused by Schmidt. She requested financial information detailing the district’s accounting of the fund balance, but to date has not received it.”If you look at the fund balance two years ago compared with what it is today, there is $7.5 million gone,” she said.Moving forward, Vialpando said the board should look internally for Schmidt’s replacement. “We’ve been through this before and we have dedicated people who know our history.”Board president Anna Bartha said the board has not discussed their next step. In the statement announcing the end of Schmidt’s contract, the board committed to “continue its mission, uninterrupted, to serve the children and families in our educational community.”Bartha said the board would begin looking for solutions in their next executive session, adding that most likely the board will address the matter at the regular board meeting, scheduled April 9.

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