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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 reacts to negative reports on spending

In response to parents concerned about excessive spending, Falcon School District 49 Superintendent Grant Schmidt held a meeting Dec. 2 to clarify and improve communication between the district and the community. About 15 community members and district employees attended the open forum meeting.Schmidt said he is confident in the current direction of the district, and he initiated the meeting to provide context for recent decisions. “We’re not doing anything that is illegal or against our ultimate mission or goal,” he said. “I want to be as transparent as we can be.”Parents at the meeting said their concerns included the district meeting held at the Broadmoor Hotel, which cost $21,000; a perceived climate of fear among D 49 employees; and a lack of communication with the community.Schmidt defended his decision to use the Broadmoor Hotel and said the training was a one-time event and served as an introduction to his leadership.”My goal was to bring the team together and deliver the message about who I am and what I expect,” he said. “I was told that each new superintendent had spent about $10,000 on a beginning-of-the-year event.”The cost estimate from the Broadmoor shows two days of meetings, July 21 and July 22. The superintendent held his training meeting on the first day and said the total for that day came to $9,584.20.Amanda Mountain, D 49 spokeswoman, said the second day of meetings was a strategic planning session for principals and vice principals. Schmidt had pre-approved $5,000 for July 22, and Mountain said the district received a lower rate on room rentals for holding both meetings at the same venue.The total cost exceeded the budgeted amount because, unknown to Schmidt at the time, 25 additional district employees were invited to attend. As shown on the estimate from the Broadmoor, the expenses on July 22 totaled more than $11,000. Mountain said the director who was responsible has been reprimanded.After receiving the feedback from the community, Schmidt said he will consider holding future training meetings at local churches, a high school auditorium or a hotel conference room. “Certainly, we will not go back to the Broadmoor,” he said.Parent Kelly Jo Salling-Davies attended the open forum with the superintendent and said she is uneasy about Schmidt’s justification for the Broadmoor. “He is a convincing speaker. If he really believed in what he is saying, he wouldn’t need the Broadmoor to back him up,” she said, adding that the same impact could likely be obtained at a lower cost to the district.Lisa Reid is a parent in the district who is considering returning to her teaching career. She said she attended the open forum to see Schmidt in an administrative light and clarify rumors of a culture of fear among district employees.Schmidt said the true extent of fear in the district is unknown. He said instability in the superintendent’s office over the last five years is a likely cause for fear or discomfort among employees.”It has been a high priority item for myself and the executive cabinet to work with staff to create the leadership they are looking for and to build relationships to help reduce some of the fear,” he said.Schmidt said he will work with employees to reach the high standards he established at the onset of his administration. “It is in my best interest to retain as many employees (as possible) from year to year,” he said. “That is a sign to the community we are building strong relationships and that our employees are doing the best they can.”After attending the meeting, Reid said her concerns are allayed and she would consider applying for a teaching position in D 49. “If I had a problem in the district as a parent or a teacher, I believe I could go talk to [Schmidt] and I don’t think my job would be in jeopardy.”Salling-Davies said communication is the key to avoiding future mistakes and misunderstandings and hopes both the district and the community will work together.”It is important for the community to communicate with (Schmidt),” she said. “We need to be visible and working with the district administration so that they know we don’t want them wasting our money and so we know what they are doing – good things and bad.”Schmidt said increasing communication also is a high priority. He held several open forum meetings this fall to help the community become better acquainted with him and will resume those meetings in 2009.He is seeking other opportunities to speak face to face with parents, teachers and community members. “Anytime a group of parents just want to invite me to something, I will honor that opportunity,” Schmidt said. He also encourages e-mails to said she was impressed by what she heard at the meeting, but she will reserve final judgment on Schmidt’s effectiveness until she sees more action. “Steve Hull (former D 49 superintendent) was a good talker, too, but he was unable to build a consensus among the administration and principals. Unless Schmidt is a better doer than he is a talker, we’re still going to be in trouble.”Reid was more enthusiastic: “I think a lot of people are listening to rumors instead of going to the source. I don’t think people have given him a chance yet … I believe that he can take our district to the next level so we can be competitive and the top district in the Springs.”

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