December 12, 2014

Compromise calms nerves in Roaring Fork district

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Under contracts approved March 11, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko, left, will remain in her post for two years, and Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein will replace her in 2017.

Christopher Mullen/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Under contracts approved March 11, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Diana Sirko, left, will remain in her post for two years, and Chief Academic Officer Rob Stein will replace her in 2017.

CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork School District Board of Education managed Dec. 10 to defuse a potentially explosive controversy over the district’s future leadership.

After about two weeks of public debate over who — Superintendent Diana Sirko or Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein — would lead the district beginning in mid-2015, board members announced a creative compromise during a public meeting at Roaring Fork High School.

In a move that surprised most of the 60-plus parents and staff members in the audience, new board member Karl Hanlon announced a tentative agreement that he hopes will keep Sirko, Stein and the rest of the district’s executive team intact.

“Dr. Sirko has offered to reduce her request for an extension to two years,” Hanlon said. “Dr. Stein has agreed to look at a five-year contract, two in his existing position, with the remaining three as superintendent.”

The deal is only conceptual at this point, but board members discussed it behind closed doors for an hour and 10 minutes before reappearing to confirm their agreement. Before they adjourned their meeting, board members unanimously agreed to open contract negotiations with both Sirko and Stein, the aim being to strike a two-year deal with Sirko and a five-year agreement with Stein.

Going into the meeting, the board had planned to consider a three-year extension for Sirko, whose contract expires in June. Though Sirko had never promised to step down, a number of parents thought she intended to do so, and expected Stein to replace her.

In letters and opinions in local newspapers, parents worried aloud that if the school board granted another three years to Sirko, that Stein might leave the district altogether. This fear seemed mostly to evaporate when Hanlon announced his proposed succession plan.

“We do have a fantastic leadership team and I applaud the process to try to keep both parties in the district,” said parent Eden Steele of Carbondale.

“I applaud you all for thinking creatively,” said parent Ellen Freedman of Basalt. “That was going to be my charge to you tonight, but you have done that.”

The deal isn’t done yet. The details of the two contracts must still be negotiated. Hanlon, a Glenwood Springs attorney, guessed that discussions might stretch into January, but there was a palpable sense of relief in the crowd and among board members.

Said Board President Daniel Biggs: “We’ve all talked about what can we do to keep this team together.”

Some 18 parents and district employees spoke formally to the board from a podium at the front of the high school auditorium. Some praised Sirko, an experienced administrator who spent a decade running the Aspen School District, and noted a “culture of trust” that she has helped create. Others praised Stein, who is known as an innovative reformer, and has already led the creation of the district’s strategic plan.

Not all audience members applauded the proposed deal, however. Stacey Craft of Basalt said the deal represented a big, unanticipated change.

“We were just expecting Rob Stein to be the next superintendent because that’s what we all agreed upon,” she said.

Kimi Mischke, also of Basalt, said she felt “a little bit skeptical” and wasn’t certain the proposed deal would support Stein and enable the changes to reach all corners of the district.

“All is not well in Basalt,” Mischke said. “Not at all.”

Stein and Sirko were all smiles when the nearly three-hour meeting was adjourned. Stein even ventured a bit of school-board humor: “May I say I find it ironic that this might be the shortest meeting of the year.”

Aspen Journalism’s Education Desk is collaborating with The Aspen Times on schools coverage. The Times published this story on Dec. 11.

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