Aspen Education Foundation executive resigns ‘under pressure’ |

Aspen Education Foundation executive resigns ‘under pressure’

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Helen Ward

ASPEN – Changes are afoot at the Aspen Education Foundation.

Executive Director Helen Ward said she tendered her resignation Sunday night “under pressure from the executive committee.” She said she was told Friday evening that Robin Hamill, a member of the Aspen Education Foundation board’s executive committee, would be taking the helm.

Board president Mark Leydecker would not comment on the staff change until after Tuesday’s board meeting.

“In deference to the board, we should speak (Tuesday),” he said via email.

As of Monday afternoon, the board had not been formally notified of the decision to replace Ward with Hamill. Ward said she was under the impression the decision was made by the four-member executive committee.

Ward said Monday that she had no intention of leaving her job and was shocked and saddened by the news.

“I’d rather not comment further, because the most important thing is that the schools continue to be supported by the parents, teachers and community,” she said Monday. “I wouldn’t want to do anything to rock that boat.”

Monday’s change in leadership comes at a time when the district is relying even more heavily on the foundation’s support. Just last week, Aspen Superintendent John Maloy told the community that staff cuts and larger class sizes were likely for 2012-13 as the budget once again must be reduced.

The Aspen Education Foundation is the Aspen School District’s nonprofit fundraising arm, funneling $400,000 into the public schools last year.

Hamill will be the foundation’s third executive director in less than a year. Ward, the mother of two Aspen High students, whose background includes a career in finance and work with educational institutions such as New York City Outward Bound, was hired in July to replace then-director Cindy Kahn.

At that time, the foundation said it had undergone some restructuring. Namely, the organization had slashed its administrative costs more than half by reducing the director’s salary and eliminating an office assistant. Ward said she was paid $50,000 for her role as full-time executive director; before resigning, Ward had proposed scaling back her position to three days per week at an even more reduced salary. She said it would have allowed her to focus on strategic initiatives while giving more of her salary back to the schools.

“It is the truth that I asked to cut back my days in the office. It is not true this showed a lack of commitment to the cause,” she said, adding that at the time she presented the idea both Leydecker and Hamill were “in agreement” with her.

Regardless, Ward said she will continue to work on fundraising for the school district, focusing her attention on the high school’s college counseling department.

“I am really excited about the possibilities for not only our own college counseling department, but about helping take that legacy elsewhere so other kids can benefit,” she said.