Farrell denies rumor of contract buyout
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen School District Superintendent Tom Farrell vehemently denied rumors Monday that residents opposed to him are attempting to buy out his contract.
In another development, a former Aspen teacher said someone has gone so far as to hire a private investigator – a former FBI agent – to dig up enough dirt to have the superintendent fired.
Rumblings of a reported buyout surfaced yesterday. Farrell denied that Aspen residents Laurie Michaels and Carrie Morgridge, well known locally for their public complaints about the superintendent, had recently offered him money to leave his post.
“That’s absolutely untrue – there’s been no discussion about buying my contract at all,” Farrell said.
He did confirm that the women had made another large request for school district documents, their third in two months. The superintendent said he had not seen the request, which was addressed only to district finance chief Joe Tarbet, so he was unable to comment on it.
Michaels and Morgridge have said their request for district records is the best way to examine Farrell’s 14 years with the district.
“The reason we seek the information is our belief that it will help us and other parents to assess the performance of Superintendent Farrell,” they wrote in a joint letter to The Aspen Times in May.
The pair promised to make public any evidence of wrongdoing in order to have Farrell fired. A review of district documents so far has apparently failed to turn up enough ammunition to have Farrell fired, and an unknown source is trying another tactic.
Jeri Lynn Mourning, a former English as a Second Language teacher for the district, said she met with Arvada-based private investigator William Tideman Monday afternoon. Tideman told Mourning that he was hired by an attorney to do a little digging into the district controversy. He said he wasn’t sure for whom the attorney was working.
“He basically said, ‘I want to see if I can put to rest some of the rumors I’ve heard about the Aspen School District,'” Mourning said.
Mourning categorized some of the investigator’s questions, especially those dealing with Farrell, as “absurd.” Mourning said she fielded queries regarding affordable housing provided by the school district – namely, those reserved for Mourning and Farrell – and whether Farrell had ever abused the district’s low-rent privileges.
“He asked if Tom and Deb [Farrell’s wife] have ever rented out their house and stayed at the house I rent,” she said. “I said, ‘Absolutely not,’ and even laughed at the absurdity of it.”
Tideman also had questions about the school district’s experiential education program, one of Farrell’s favorite projects. Mourning said she was asked about a trip Farrell took to New York with a group of high school students last year. However, Mourning said her “obvious lack of knowledge on the topic” of experiential education forced Tideman to move on to a different line of questioning.
Tideman also asked Mourning about her son, Aspen High senior Phil Salazar, and his dealings with Farrell. The investigator hinted that he heard Farrell would “play favorites” with star basketball players. Salazar, a starter for the AHS varsity squad last year, was a major contributor for the Skiers. The investigator asked Mourning if she believed she was hired and brought to Aspen in an effort to recruit her athletic son.
“He asked me if Tom saw my son at a basketball camp and recruited me to teach because he was such a fabulous basketball player,” Mourning said. “I told him absolutely not – I was hired on my own merit.”
Mourning said that even after she completed the district hiring process her son wasn’t even sure if he would make the move to Colorado with her.
“He had the choice to stay in New Mexico or come and live with me here,” Mourning said. “Upon my hire, Philip was not even really enrolled at the high school.”
Farrell wasn’t the only administrator Tideman seemed interested in, Mourning said. He also asked if Aspen High Principal Kendall Evans, who lived in Mourning’s school district-owned home before she did, had “trashed” the residence before moving out.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not,'” Mourning said. “It’s an older home, and some repairs were needed, but the house was left meticulously clean.”
Mourning said she concluded the meeting with Tideman by expressing her belief that Farrell has always acted ethically on behalf of the school district. She also said she wasn’t sure if additional district teachers and administrators would be questioned by the investigator.
Tideman could not be reached for comment.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]
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The scheduled return to in-person learning for middle school and high school students will have to wait another day as the Aspen School District announced Sunday students would return to remote learning.