Farrell supporters turn out en masse at meeting
May 21, 2002
A full-page advertisement that appeared in both local papers Monday prompted supporters of the Aspen School District superintendent to turn out en masse at a meeting of the Aspen School Board.
The ad, placed by local businessmen and school district benefactor Dick Butera, requested that those “who want to be heard and to stand up for Tom Farrell” turn out for the meeting. The ad, listed under the heading “An open letter to Tom Farrell,” called for residents to show their approval of Farrell in the face of a recent controversy concerning the superintendent’s management style.
The ad was also placed in response to news that Farrell has applied for a job with the St. Vrain School District in Longmont.
“We want you to stay in Aspen, Tom, and finish all the wonderful work you’ve begun,” the ad stated. “If you choose to stay, we all see that good always triumphs over evil, and our kids will be the big winners.”
Nearly 150 people answered Butera’s call Monday night, packing a room at Aspen High School and two adjoining hallways to voice their opinions.
Farrell’s niece, Heidi Davis, kicked off nearly 30 minutes of public comment in support of the superintendent. Davis specifically called for the women behind Farrell’s “character assassination,” Aspen residents Laurie Michaels and Carrie Morgridge, to prove their claims that his management has hurt the district, or apologize for a campaign some say has damaged the district.
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“Enough is enough,” Davis said. “Enough with the false accusations and rumors. We’re adults – we don’t need to be running around, talking behind each others’ backs. It’s not just hurting Tom and his innocent family – it’s hurting our kids.”
AHS teacher Kathy Klug said she admired Aspen for promoting free thinking among its citizens and questioned why a “voicing of opinions” should hurt an administrator.
“We’re in a district where we’ve always encouraged that kind of independent thought – I’m just sorry it’s taken such a twist here,” she said.
Some urged Michaels and Morgridge to try another school district if they felt their needs were not met by Aspen’s public school system.
“People who aren’t happy here, there are lots of other schools,” said Susie Patterson, mother of two AES students.
While some urged the mothers to move to a friendlier school district, Farrell’s supporters urged him to stay in Aspen and continue his work.
“I think the world of you, Tom, and it would be a terrible loss to the Aspen school system is you leave,” said resident Debbie Jellinek.
Past and present students of the Aspen School District also turned out to show their support for Farrell. Recent graduate Shannon Braughton tearfully described watching the Columbine tragedy unfold as she and a few classmates accompanied Farrell on a school trip to Washington, D.C. AHS senior Lacee Patterson and her sister, sophomore Lyndsay Patterson, described the help they received as students in Farrell’s mentorship programs.
Cory Reno, daughter of school board president Augie Reno, said that graduating from Aspen High last year proved how valuable Farrell’s advice could be.
“I think I learned the most in high school from Tom,” she said. “I feel so bad for the kids who would miss out.”
As Augie Reno wound up Monday’s public comment period, Farrell’s supporters made one last call for the superintendent’s detractors to make their concerns known. To date, the mothers looking to oust Farrell from his post have not publicly stated their concerns with his management style – and Farrell’s backers are looking for answers.
“There have been a lot of rumors going around for months and months – I’d like to put the rumors to rest,” one meeting attendee said.
“Either put what you have on the table, or leave it alone,” Davis said.