School Board: ‘Act like adults’ |

School Board: ‘Act like adults’

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen School Board members say staff shouldn’t fear losing jobs after the handling of the recent high school football coaching change.And if some teachers are still upset over Superintendent Diana Sirko’s actions regarding the matter, school board president Laura Kornasiewicz said Wednesday, they should “rise above that personal paranoia and return to doing the job you were hired to do, teaching the kids. Act like adults.”The district recently went through a tempestuous couple of months in the wake of the resignation of former Aspen High School varsity football coach Travis Benson.Benson quit in early December after Sirko asked him to consider stepping down to assistant coach so her husband, respected coach Mike Sirko, could step in as a mentor. Benson would have retained his annual coaching salary of $4,500 under the proposal because Sirko had agreed to work without pay.Benson has said the meeting when the issue arose, with Sirko, AHS Principal Charlie Anastas and Athletic Director Carol Sams, caught him off guard. He has said he felt pressured to accept the proposal even though Mike Sirko has said he was free to reject it.In the wake of Benson’s resignation, a search committee headed by Anastas and Sams chose Sirko from a field of 16 to be the new head varsity coach.Several teachers have contacted The Aspen Times anonymously to comment on the issue. Some have expressed criticism of Sirko for her role in Benson’s resignation and fear for their jobs were they to speak up publicly. Teachers also have questioned whether Anastas and Sams could have done anything but choose Mike Sirko for the job, given the fact that they both report directly to Diana Sirko. The word “nepotism” has appeared in letters to the editor and in conversations with teachers.The superintendent has said repeatedly she only meant to offer an option to Benson, and has said she had nothing to do with the search committee’s decision.The continuing controversy, Kornasiewicz said, is “curiouser and curiouser.” She and two other board members said they have not been contacted by teachers or anyone else expressing concern over the handling of the coaching switch.”I wish they would call me,” Kornasiewicz said, adding that she believes the ongoing turmoil is not widespread among the teaching staff.”I think we’ve got a couple teachers that are stirring the pot,” she said, “and I think they probably are very good friends of Sarah Benson,” a district teacher and the former coach’s wife.Kornasiewicz said she understood why friends would want to stand by the Bensons. And she said there are “a couple of middle school teachers who still have a little chip on their shoulder” over past contract negotiations with the district.But, she said, she has heard “not one word” from teachers, “and I meet with representatives of the [Aspen Education Association] all the time.”Kornasiewicz declined to answer a question whether the board had ever reprimanded or otherwise spoken to Sirko about going against the board’s directive to not get involved, saying “anything of that nature would be considered a personnel issue.”The other two board members contacted, Elizabeth Parker and Charla Belinski, referred questions to Kornasiewicz. Board members Sally Hansen and Ernie Fyrwald did not return phone messages seeking comment. “[Kornasiewicz is] going to speak for us,” Belinski said, adding that the underlying issues are “an issue with the staff and the administrators.”She continued, “It tells me it’s not being talked about, as much as you’d like to make a story out of it, again. I caution you in thinking that everybody is upset with this situation.”As for reports that the controversy has left some teachers fearing for their own jobs if they speak their minds, Belinski retorted with a laugh, “Well, they shouldn’t be.”John Colson’s e-mail address is