School board says it backs superintendent | AspenTimes.com

School board says it backs superintendent

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen School Board members expressed their continuing support for Superintendent Tom Farrell Monday night, calling a parent’s recent request for a large list of district documents a form of “character assassination.”

Board president Augie Reno said the comments during Monday’s board meeting were made to help explain the information request last month by Aspen resident Carrie Morgridge. Morgridge, the mother of students at both Aspen Elementary School and Aspen Country Day, and Aspen resident Laurie Michaels, another Aspen Elementary parent, have become vocal critics of Farrell. The dispute spurred Reno and fellow board member Fred Peirce to arrange a meeting last week to discuss the parents’ problems with the district.

Morgridge and Michaels did not specifically say what they hope to find through the information request, but Reno said they did state their overall objective.

“They told us very bluntly that they were out to get Tom fired, and that was their main goal,” he said.

Reno told those assembled for Monday’s meeting that he and Peirce told the women that they were “behind Tom 100 percent” and that their tactics had devolved into a sort of “witch hunt” that was hurting the district.

“The board is 100 percent behind Tom, and we think Tom is the superintendent to get us to the goals we have set,” Reno said. “[We said] if they were going to continue in this manner of dealing with things, we felt it was doing a number of very hurtful and destructive things to Tom personally, and hurting staff morale, hurting the school district in general and the school district’s students.

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“We’re disappointed that they don’t want to work with us to solve an issue,” Reno said. “If they want to change that policy, [they should] at least talk about it, but they don’t want to take that approach.”

Last week’s lunch meeting also allowed the two parties to discuss Morgridge’s information request, Reno said Tuesday.

“Fred Peirce and I had lunch with Carrie and Laurie last week to basically do a number of things: number one, to make it clear, with our position on this, that we’re trying to comply [with their document requests],” Reno said.

Reno said he and Peirce explained that some of the documents the mothers requested were, in fact, confidential – some had to do with personnel matters, while others concerned student disciplinary records. They also talked about complying with the request in a timely matter under the law, something that had become difficult due to the sheer number of documents the women requested.

“Literally thousands of pages of records” filling 15 boxes have been copied for Morgridge’s and Michael’s use, Reno said, and the school district’s attorney has been working with Morgridge’s attorney to decide what can be handed over, and when.

Employees of the district office estimate that over 20 hours have been dedicated to compiling the information. The district’s technology director has culled 360 e-mails from district computers for review, while budget officers have sifted through three years of reports to make them available for copying by interested parents.

But aside from causing a time crunch, Reno – like a number of district teachers who wrote in a letter to the school board three weeks ago – said the ongoing controversy is taking a toll on school staff and their charges.

“It also created a lot of morale issues within the district, mainly among teachers, and our concern was that it’s going to affect the kids,” Reno said. “We said this is creating a lot of havoc, and we want to work with you, and we asked what the issues are.”

Reno also said during Monday’s meeting that Morgridge and Michaels were asking about confidential information that they, as members of the general public, should not be privy to. Reno warned those attending the board meeting that they should refrain from discussing private matters such as disciplinary actions with anyone who is not a school administrator.

Morgridge’s review of the district documents she obtained won’t turn up anything the board isn’t aware of, Reno said, and it won’t confirm her suspicions of wrongdoing around the district office.

“They are not in violation of any law or policy or any of that kind of stuff. The board is pretty satisfied there is no wrongdoing, and it’s just a matter of opinion,” Reno said. “We told them that, a year from November, there will be an election, and if they feel like running, or if they have a candidate …”

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