School board stands behind Sirko on football coach issue | AspenTimes.com

School board stands behind Sirko on football coach issue

John Colson

The Aspen School Board is standing behind Superintendent Diana Sirko’s controversial changes in the varsity football coaching staff at Aspen High School.At least one board member, however, said she might have handled the affair differently.Sirko said Wednesday that the problem is not entirely that Aspen does not have “a winning team” in football.”I think winning is an issue,” she added, “but this was not just about winning.” It also was about wanting “kids to gain all that was possible with their participation” in sports programs.She also said her husband, a central figure in the controversy, might be applying for the head coach job.A meeting between Aspen High School teachers and Sirko concerning the sudden resignation of football coach Travis Benson this week caught the school board unawares.Benson resigned Monday night after two years as the school’s varsity football coach, reportedly over Sirko’s proposal to demote Benson to assistant coach and bringing in her husband in the role as a “mentor” to the coaching staff. Mike Sirko, one of the most successful prep football coaches in the state, is retiring from his coaching role in Colorado Springs, where he and his wife lived before she took the job at Aspen four years ago.More than 30 teachers and staff met Tuesday afternoon with the superintendent and Principal Charlie Anastas to voice their displeasure at the ouster.Diana Sirko said Wednesday that her husband already had agreed to take on the “mentorship” role at Aspen, with no pay, before the talk with Benson that led to his resignation. In the wake of Benson’s resignation, it is possible that her husband may apply for the coaching position through regular channels.”He and I have not had a chance to discuss that. I would assume so, but I don’t know,” Sirko said, after explaining that the hiring of a new coach would be entirely up to Anastas and the district’s athletic director, Carol Sams.Two school board members said Wednesday that, while the board had been aware of a conflict between Sirko and Benson regarding his coaching position, they had no idea Sirko had called a meeting of the teaching staff to explain her position in the matter.”Nobody invited us, nobody told us,” board member Charla Belinski said from her home.But, board president Laura Kornasiewicz added, “We were made aware of the opportunity that was going to be presented to Travis.”And given what Kornasiewicz called “feedback from the public,” she said, “It made sense to try to give our coach some personal development” in the form of a mentorship by the superintendent’s husband.Kornasiewicz said she did not feel Sirko had violated any school district policies in proposing her husband take on the top coaching role.”We didn’t see it as nepotism,” she said.Sirko also rejected characterizations of the move as an example of nepotism. She said the district has “several husband-wife pairs working across the district,” adding that her husband would have been working without pay and would “not [be] supervized by me at all.” She also said the coach’s position pays “about $4,000 a year.”Both she and Anastas said Benson could have rejected the proposal, though Sirko said Wednesday that she based her feelings on the matter on “more than a few” complaints by parents unhappy with Benson’s performance.Kornasiewicz said the school board met with Sirko on the subject of the proposed “mentorship,” and urged the superintendent to “distance herself” from the discussion and allow Sams and Anastas to handle it.But, Kornasiewicz said, Anastas and Sams asked Sirko to be present at the talk with Benson because she had firsthand knowledge about complaints from parents.”The intention was right-on,” she said. Kornasiewicz characterized the move as “putting the kids first,” but “the board would not have handled it in that manner.”Neither Sirko nor Kornasiewicz was willing to say exactly what the complaints were, other than that they were about Benson’s ability to coach, or how many had registered those complaints.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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