Editorial: Change in order at Aspen School District | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: Change in order at Aspen School District

The Aspen School District’s board of education continues to meet privately in executive session to discuss the renewal of Superintendent John Maloy’s contract, which currently runs through June 30, 2020.

This annual exercise might have been a rubberstamp proceeding were it not for the recent dust-up surrounding the employment of a high-ranking official at the school district.

That employee, Elizabeth Hodges, who has been the district’s human resources director since July 2016, has enjoyed the unwavering support of Maloy and Board of Education President Sheila Wills despite recent revelations of Hodges’ tarnished legal career two states to the east.

Maloy and Wills’ show of loyalty could be viewed as a positive because they characterize Hodges as an employee who has proven herself as an effective HR director for Aspen schools.

But we — as well as a number of observers, parents and school staff — view their backing as another example of a school administration failing to directly address significant differences of opinion and fact.

To understand the district’s botched response to Hodges, one must go back to April, when the Missouri Supreme Court disbarred her for unethical estate planning for a Missouri couple. Hodges’ work for that couple led to her being served with a grand jury’s felony indictment May 31, 2016.

One month later, on July 1, 2016, Hodges became the district’s human resources director after months of on-the-job training. Yet she reported nothing to her school district superiors, or the school board, about the indictment.

The school district did not learn about Hodges’ transgressions until they were alerted via an anonymous letter in July. Further investigation by The Aspen Times revealed Hodges’ indictment, as well as her pleading down the felony to a misdemeanor count of deceptive business practices in December 2016.

Hodges currently is on unsupervised probation through December for wrongfully using her power of attorney to sell the deceased couple’s Kia Soul for $14,000 to a dealership and failing to report proceeds of the sale in their probate case.

Hodges, Maloy and Wills have played down the conviction, saying that her misdemeanor is no different than a DUI conviction, which also is a misdemeanor.

On paper that might be true, but Hodges’ apparent calculation put into selling the Kia — Hodges said it was an honest mistake — is worlds away from a lapse in judgment of driving under the influence. To compare the two is disingenuous and misleading, and sends a message that the district supports a convicted criminal overseeing a department with access to the 250 to 300 employees’ private information, ranging from medical and banking records to Social Security numbers.

To that end, the school district last month launched another background check into Hodges — who remains under its employ with a salary of $132,345 — but we are unclear about its purpose. Was the misdemeanor conviction not enough for the district to take action against Hodges? Or the disbarment?

While the investigation continues, a groundswell of parents has flooded the past two board meetings demanding answers not only about Hodges but also about the district’s leadership under Maloy.

Prior to the Hodges news, Maloy didn’t have universal support, but that can be the case with any high-ranking executive.

However, there’s no discounting the fact that Maloy, who became the superintendent in March 2010, walked a similar path in Indiana, where he served as superintendent of Monroe County schools. There, in 2006, Maloy resigned after four years as the superintendent after criticisms about his management style and internal communications. The district bought out his contract for $421,000, according to the South Bend Tribune of Indiana.

To be sure, the superintendent has his ardent supporters, from Wills to the influential Kathy Klug, the district’s former head college counselor who now works for the schools in an advisory role.

A number of his backers also have characterized the recently formed Aspen Parents Action Committee, which has called for Maloy’s removal, as an overzealous tribe of moms and dads who fail to recognize all of the district’s accomplishments under the superintendent. In the eyes of Maloy enthusiasts, the parents group also symbolizes a divisive rhetoric unbecoming of the school district.

There is no mistaking, however, that the parents group had to make this noise to get the board’s attention. Without them, we gather the district’s leadership would have waited out this issue until it was no longer in the public conscious. That tactic has been used in the past, including the board ignoring last year’s recommendations from the District Accountability Committee, dismissing faculty concerns about the high turnover rate of principals at the high school from 2010 to 2015, turning their noses up at claims of low teacher morale, or its passive reaction in 2015 to having class on high Jewish holidays, for example.

It’s too bad it has come to this — a community divided over what the future should hold for Aspen schools. Even Wills, one of the school district’s biggest cheerleaders, admitted something is amiss at the board’s Oct. 1 meeting.

“I think there is an issue, and I think it’s an issue we need to deal with,” Wills said at the time, making a call for an outside party to examine issues within the district.

Should the board opt to renew Maloy’s contract, then we expect its commitment to fixing issues at the school district that have been brought to it, rather than sweeping them under the rug until his contract is up for renewal again.

If Maloy’s contract isn’t renewed, we hope the board can find away to avoid another scenario like this in the future, while also pushing for a quick, seamless exit either with or without a contract buyout.

Too many good things are happening at the school district that have been overshadowed by this mess, but the public spotlight will remain fixed on it until it is cleaned up.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of the publisher, editor and members of the Times’ staff.

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