Knaus: What CORA request revealed |

Knaus: What CORA request revealed

Lorri Knaus
The Aspen Times

Thank you, Aspen Times editorial staff, for printing Auden Schendler’s March 14 opinion piece establishing a timeline around questionable circumstances in the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education.

I feel it is important that you now make public some information I have recently acquired, after spending $50.37 on a Colorado Open Records Act request searching for terms like “housing,” “contract,” and “license,” as my interest was piqued when Jesús Rodríguez sent out an email to all staff informing us that he had not yet submitted his superintendent licensure application — a requirement outlined as part of his contract, and can be found on the district website. 

It reads: “The Superintendent shall have until December 31, 2022 to obtain necessary licenses …. (E)xcept as set forth in this paragraph or unless otherwise agreed upon in writing by the Parties . (I)f at any time the Superintendent fails to meet these requirements, this Contract, without further action by either of the Parties, shall thereupon be automatically terminated for Cause as defined herein.” 

I was curious to better understand if the board had extended his licensure deadline and if there was a written agreement on record. I respect contracts and expected to find a written agreement to that effect.

My CORA search did not turn up any such written agreement extending Rodríguez’ deadline to acquire his superintendent license.  

What it did pull, however, includes a “Letter of Intent” — a document the board and Rodríguez had signed prior to the end of the summer 2022 — that they have never disclosed to the public.  

The board has been withholding this written agreement from the community that voted for them.  This community has entrusted the board to represent the best interests of our families, students, teachers, staff, and taxpayers, and this board has not been transparent. I think they have been dishonest.

The Letter of Intent was signed by the board resident, secretary, and Rodríguez, presumably sometime around the time the rest of his contract was signed. Not only does it outline the board’s commitment “to working on (housing solutions for the superintendent) consistently with the hope and intention of finalizing an agreement by the end of the summer of 2022,” but it also indicates that Rodríguez has the opportunity to be reimbursed for up to $35,000 in “reasonable relocation expenses.”

It is unacceptable that this document has never been made public — it is not included in the publicly searchable board packet from May 2022, which includes his contract — nor has the Board ever publicly acknowledged or drawn attention to its existence. I hope you will make sure the public is made aware of this agreement. I am also interested to know how much the school district has already reimbursed Rodríguez in “reasonable relocation expenses.”

The board and Rodríguez have had us believe that he was unaware of the work being done by the board to research housing solutions for the superintendent. The letter of intent proves that, as do the included email exchanges:

  • JR_contract language Jan 11: On Jan. 11, Rodríguez sends an email to Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman indicating his intention to renegotiate his contract with Roaring Fork to include a housing provision.
  • KK_housing discussion Jan 12: On Jan. 12, school board President Kathryn Kuhlenberg sends an email to the board (Natalie Torres, Jasmin Ramirez, Maureen Stepp, and Kenny Teitler) referencing a conversation they had (perhaps at the Jan. 11 board meeting and retreat on Jan. 11?).
  • KK_meeting with legal counsel regrading housing Jan. 15 and JR_meeting with legal counsel regarding housing response Jan. 17: These emails indicate Rodríguez is aware of action being taken to move forward with housing for the superintendent.
  • KK_convo re housing Jan 25: This is a request from the board president to the superintendent to set up a conversation regarding superintendent housing.

I ask you: If they have lacked transparency and are being dishonest in this arena, who knows what other closed door conversations and agreements have been made?

The next school board meeting is next Wednesday, whereby the board intends to present an update on any progress that has been made on Superintendent Down Payment Assistance, and I sincerely hope you will continue to report on this very charged issue.

Lorri Knaus is a Carbondale resident.