Meredith C. Carroll: Maloy keeps digging with his own shovel
Former Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy hasn’t said much publicly since the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year, which is when his retirement was accelerated after a decision by the Board of Education not to renew his contract.
However, with a pair of BOE seats up for grabs on the Nov. 5 ballot, Maloy has emerged in print twice over the past week via letters to the editor in the local newspapers in which he doesn’t advocate for any of the six candidates running, but rather condemns two of them: Jonathan Nickell and Bettina Slusar. He accused Nickell of having a “lack of civility and integrity,” while identifying Slusar as “an active member of the Aspen Parent Action Committee (APAC), the group that orchestrated a public personal attack of me (sic) rather than an attack on systems and processes. … (Slusar) conducts herself with little regard for the truth and with an adversarial approach to getting what she wants.”
And Maloy wasn’t entirely wrong: For a time last year, it was, indeed, the mess-maker rather than the mess that absorbed the lion’s share of attention and disdain. It was Maloy who hired Elizabeth Hodges as Aspen School District’s human resources director, and it was he who chose to retain her even after finding out via an anonymous tip and then a series of investigative reports in this newspaper that she began her job in Aspen a month and a day after being served with a grand jury indictment for felony forgery and ultimately pleaded guilty to deceptive business practices. Hodges was disbarred (the judge characterized her actions as “reprehensible” and “outrageous,” saying she demonstrated an “evil motive, reckless indifference and conscious disregard for the rights of others”) and fined $1 million, and was, at the time her crimes and misdemeanors came to light locally, being investigated for bankruptcy fraud.
Maloy and then-BOE president Sheila Wills, who is term-limited at the end of this month, told the Times after the news broke that revelations of Hodges’ past were irrelevant to “a fine job performance so far.”
“She just appealed to us in terms of being honest, open, direct and being a people person,” Maloy said of hiring her. “And obviously, dealing with human resources, it’s many of the qualities that we needed.”
“I have never seen Elizabeth do anything that was either incompetent or unethical,” Wills defended her to the Times. “She doesn’t do anything (in her ASD job) that requires a law license.”
It turns out, though, Maloy didn’t need Slusar, Nickell, APAC, Hodges or even the whiff of nepotism (his daughter was hired by the ASD as a school psychologist during his tenure) to render the notion of his ongoing leadership hopelessly impotent. It was all by himself (although maybe also with the help of a few veteran left tackles) that confidence eroded in his ability to quarterback effectively.
Maloy, who might consider “Little Regard for the Truth and with an Adversarial Approach to Getting What He Wants” as the title for his biography, summarily refused to accept responsibility for the Hodges debacle or hold her accountable in any meaningful way until after the BOE declined to renew his contract. Maloy even oozed sympathy for Hodges (“A burden on her shoulders,” he told the Times of her legal woes), all while rejecting concerns from teachers and district staffers uncomfortable with her access to their most sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers.
He failed miserably to admit any complicity in the pervasive secrecy and institutional frigidness at the district and board levels that trickled down the campus during his reign. He perpetually deflected personal criticisms while smirking silently as his champions branded involved and passionate parents as loud-mouths with vendettas. He was either notably silent (or absent) while the work of the state-mandated, all-volunteer District Accountability Committee was regularly overlooked, or he niggled over numbers that, if DAC members inadvertently misinterpreted, then he purposefully misrepresented.
And then, less than five months after he was paid generously to be released from his professional duties, he reintroduced himself to the community through attack letters on parent volunteers. To be sure, Nickell’s tenure on the DAC helped uncover troubling local education trends, and Slusar joined an established and robust chorus of cutting and stinging voices against him, although the credit for Maloy’s demise still remains solely his own.
In April, current BOE president Dwayne Romero expressed the board’s “wish to begin some actionable steps towards implementing” the recommendations made in the ASD climate and culture study conducted by third-party consultants that found an overwhelming distrust of district leadership. Among the promises was to make climate and culture regular BOE discussion items (despite it falling off the agenda just four meetings later). Short- and long-term actionable steps were promised, too, including a guiding “set of values statements,” and a “small but important set of evaluation tools” intended to provide actionable feedback on the effectiveness of leadership practices.
Next week’s BOE election is about filling two seats — and also the chasm left by a gang of long-time, wily stakeholders. Fortunately for the teachers, administrators, students and families in the district eager to shift the focus from scandal to schooling, when the new incarnation of the board is seated in November they’ll finally have an opportunity to right the ship so it aligns with the values of the entire district, not just a few guileful people huddled together at the top.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.