MEEKER I Meeker School Superintendent Mark Meyer and the Meeker School Board held an open forum Feb. 3, and several members of the public took advantage of the occasion to present several questions to the officials.
The forum opened with Superintendent Mark Meyer surprising almost everyone in the room by submitting his letter of resignation, effective June 30.
After everyone took a few moments to catch their breath, the forum, which the board said was for them to hear what’s on people’s minds, began with former high school principal and student parent George Henderson asking if the district was really still in a financial crisis.
MSD Board President Bill deVergie said that, “Indeed the district was facing a budget shortfall, but because of the ability to use some reserve funds, perhaps it’s not really a crisis.”
Board member Tom Allen talked about a large part of the shortfall being due to the county having lost a property tax abatement process involving Encana and Koch Exploration that means tax-funded entities in the county have to rebate approximately $455,000 of tax revenues for the 2005 to 2010 period. The school district has estimated its share of this amount at $148,000.
It was pointed out, however, that the school district has the ability to recover this amount through mill levy adjustments next year.
Parent Michele Morgan asked the board what had happened with the cell phone tower Verizon Wireless had indicated it wanted to put somewhere in Starbuck Stadium under a lease arrangement with the district? The board’s response was that it had been an on-again, off-again situation, and it appears now that the stadium site is no longer a priority.
Retired district employee Mary Whalin asked the board members why they chose not to answer several of the questions posed to them in their last couple meetings.
“What questions?” The board responded.
Whalin pointed to the question girls’ softball parent Morgan asked about why the board had approved more than $16,000 in December to make softball a girls’ varsity sport in the face of other budget cuts and shortfall?
MSD Board member Mindy Burke, who was the sole vote against the varsity decision, explained how the coaches had come to them and asked for the varsity status, and that’s just the way the board voted.
Board member Kurt Blunt stated he favored more sports opportunities for girls.
At this point, the issue has been decided, but the 2015-2016 budget process, which hasn’t actually started yet, doesn’t culminate until June 30.
Whalin then asked about the collection of fees and concessions at sports events.
Burke responded that, “Teachers already do so much that it’s inappropriate to ask them to do more.”
Whalin suggested the use of annual passes, which have been used in the past.
Seventh grade teacher Jennifer Turner said, “We already do more and more with less and less; we’re the ones who have held it all together.”
Whalin suggested the district never used to have trouble covering the gate and concessions at games.
“How many employees does the school district have?” she asked. ”About 100,” the board replied. Whalin suggested that there’s no reason 100 employees can’t cover the events. Burke remarked that the board does have a plan in place now.
Turner asked board member Todd Shults why he didn’t ever cover the gate?
Shults replied that no one had ever called and asked him to.
Turner said it’s an all-volunteer process, implying that interested volunteers need to call the school, not vice versa. She said the school is now making appeals on its website and by email. Henderson asked why parents couldn’t be given reduced sports fees in exchange for gate and concession work?
Retired high school teacher Elaine Jordan said that small payments used to be made to teachers who worked games, and then high school teachers were criticized for consistently taking these opportunities away from other teachers.
At one point, she said, it was an established policy to have teachers cover all activities that involved collecting money. She suggested a consistent board policy would be helpful.
Jordan continued that communication is the key, that generally communication regarding and within the schools has been terrible.
Jordan asked that the board look at some of the disagreements that existed and said she “was never afraid to go to another teacher, or the superintendent, if necessary, to solve problems. Go to the people involved, not to the paper or out in the public.”
Whalin also asked why there had been no answer regarding the relocation of Dr. Bob Dorsett’s classroom to the middle school?
Allen and Blunt both responded that this was “beyond the scope and the power of the board.” Dorsett pointed out school board policy regarding public participation at board meetings which states that “Questions asked by the public shall, when possible, be answered immediately by the president or referred to staff members present for reply. Questions requiring investigation shall be referred to the superintendent for consideration and later response.”
Further discussion ensued regarding Dorsett and the special contract he had requested.
Burke stated that the board cannot sign individualized contracts.
Forum participants disagreed, that the board can use “Teacher on Special Assignment” (TOSA) contracts.
Parent Kristen Henderson reported that many kids who are forced to travel back and forth to Dorsett’s undersized and under-equipped Barone Middle School classroom from the high school, refer to the trip as “a walk of shame.”
First grade teacher Stephanie Overton expressed her appreciation for “our administration” and how great our kids are.
Jennifer Turner reported how happy she is and what a great bunch of kids there are at the middle school. Eighth grade teacher Kris Casey stated that “we’re losing a great superintendent and we shouldn’t be. You can’t tell me everything we’re doing is negative.”
It was suggested that when the district has good positive stories to tell, they need to get these stories to the Herald Times.
Joe Sullivan, 95, spoke up for the kids and, stating that “the kids shouldn’t have to go elsewhere for his classes and that when [we] have a teacher of Dorsett’s caliber, the board needs to support them.”
Parent Laurie Simonsen spoke up to say how great her own kids were doing here in Meeker schools and that Dorsett, especially, had been very important to her senior daughter and how much he had changed her interests toward science.
Becky Dunham reported that a lot of folks come in to the Meeker General Mercantile praising Dorsett, but relating how they need a full-sized and properly equipped classroom.
Parent Coleen Patterson mentioned how inconvenient it was for parents to have to trundle over to the middle school from the high school to see Dorsett during parent-teacher conferences.
Meeker business owner and parent Diana Jones asked if Dorsett wasn’t a Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) employee at this point and not a school district employee? The board responded, “Yes, but that there are some intertwined legal issues.”
Jones wondered if it wasn’t possible for an adult to take the CNCC concurrent (dual) enrollment classes?
Iris Franklin, district vocational director and CNCC’s Meeker coordinator, confirmed that this is possible.
Jones suggested that there is a lot of confusion in the community about Dorsett’s status that should be cleared up. She later said that her biggest concern is that school issues seem to subtract from the positive; that negative information in the paper chases people away.
“It’s often hard for us in business not to speak our minds, but we’ve experienced backlash in the past when we do,” she said.
Franklin, a retired high school teacher and past school board member and president, said “Kris Casey hit the nail on the head that we need to accentuate the positive, that school controversies and the recall effort were unfortunate and that if folks aren’t happy they should just leave [town].”
Mary Strang, president of the Meeker Education Foundation, announced that the foundation had established a Jason Hightower Memorial Fund for scholarships. Contributors can take their donations to the Mountain Valley Bank or send them to the Foundation at P.O. Box 255, Meeker.