From the Editor: Summit school board has a transparency problem

If you’re wondering why the superintendent’s contract wasn’t renewed, why the board approved a $100,000 severance package, why the Frisco principal was let go, why the transportation director was fired or why the school board did an about-face on administrator contracts, you’re not alone.

We can request public documents, but when tight-lipped school board members offer no insight, readers are often left with more questions than answers.

The school board president is the only board member who is permitted to speak with the media, which goes against standard practice for other elected positions, including town council members and county commissioners. When asked about the rule, Summit School District spokesperson Mikki Grebetz sent a copy of the policy, which she said is standard for school boards across the state:

“The board president shall be the official spokesperson for the board, except as this duty is delegated to another board member or members. …”

Designating the board president as the spokesperson is one thing. Prohibiting other board members from speaking with journalists is another. Elected officials should not be muzzled.

I reached out to the Colorado Association of School Boards to ask about the intent behind the statewide policy recommendation and share my concerns about how it was being implemented locally.

Association spokesperson Susan Meek said the policy was not intended to silence board members, adding that “individual board members reserve the right to express opinions that are their own and not that of the board.”

Our local school board is misinterpreting the policy recommendation.

I reached out to board President Kate Hudnut multiple times by phone and email to ask whether the board would consider reviewing the policy. Hudnut ignored my many requests to schedule a meeting.

While Hudnut frequently responds to reporters’ requests for comment on school board topics, she simply can’t represent the views of individual school board members, particularly when the board renders split decisions, as it did with the vote to renew the former superintendent’s contract and select a new school board member to fill a vacant seat.

In our reporting, we frequently rely on elected officials to explain why they voted the way they did and add additional context for readers. All of the school board’s decisions related to the superintendent have happened behind closed doors with virtually no discussion before voting in a public meeting, leaving the community in the dark about what is happening and why.

When it comes to personnel, the school district can legally keep much of it secret so long as no decision-making takes place behind closed doors. But the board’s transparency problem extends beyond personnel to a number of other issues, including its equity policy and administrator contracts, both of which have ruffled feathers in the community and among district staff.

The community simply wants to know the whys, and we can’t answer those important questions if elected officials won’t speak with us. Instead, some school board and district officials have ignored our emails, blocked our phone numbers and threatened to pull their advertising.

We understand that school board members volunteer significant amounts of their time and endure endless criticism from their constituents. But they ran for these positions because they wanted to serve their community, and we think they’re falling short of that goal.

We’re asking the school board to work with the district to revise the policy, and we’re asking school board members to honor their commitment to the community by prioritizing transparency, expressing their views in public meetings and speaking with journalists.

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