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School board dismisses study group

Staff Writer

The Archuleta School District Board of Education, shortly after swearing in Bruce Dryburgh and Brooks Lindner as its two newest members, decided at its monthly meeting last week to formally end the community engagement process with Bob Lynch’s school study group.

“I would like to open the discussion,” board member Joanne Irons began, “since I have been pretty vocal about the findings of the school study group.”

Lynch was seated in the front row of the audience, and Irons addressed him directly.

“First of all, I would like to say thank you for all of the positive things that have come out of the time you spent with the group; there has been some really good information and some of it really hit home and recharged this board, vis-à-vis our strategic planning.

“Your report energized us, even though we were told the community looks at us with ‘low credibility.’ I walked away with the understanding that the community was not going to move forward with building a new mega-campus. So, we did get a lot of answers.”

However, Irons went on to explain her dissatisfaction with those answers and her belief that the group did not live up to the board’s expectations; she said it didn’t provide the answers it was tasked with finding.

“One of our questions after the failed bond election,” board vice-president Ken Fox added, “was how can we do a better job of communicating? There have been a lot of good things happening within our district, but it’s indicative of the times we live in that there’s not a whole lot of trust in governing bodies. It seems like it is always the bad news that ends up in the front. How do we get the good news out? That’s part of what I wanted to get out of this community engagement committee, and I personally don’t think we got that.”

In 2011, Archuleta County voters rejected a bond issue that would have allowed the creation of a consolidated campus by building a new elementary school and a new middle school on the same property as the high school. When the bond election failed, the school district was forced to figure out how to make the current, dilapidated facilities work.

In the fall of 2012, former superintendent Mark DeVoti asked Lynch to figure out a way to get the community more involved in improving local school buildings and facilities.

The initial questions Lynch was tasked with answering were: how many kids will the school district serve, is there enough space for them, what is the condition of that space, and what will the learning environment of the future be as far as the need for technology?

In November, nearly 20 people showed up at the high school for the first meeting, but, over time, the team condensed down to a core group of active volunteers consisting of Jan Johnson, Bob and Lisa Scott, Chris Pitcher, Bruce and Lyn Dryburgh, Lisa and Brett Locke, Bill Esterbrook and ASD finance director Janell Wood.

In June, Lynch presented his final report to the board, claiming the biggest problem isn’t with the facilities; it is a lack of vision on the part of the district’s leadership. “At the first meeting we had in November, we said, ‘I don’t care if my kid goes to school in a teepee as long as he gets a great education.’

“As we thought about the way you interact with the public, the funds, generating some options about what needed to be fixed, and those sorts of things, we reached a breaking point with our group. After six or eight months of working together and our own experience with the leadership of the schools, including the board and the administration, we decided that the community’s perception of the district’s credibility is low. That has to be built up before any additional funds can be sought.”

Lynch went on to point out several shortcomings with the way the district operates, including its apparent lack of strategic planning.

At last week’s meeting Lynch defended his group’s initial report. “One of our guiding principles was, ‘We’re going to be guided by the facts, we’re going to be willing to change, and we’re going to be willing to try things.’ I want to correct the misperception that one person did good work or one person did bad work. We all feel like we owned the work and we vetted everything.”

Lynch made a special point of defending Wood, who volunteered her time to participate with the study group. While she did provide valuable information and insight, she also abstained from all of the group’s votes, attempting to avoid any conflict of interest between her role as both a member of the study group and an employee of the district.

“The last thing I’ll say concerns the part about getting what you paid for. I don’t know if you know this, but no bill was ever submitted to the district. I’ve been asked many times, ‘What did you do for forty grand?’ But I just want you to know that I didn’t take any money. You work for free, the members of the group worked for free, and there are so many volunteers who work in the schools that it just felt wrong to take that money. There are so many better ways it could be spent. So what you got, you got for free.”

As Lynch proceeded to hand out a number of documents to the board, he concluded, “There’s good stuff here, and I hope the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bath water. Just take us out of the equation.”

Lynch’s handouts included Dryburgh’s demographic study, the facilities master plan, an assessment of the elementary school, and a recommendation on how to move forward.

“That was our answer to your question about how to connect to the community. We thought it was this. You need to have a plan on how to communicate. I developed a communication template. I still believe in that as a way to get at what we talked about.”

Irons reiterated her appreciation for the efforts of the group and gave several examples of what she felt were useful recommendations.

“We did get a lot from the study group,” Irons said, “and yes, Bob, you never submitted a bill, but we interviewed and chose you based on what you said you would bring to us for a certain dollar amount. Our expectations were that you were a hired consultant. Now, if you don’t submit an invoice, that’s totally up to you, but when I say, ‘get what we paid for,’ I mean we hired you in good faith to give us those answers.”

Irons clarified that her recommendation to end the board’s relationship with the study group now was so that it could decide how to move forward, especially at the strategic planning retreat scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15 at board president Greg Schick’s house. After that, the board could decide whether or not to rehire Lynch’s group for more advice.

Fox made a motion to table any decision concerning the study group until the next regular board meeting, after the matter could be more extensively discussed at the retreat and after the board could find out from Lynch if the other members of his group were even willing to continue to volunteer their time.

Fox’s motion, however, died for lack of a second, at which time Irons made the motion to end the board’s relationship with Lynch’s study group. Her motion did receive a second and passed the vote. Dryburgh, as a former member of the group, did not cast a vote.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on November 21, 2013.