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Apr 2, 2010 11:36 AM by Andy Koen

Concerns over policy changes at Harrison District 2

The Harrison School Board will vote next week to substantially overhaul the way they conduct business. Board President Deborah Hendrix favors the change calling it streamlining.

"We're systemically asking everyone in the district to operate more efficiently," Hendrix said.

But Vice President Victor Torres opposes the change, saying the board is turning over its power to the superintendent, someone who is not accountable to voters.

"It's a shift of authority, that's exactly what it is."

Under the proposed policy, the superintendent would be given the authority to use "reasonable interpretation" when deciding what to report to the board regarding decisions he or she makes within the district's various departments.

Torres believes the superintendent should be required to report all possible information regarding their decisions, particularly for personnel matters.

"The superintendent (is) our employee, and he's responsible for the day to day operations of the system," Torres said. "But we're all human and we make mistakes."

Mike Miles, the current superintendent,  disagrees.  He says run every decision past the board would bog down his ability to do his job efficiently.

"You don't want school boards telling the core team, the professionals and the principals, who to hire and who to fire," Miles said.  "That's probably not the role of a board, that's probably not good for the system."

However, ethical questions have come up recently over the timing of the change. Last year, the Miles' wife wrote an $800 check from a joint account to Hendrix as a campaign contribution.

Mike Stahl of the Pikes Peak Education Association suspects the donation may have had something to do with the motive for changing the policy.

"Well it seems like there's a little bit of back scratching going on," Stahl said. "I think it is the board's decision to, basically, turnover their elected duties to the superintendent."

Miles denies a conflict of interest. "No, I think that spouses have that ability to do that, they have the legal right, it's not illegal."

Hendricks also denies that such a contribution is inappropriate. 

"I don't see why it wouldn't be appropriate, I think that I've known Mike's wife a lot longer than I have known Mike," Hendrix said. "Her contribution to my campaign had nothing to do with decisions that I make as a board member."

Stahl and Torres are also concerned that the board did not actively seek out more public input on the policy change.

"There hasn't been any public input on this process to my knowledge," Stahl said.

Torres says most of the meetings surrounding the policy change have been conducted in private, as board work sessions.  He says the no mention of the governance change was made in the district newsletter and the first time it was listed on the website was a month ago.

All indications are that the changes will pass with Torres as the sole dissenting vote. 

The vote will take place during a Special Board Meeting Tuesday April 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the District 2 administration building, 1060 Harrison Road. 

Click here to view the district's current policies.

Click here to view the proposed policies.

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