During heated public comments, Moffat County teachers say administrative decisions have been ‘secretive and sneaky’ | CraigDailyPress.com

During heated public comments, Moffat County teachers say administrative decisions have been ‘secretive and sneaky’

Eli Pace
President of the Moffat County Education Association Kim Serio addresses the Moffat County Board of Education on Monday, March 27, 2023, as she asks the school district for more openness and transparency regarding administrative decisions.
Eli Pace/Craig Press

Taking issue with recent administrative decisions, a number of Moffat County teachers are pressuring the school district for more openness and better transparency while saying those standards are not currently being met.

It was standing room only at the Moffat County Board of Education meeting Monday, March 27. During public comments, Kim Serio, president of the Moffat County Education Association, revealed the group has filed a grievance and a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment alleging improper hiring practices by the Moffat County School District.

“We have not taken this decision lightly, but as the association representing educators in Moffat County we know we must do what is best for our students and our community and take a stand for transparency and for stakeholder input when making important decisions,” Serio said in a news release issued on Tuesday, March 28.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Serio spoke with two dozen people or more standing behind her in support, including many local educators. In her remarks, Serio said she was representing the certified staff members who elected her to speak on their behalf, and they have a series of complaints with decisions made by Superintendent Jill Hafey.

“You, the board, need to know that you have a very unhappy staff,” Serio said. “To be more accurate, almost all of the MCEA members are currently expressing that they are either confused, scared or angry.”

Reached over the phone Tuesday, school board President Joann Baxter said she does not agree the district has a problem with openness or transparency, but Baxter said that she cares very much about the comments while maintaining support for Hafey as superintendent.

“We also know that change is hard, but in order to make some improvements that need to be made in our school district, change is what has to happen,” Baxter said. “Given all that, the board supports Superintendent Hafey’s decisions at this time. We appreciate getting the information that we got (Monday) night, and we hope that we can work collaboratively with staff to get to a resolution. We took it to heart, but we’re still supporting making these changes for the betterment of our students.”

During her remarks, Serio told the school board that members of the association believe some of the administrators’ recent actions have been unethical and potentially illegal, as she referenced the creation of two administrative positions, as well as the recent restructuring of the middle school and high school, and the elimination of programs within the district, specifically instructional coaches.

Serio said some staff members are so fed up they’re ready to speak out themselves, but others won’t because they fear retaliation.

“Nobody should ever fear retaliation for speaking up when they see concerns, but that is the culture and climate being created in this district by the actions that are being taken, and as we know, actions speak louder than words,” Serio said.

She added that administrative decisions such as the restructuring of Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School, as well as the promotion of two principals into executive director positions and the elimination of instructional coach positions, were “secretive and sneaky.”

Serio also said new positions have been created without being formally approved by the school board, and that one position in the district was posted for less than two days before interviews were conducted.

“Not only does this break the law, it also breaks with past practice, but it also is a direct deviation about from what (Superintendent Hafey) told the MCHS staff about how she would handle hiring the new leader of MCHS,” Serio said.

Serio also said the elimination of instructional coaches did not follow the proper procedure, and no explanation was given why the district chose to cut those positions, which she said were valued by many staff members.

Serio also said that current administrative and classified staff have been told their positions have been cut and that they need to reapply for their jobs, in some cases just days after being told that their positions were safe.

“While these staff members are not represented by MCEA, we believe that the lack of respect they have received based on this structure is unacceptable,” Serio said. “In short, this is not how you treat employees. In an extreme teacher shortage, the school district should be doing everything possible to retain its employees. It seems like the district is currently doing the exact opposite of that.”

Serio alleged there has been no transparency or collaboration between administration and staff, and she said many staff members are actively seeking other employment.

“We need to see a change now,” Serio said. “We need to see a return to open, fair, transparent practices that show our staff and our community that we truly value them as stakeholders in this work. Given this trend, though, staff are already worried that the concerns they’ve expressed about this will fall on deaf ears.”

The Craig Press reached out to Hafey on Tuesday for comment, but she was unable to meet and submitted the following statement via email.

“I heard very clearly last night at the board meeting that there is dissatisfaction within the workforce and community,” Hafey wrote. “I also heard that there is a reluctance to share thoughts with me and others within the organization. I take this very seriously and want to know more. My plan going forward is to meet with MCEA and pull together smaller listening sessions between the two schools and their staff.  I truly, deeply care about the students, their families, the school district and our community. I will continue to strive to be the best I can for all involved.”

After Serio’s remarks, Brian Jennings, a high school history teacher in his seventh year, read a statement that he said was penned by the high school staff. In it, he reiterated many of Serio’s concerns.

Jennings also said there was a severe lack of transparency at the administrative level and an unwillingness to seek input from staff and community members regarding decisions like the recent restructuring of the middle and high schools.

“We are very troubled by the superintendent’s plan to restructure CMS and MCHS and create and hire two redefined administrative positions before consulting the staff or public about this momentous change,” Jennings said. “This clearly undermines the climate and culture of the district.”

Like Serio, Jennings also said qualified staff members in difficult-to-fill positions are seeking jobs outside the district.

In closing, Jennings asked the school board and superintendent for three commitments. First, he said the staff wants to know that staff, parents and community members will be involved in restructuring decisions, including having a seat in interviews and the hiring process.

“We must have an authentic opportunity to give feedback if this restructuring is to directly improve the education of our students,” he said.

Jennings also asked that open positions be posted for at least 10 days before conducting interviews to ensure an open and fair hiring process and give candidates sufficient time to apply.

Lastly, he asked the board and district administration to commit to formal avenues for staff, parents and community members to provide feedback on decisions such as day-to-day school operations, changes in technology, curriculum and resource adoption, and any future restructuring plans, just to name a few.

“A public school district cannot operate in secrecy,” he said. “Secrecy leads to a loss of trust and confidence in our schools along with a decline in school pride and spirit.”

In response to MCHS staff’s three requests, Baxter said the district wouldn’t be implementing those changes at this time.

“As much as I admire Mr. Jennings and his reasonableness, we can’t commit to that kind of (hiring process) structure given the fact that decisions sometimes have to be made more quickly than that,” Baxter said. “We will do everything we can to have a fair and legal hiring process, but we can’t commit to that kind of structure because, mainly, we never know what can happen. … If somebody is not able to perform that duty, we have to find someone who can, and sometimes we have to do it more quickly than in the timeframe they would like to see it done.”

Regarding allegations that recent hires have been unethical and possibly illegal, Baxter declined to comment on that topic other than to say the school board needs to look into it further but has not had the opportunity yet.

Two parents also spoke up at the meeting, one critical of the district in much the same way that Serio and Jennings were, and another parent who was highly complimentary of Hafey’s work since becoming superintendent.

Shortly after the comments, the board voted to go into an executive session to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. No action was taken after the executive session.

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