Superintendent tries to address teacher concerns but Moffat County Education Association seems unmoved
Moffat County School District Superintendent Jill Hafey tried to ease tensions within the district Monday, April 24, after a number of local educators expressed deep frustrations with a series of administrative decisions.
During the March 27 board of education meeting, dozens of Moffat County teachers stood together and asked the school board for more openness and better transparency regarding some of the administrative decisions made since Hafey took the helm before the start of the school year.
Based on their comments, the teachers feel that some administrative actions this year have been unethical and potentially illegal, including the creation of two administrative positions, as well as the recent restructuring of the middle school and high school, and the elimination of some programs within the district.
There also is tension over teacher pay, which educators contend has grown at a far slower rate than administrative salary schedules. Those negotiations are ongoing.
During a presentation that lasted more than 40 minutes on Monday, Hafey explained some of the reasoning behind the restructuring decisions and hiring practices. She also talked about the district’s salary schedule changes as well as the elimination of instructional coaching positions, the employee staffing formula and the future of technology for the district.
With a PowerPoint slide show detailing the dates positions were posted and then filled, Hafey said there were three main positions that have been criticized, and she provided a timeline for each of those hirings.
For the most part, Hafey explained, original job postings generated few qualified applicants, if any, and many of the quick hiring decisions were made after failed attempts to fill positions that had been posted for longer.
“At that point, I was looking at a finance director that was going to be leaving just before Christmas break; HR was going through some changes; our transportation and maintenance, those positions were still open; so I was needing some help in some areas, and so at that point, I thought, ‘You know, I got somebody here with 10-plus years of superintendent experience,'” Hafey said. “So then I moved into posting an assistant superintendent position on Dec. 7. Mr. (Chris) Whetzel applied on the seventh, and I hired him on Dec. 9.”
After Hafey’s presentation, school board President Joann Baxter took a moment to explain why the school board felt it was important to have an assistant superintendent.
“When our last superintendent was relieved, (school board Vice President Chris Thome) and I had gone to being ‘assistant superintendents’ for a week, and that was not satisfactory at all,” Baxter said. “We managed it through, but that’s not the way to run a school district.”
For the hiring of a principal at Sandrock Elementary, Hafey said the interim job was posted on Nov. 10 with interviews on Nov. 29. The interim position was then filled on Dec. 7.
Hafey continued by adding that the job changed from interim to principal a little more than a month later, and that position was posted Feb. 10. Hafey said the interim principal was the only one who applied for the job and that happened Feb. 13 with a hire made Feb. 19.
Hafey also said the district posted a job listing for a high school principal for 36 days and received three applicants, though some of them soon dropped out of the running.
“With the needs that we were looking for at the high school, I needed somebody with some years of experience,” Hafey explained. “The two applicants that we had were new into the administrative field, and so I went back to the drawing board, a drawing board that I had been thinking about for months when I first came in for streamlining our education system from K-12.”
Hafey said that as the district was struggling to find a high school principal, she adjusted the position to make it an executive director’s role overseeing grades six through 12. That position was posted on March 21 with interviews on March 23 and a hiring on March 24.
“Again, we didn’t have any other applicants at that point, and we had run the previous one for 36 days — the only thing that changed was the title and the salary,” Hafey said, adding that the pay increase was “minimal,” and that she felt the timeframe was reasonable given the urgency of filling that position and the lack of qualified applicants for the previous posting.
“What could I have done better,” Hafey asked herself. “Going back, I could have slowed down the process and I could have allowed more time and brought the high school in earlier.”
Hafey also said administrators are now sending out more email notifications and the district has completed an HR audit “to celebrate the things we’ve done well in our HR department” and get recommendations for things the district needs to work on.
“My intentions were never to be malicious or leave people out of it — I know I did — but going forward, we’ll make that better, but my heart was really in getting that year ended this year, and get it started for the following year on a better foot,” Hafey said.
Hafey also tried to add some more context to some of the comments from the previous school board meeting about teachers having to reapply for their jobs.
“Any time that there is a job description or … a job title change, you have to repost it,” Hafey said. “So, as we were restructuring, it did change job descriptions and responsibilities — some of it was just a title change — and so those people did have to reapply for those positions.”
In other remarks, Hafey also spoke about the number of open positions within the school district. Hafey said that while Moffat County has 70 open positions, that is in line with or below the number of open positions within the Steamboat, Garfield County, Summit and Roaring Fork school districts.
“So, we’re really not out of the norm with the 70 openings we have at this point,” Hafey said, adding that a lot of those positions were reposted after they weren’t filled last year.
In terms of technology, Hafey told the room that educators will have a voice as the district looks to leverage its resources and maximize the influence technology has on students. Hafey said she put out a questionnaire earlier this year to help guide these decisions, though for right now, the district plans to proceed with technology the way it has in the past.
“Over the last few years education has changed tenfold, and so we cannot continue to do the things that we’re doing because it’s not working,” Hafey said. “Our scores are showing it, we’re losing kids left and right because they can learn in different ways … it’s just begging us to think about how we educate our students differently.”
After Hafey’s presentation, Moffat County Education Association President Kim Serio addressed the board during public comments, saying that following the March 27 board meeting, the association members still have concerns.
In relaying those concerns, Serio said the association has filed a grievance with the district and gotten a response to it from Hafey. However, Serio said that as of Monday night, out of 89 members, 57 responded to a question about whether the association should accept Hafey’s response.
According to Serio, out of the 57 responses, 48 members said the education association should not accept Hafey’s response while only five said they should.
“While we appreciated what Ms. Hafey presented for the board of education, we are still left with many concerns and questions,” Serio said Thursday, April 27. “With every presentation about the restructure, there are substantive changes that leave our staff with more questions.”
Serio said that educators’ biggest concerns are over a lack of community and staff input in the restructuring process, as well as the “questionable hiring practices” of new administrators, and those concerns have still not been addressed.
“We continue to hope that the board and administration will take steps to ensure that such important decisions are halted until more than a small group of people have input into such an important decision for our students’ future,” Serio said.
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