Community members, including parents, staff and former school board members gathered in the Ridgway Elementary Library during the school board meeting on Aug. 27. Plaindealer photo by Bill Tiedje
By Bill Tiedje
The Ridgway school board voted 3 to 2 to approve a one-year contract extension for Superintendent Cheryl Gomez during its regular meeting on Aug. 27.
A large crowd gathered in the elementary school library to comment and listen to the board's deliberations on the issue.
Chair Roger Sagal stated Gomez's contract extension was first considered in May 2013 and over the following weeks he canvassed the board for thoughts on the issue. Sagal said he thought the board had resolved not to vote on the issue. Sagal said he was upset with the appearance of dysfunction by the board because a board member had sent an unauthorized message to community members and press and as well as by the addition of the contract extension to the agenda in an untimely manner.
A number of parents, staff and community members commented for and against approval of Gomez's contract, others supported delaying the vote on Gomez's contract extension until after elections in November.
Jennifer Strickler, parent of a recent Ridgway graduate, stated that morale had never been so low at Ridgway Schools due to the condescending manner in which Gomez has addressed staff, and she asked the board not to extend the contract.
Connie Stapleton, a former school board member and parent of a Ridgway graduate, urged the board to wisely approve Gomez's contract extension and felt the board should review its code of conduct after what she referred to as "unethical" and "unprofessional" behavior, referencing e-mails sent to community and board members lobbying for a specific position.
Darin Hill, parent of Ridgway students, commended Board Member Bart Skalla for "having the courage to speak up" and questioned why the board was so "aggressive" to renew the contract.
Andy Mueller, also a parent of Ridgway students, argued that the board should retain Gomez as superintendent and chief financial officer to avoid a financial mess.
After public comment concluded, Board Member Jeff Synowic read an e-mail he had sent to several community members explaining that board members voting on items which would take effect after their terms expired was common practice. Synowic also said that Gomez's continued implementation of SB 191, the state's new teacher and principal evaluation program, was crucial for teacher retention.
Skalla stated that other board members were not comparing apples to apples. Skalla said, "We've never been asked to pre-approve a contract this early."
Board Member Steve Larivee expressed concern that such a personnel matter should not be subject to a public vote. Larivee said he felt Gomez's extension was good long-range planning and would be needed to implement complex upcoming reforms such as SB 191.
Sagal acknowledged Gomez's hard work but questioned the need to approve the extension right now.
Board Member Julie Wesseling stated she had changed her position on the matter and described many drawbacks to frequent turnover in administration positions including inefficiencies, loss of leadership and deterioration of curriculum.
A motion was made by Larivee to extend Gomez's contract by one year without any other changes, including pay rates, and was seconded by Wesseling.
Larivee, Synowic and Wesseling voted in favor of the motion; Skalla and Sagal were opposed.