Update at 9:45 p.m.:
GOLDEN — Dan McMinimee’s welcome wagon traveled a bumpy road to the Jefferson County school district’s headquarters here Tuesday night.
The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night voted, 3-2, to hire McMinimee as its next superintendent, despite an overwhelming outcry of concern from rowdy community members in the audience.
McMinimee sat stoic in the front row of a packed board room as his neighbors, potential employees and employers raised questions about his credentials and whether he was worth the $280,000 salary advertised.
“A lot of interesting things we saw tonight, I guess,” McMinimee said after the meeting adjourned.
The crowd behind him chanted “stand up for kids,” a rallying cry of sorts for the Jeffco teachers union and its supporters.
The board and McMinimee must still finalize specific terms of the contract. The board is expected to vote on a final contract at its June 5 meeting.The vote came after about an hour of public comment and several rounds of amendments — ”friendly” and otherwise — from board members on the terms of McMinimee’s contract. None of the amendments — which included limiting the contract to one year, lowering the base salary, and including specific performance goals — were adopted.
Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against hiring McMinimee. However, Dahlkemper publicly pledged to work professionally with “whomever the board majority hires.”
Twenty-two individuals and groups spoke on McMinimee’s status as the sole finalist for the superintendent position, which has been open since February.
Five spoke in favor of the board hiring McMinimee, including a Dougco employee, Tom Lawson.
“Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers,” Lawson said.
The rest generally opposed McMinimee’s hiring, or at least requested the board put a hold on hiring McMinimee until after the community could vet more public finalists.
“From the nationwide search, why only one finalist?” asked Craig Middleton, a Jeffco parent. “How many other candidates were interviewed for this position, or were there no others? Or did the other candidates politely decline when you explained they would have no voice in their position.”
A staff presentation after public comment noted that the board, in an earlier executive session, interviewed five candidates.
The $280,000 question tonight before the Jeffco Public Schools isn’t whether Dan McMinimee will be the suburban school district’s new leader — with the apparent blessing of the board’s three-member majority, it’s a foregone conclusion.
Instead, the question is whether his appointment will be unanimous, as so many hoped it would be, or split along ideological lines, as so many recent votes taken by the Board of Education have been.
McMinimee is the sole finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the end of February. His nomination, which came after a three month search that cost the district $40,000, was made on 3-2 vote.
Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who opposed naming McMinimee as the sole finalist (they wanted to see more options made public), are keeping their votes close to their chest.
Both board members, who were strong supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, have pledged to keep an open mind on McMinimee.
“I’m not prepared to say [how I’ll vote],” Dahlkemper said last week.
Stevenson’s tumultuous exit in February was a flashpoint in recent struggles between the board’s conservative majority and some Jeffco constituencies.
A unanimous nod from the board would go a long way in repairing relations not just among the board members, but also for the community, insiders and observers said.
“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” said Bill Newman of the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., throughout the search process.
Even though McMinimee’s resume — which includes stints as a teacher, coach, principal, and central office administrator — meets much of the criteria members of the Jeffco community wanted, his ability to unite the district is in question because of his tenure in the nearby school district Douglas County.
Dougco’s decidedly conservative board and its reforms have made headlines throughout Colorado. And critics of those reforms are wary the Jeffco board majority is laying the groundwork to take similar steps.
Jefferson County has had no shortage of anxiety since the November election when the board’s current majority — board president Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — was elected by wide margins. Critics of the board’s majority worry their platform of expanding school choice, linking teacher pay to student test scores, and beefing up funds for charter schools, are unnecessary reform tactics influenced by a larger conservative agenda.
Douglas County, where McMinimee has worked for the last 12 years, has already put into place many of those strategies. The board ended its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union and put into place a voucher program that would have allowed some students to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.
McMinimee represented the board in 2012 during contract negotiations that ended in a stalemate. And the legality of the district’s voucher plan, which never went into effect, is expected to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court this summer.
The finalist has said both publicly and during the interview process that he’ll work to unite the board and community by spending “quality time” with each board member and by touring the district that spreads from the Littleton to Westminster and from Lakewood to Evergreen.
But McMinimee’s bonhomie and rhetoric have not seemed to sway some skeptics.
More than 3,000 individuals signed a Change.org petition during the Memorial Day weekend asking the board to ditch McMinimee and revisit the application pool. And emails opposing McMinimee’s appointment addressed to Jeffco board members and copied to members of the media have trickled into email inboxes since he was named as the sole finalist.
“Please go back to the drawing board,” wrote Jim Earley, a Jeffco parent, in a Saturday email to board members provided to Chalkbeat. “Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for superintendent to present to the community.”
Besides the Dougco connection, Earley said in his email, McMinimee’s lack of experience leading a large district (Jeffco has nearly 85,000 students) and some details of his contract were unacceptable.
A draft of McMinimee’s contract was released last week after a flurry of emails from parents and teachers requested a preview.
According to the draft, which is still subject to further negotiations and a separate June 5 vote, McMinimee will be paid $280,000 a year for five years. That’s about $80,000 more in base-pay than Stevenson, the district’s last superintendent. Stevenson was eligible for $30,000 in bonuses but had to pay for her own expenses, while the draft contract for McMinimee does not outline any performance-based bonuses and he will be reimbursed for some expenses.
If approved, McMinimee’s base salary will also be more than New York City School’s chancellor Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 per year, and Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett, who earns $250,000 per year.
Previously, all members of the board agreed to the increase in base salary during the recruitment process.
But board member Fellman said, in retrospect, the board might not have had all the information needed to when it agreed to increase the base salary for the position.
“Right now, I’m more critical of the process than of Mr. McMinimee,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.
The board’s discussion and vote will follow 45 minutes of public comment, which is expected to begin after 6:30 p.m. More than 60 peopled have signed up to address the board. Departing from standard procedure that has allowed some board meetings to go on for hours, individuals will have only two minutes to speak while groups will have five minutes.