The school board for Adams 14 approved a raise for Superintendent Javier Abrego Tuesday after amending their agenda during their meeting. The surprise vote came in a year when the district’s progress has been tested.
Abrego took over the Commerce City-based Adams 14 district in 2016 and has a contract running through June 2019. The addendum, approved on a 3-2 vote, raised his salary to $169,125, up from $165,000, and will be retroactive to the start of this school year. The board also gave Abrego a $25,000 contribution for his retirement account.
The board’s decision comes while the district is in the middle of a state-ordered improvement plan. While the district began the year celebrating that it had earned a higher rating, bringing it one step closer to coming off the state’s plan, the board recently also heard from state officials that the district is struggling to comply with data requirements and is not meeting goals.
The district this year has also been attacked by community members upset with many changes, including cuts to recess, elimination of scheduled parent-teacher conference days, and changes to a biliteracy program.
Colorado’s open meeting laws generally require that the public have 24-hour notice before elected officials discuss something. There are certain exceptions that give school boards some flexibility to add items to their agenda.
But experts say that in this case, Adams 14’s board should have given the public notice — before the meeting — that they were going to vote on the superintendent’s contract.
“That’s not the intention of the sunshine law,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “Essentially if they know they’re going to do this, it should be on the agenda. The public should have a good idea of what’s coming up. There are emergency things that come up, but this doesn’t sound like an emergency.”
In describing the contract addendum the board was about to vote on, Adams 14’s board president, Timio Archuleta, said that all administrative staff in the district had received a 2.5 percent step increase, and that the superintendent should have also received that.
“It was thought that this was taken care of last fall, but the addendum had not been finalized for approval, so I’m asking the board for approval tonight,” Archuleta said.
The signed document describes the $25,000 payout as a “one-time compensation for services rendered to the district under this contract during the 2016-17 school year.”
The board members did not discuss the salary increase in the open meeting before voting.
Board member Bill Hyde attempted to abstain from the vote, but the board’s attorney said that would require the board president’s approval. Archuleta did not allow Hyde to abstain. Hyde and board member Harvest Thomas voted against the salary increase.
Hyde did not say why he wanted to abstain from the vote.
Before the meeting started, the school board also had a study session where, in part, they discussed with a consultant whether and how they should evaluate the superintendent.
Although Abrego’s contract states that the board shall evaluate the superintendent every year, officials say it hasn’t happened.
According to the contract, the board “shall evaluate and assess in writing” the superintendent’s progress toward meeting goals each year. But the contract also states, “at a minimum, this evaluation shall include a meeting between superintendent and the board.”
Hyde pushed the board to commit to scheduling a discussion to pick between three superintendent evaluation tools that Adams 14 can begin to use.
The consultant pushed the board not to focus on the “tool” for evaluation so much as the practice of doing so.