Aurora’s school board had a last-minute discussion Tuesday about the superintendent’s contract before a 6-1 vote to approve a two-year contract extension.
It was the first time every board member spoke publicly about the process, the district’s future, and their confidence in Superintendent Rico Munn. Many praised the superintendent’s skills, but then talked about concerns that the district’s culture needs to change.
“Open communication and trust are sorely lacking,” said board member Debbie Gerkin. “We need a superintendent who will dramatically change the climate. Is that Rico Munn? It might be. I want it to be, but so far, I have to be honest, I haven’t seen that particular skill set demonstrated and that concerns me.”
The board had announced more than a month ago that it was renewing the contract. Two weeks ago, the board gave a nod, without public discussion, to the draft contract extension, with the final vote set for Tuesday.
When it came time to vote, board members, the majority of whom were elected on a union-backed slate in November, said they wanted to go on the record with their thinking. Board president Marques Ivey said he had received calls from voters who said they thought he had run for the school board in order “to fire Rico.”
Ivey disputed that idea and asked voters to give the new board a chance to do their job, assuring the public the board would not be a rubber stamp for Munn’s ideas.
“The concerns you’ve expressed to us and your anger, it’s felt by this board,” Ivey said. “We know about it. Believe me, we have discussed it.”
Board member Kyla Armstrong-Romero, the sole vote against extending Munn’s contract, said she has been “extremely frustrated” recently.
“I ran on transparency, and it’s obvious that’s lacking,” Armstrong-Romero said. “I am concerned about that.”
Munn was first hired in 2013, and his contract is set to expire this summer.
The four union-allied board members ran in part on their opposition to the expansion of charter schools, as well as on greater equity and transparency.
Union leaders and many teachers had been vocal in their disapproval of Munn’s reform plans, especially two involving charter schools. In 2016, the district closed a low-performing elementary, and brought in a Denver charter school to take over the school.
Then later that year, Munn invited high-performing DSST to open a charter school in Aurora, offering to pay for at least half the costs of a new building to house them with bond money voters later approved.
At the last board meeting, two weeks ago, one teacher who spoke during public comment told the board that he was disappointed members were planning to renew Munn’s contract.
“Frankly we voted you guys in, or four of you, in the hopes that this would change,” the teacher told the board. “To hear that you’re keeping the leadership in place is very disappointing.”
The new board, in its short time in office, has had disagreements with Munn. Earlier this year, the board rejected Munn’s proposed turnaround plan for an elementary school that earned the lowest quality rating this year. The board also criticized Munn recently for the process around budget cuts at the district level.
Veteran board members said they felt confident Munn could improve on the changes the board requested.