Pricing, proximity and flexibility figured into the Aspen School District board of education’s decision Monday to hire a Denver-based firm to conduct a culture and climate study.
The board voted 4-0 to accept the recommendation by board members Susan Marolt and Sandra Peirce to contract the services of Wilson Foxen Inc., beginning immediately.
A proposal by company principal and facilitator Elizabeth Wilson said it would utilize existing data from already-completed district surveys and conduct new interviews from a wide range of community stakeholders.
The first phase of the survey would run $10,000 to $12,000, plus travel expenses, Marolt said. That would cover information gathering and recommendations, she said. That Wilson Foxen is based in Denver is seen as a positive in terms of travel expenses incurred; it was also the least expensive of the two finalists, she said.
“There would be additional costs depending on the number of one-on-one interviews and for assistance implementing recommendations at our request,” Marolt said Monday afternoon in a follow-up email (Peirce was absent from Monday’s meeting).
Stakeholders who would be part of the assessment process include: teachers, principals and assistant principals, members of the accountability committee, administrative staff, the superintendent and other key administrators, parent groups, board members and others to be determined, including students.
During the public-comment portion of the board meeting, parent Tim Reed said the school board needs to be held accountable for issues that he said have worsened in recent years.
“The bill is due, school board,” said Reed, the father of two children and a longtime local resident. He said he had been up since early that morning thinking about his remarks after having spent the past half-year “talking about what’s going on.”
At times in the recent past it seemed that the board “was almost on a warfare footing with the public and everyone who comes to question” district decisions, Reed said.
Board member Susan Zimet said she had thought about accountability with regard to the culture survey, noting, “The five of us have been elected” and that the community places its trust in the board.
Zimet said she also considered the survey’s expenditures but in the end joined her seated colleagues in the unanimous vote.
Board chairman Dwayne Romero said he agreed a third-party survey would offer fresh eyes and “no preconceived notions,” and could help in the effort to chart the district’s future.
The survey aims to get to the bottom of claims of low morale that some say have plagued the district for years. Unresolved issues came to the forefront through a parent action committee that formed this year to decry poor leadership over the handling of a matter involving district human resources director Elizabeth Hodges. She was disbarred as an attorney in Missouri and is on probation for a misdemeanor conviction of fraudulent work activities, matters that were apparently not disclosed before her hiring.
Fear of reprisal for speaking out has also chilled staff and teacher complaints, some allege, and has become another tool in the call for change.
Results from an internal investigation of the school district will be forthcoming shortly, according to Romero.
In late October, the school board declined to renew Superintendent John Maloy’s rolling three-year contract beyond June 30, 2021. That Maloy will remain in the district’s employ until then has been questioned in two public meetings.
Phase 1 costs
The initial search for a consultant looked at seven firms, Marolt said, before it was narrowed to two and then Wilson Foxen.
The firm’s proposal breaks down certain estimated costs for the study’s first phase in this way:
Eight hours for writing and setup, $1,200;
Survey administration, $1,050;
Cost for interviews, $150 per hour (a nonprofit rate). Interviews, including pre- and post-time, would run 1.25 hours;
Twenty interviews would run $3,750, and 40 interviews are estimated at $7,500.
The resulting report would outline “themes, major strengths, areas of opportunity, and recommendations for next steps,” Wilson’s proposal states.
One next step would be for a steering committee to determine follow-ups and assessments. Wilson recommended the “Comprehensive School Climate Inventory” that’s used by Littleton Public Schools as a possible tool.
Her proposal to the district asks several pointed questions, including one about the lack of data on district leadership from a 2018 survey. It also posits, “How did it get to this point of conflict and divisiveness?”