Recall drive targets Kiowa school trustees

Some parents claim low morale, misguided budgeting priorities

Tabatha Stewart
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/25/20

Concerned parents of students in the Kiowa C-2 school district are calling for a recall of board members Kurt Wassil, Stephanie Buker and Stacy Morgan, claiming they have been misusing funds, cutting …

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Recall drive targets Kiowa school trustees

Some parents claim low morale, misguided budgeting priorities

Posted

Concerned parents of students in the Kiowa C-2 school district are calling for a recall of board members Kurt Wassil, Stephanie Buker and Stacy Morgan, claiming they have been misusing funds, cutting programs and staff members, and have created an unhealthy work environment, low staff morale and fear among staff members who speak out against the board's actions.

Petition formats were submitted to the Elbert County Clerk and Recorder's Office Sept. 9, and were deemed sufficient Sept. 14. Parents now have until Nov. 13 to gather 244 valid signatures to begin the process for a recall election.

“Our schools have suffered loss of staff, and extracurricular activities/programs. The art program was eliminated for K-12, yet the auto shop program continues for 6 students at a budget of over $35,000,” states the petition. “Student enrollment/ratings are the lowest in Kiowa's history and yet the superintendent is the highest paid in Kiowa's history. Lack of support for staff and teachers has resulted in low morale, an unhealthy work environment, and a 42 percent turnover in teachers during 2018-2019.”

The petition also claims “for three years, the district's budget has maintained a `red' status with no sign of improvement. They are $475,000 over budget with no plans, and refuse to acknowledge the consistent use of reserve funds.”

During a community meeting with the school board held Nov. 23, 35 parents attended in person, with an additional 37 attending via Zoom. Nearly 30 people addressed the board with their concerns, including a lack of communication from the school board, and how budget numbers didn't seem to align.

School board president Kurt Wassil addressed some of the issues during an interview with the Elbert County News.

“I think this all started in July, when we started holding community meetings. We explained some of the budget information and I think that alarmed a lot of the community,” said Wassil. “I saw community members getting involved, which I like, but I never in a million years ever thought there would be a recall.”

In response to the claim in the petition that the board members do not acknowledge passing a deficit budget, Wassil disagrees.

“We acknowledge every year that we're deficit budgeting,” said Wassil. “We try not to cut programs or classes, but we have to anticipate the budget each year, and there's a lot of guesswork with the revenue, we get funds from a lot of different sources. A lot of times you don't know what the revenue will be until school starts and we get an actual number of students who are enrolled.”

He also wanted parents to understand the conflicting numbers, and reasoning, behind keeping the auto shop class, while cutting the art class for K-12 students.

“The $35,000 for auto shop is a three-year contract, for one class, so it's really about $10,000 a year. The art teacher is a much higher expense, at closer to $48,000 for one year, so the real number is $48,000 vs. $10,000 annually.”

Wassil said the district was looking for an art teacher when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and because of budget cuts on the state level, the board made the difficult decision to retain the teachers they had, and put off hiring an art teacher.

According to Superintendent Scott Mader, a $250,000 budget cut this year, along with state cuts to the district's funding in previous year, have made balancing the budget and increasing programs that will attract more students nearly impossible.

“We live in a state where our funding is not adequate. Period. We rate amongst the bottom in funding in the nation in our state, and we put COVID on top of that and the cuts from the state on top of that,” said Mader. “We have severe funding issues, and those who haven't been on school boards don't realize what kind of issues the board has had to face, and they've done an outstanding job dealing with it.”

If the petition goes forward, is verified and board members don't challenge it, a recall election would be held early next year, according to Schroeder. A recall election would cost around $10,000 and the school board would be responsible for the cost.

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