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School Board gets new look

Brent Boyer

Paul Fisher and Tom Sharp have been dominating personalities on the Steamboat Springs School Board. They lead the board through some of the district’s most important decisions and greatest controversies.

But members of the School Board say the perception that Fisher and Sharp were somehow more influential or even more vocal than the other three members is simply that — a perception.

“I definitely think Tom and Paul got the most press,” board member Tami Havener said. “I don’t think they had stronger opinions than anyone else on the board. Most of the time I felt it was five equal voices.”

And it isn’t the only false perception of the board, its members said last week.

“I think the community believed that we never differed in our opinions or our stances,” board member Paula Stephenson said. “What no one saw is that we all approached the issues from very different perspectives.”

“It was about as diverse a group as you could imagine,” Fisher said. “What happened was there was no subversion. Once a decision was taken, the board was unified.”

False perceptions or not, the School Board will take on a very different look Monday night, when Fisher and Sharp are replaced by members-elect Michael Loomis and Jeff Troeger.

The changing of the guard also leaves in question who will assume the role of board president — a role Fisher has occupied the past two years. Pat Gleason, who was re-elected to the District 4 seat earlier this month, said he would not serve as president.

Havener took a similar stance this week.

“I already have one job that’s 60 hours a week,” she said. “I don’t believe I could do justice to that role.”

At Monday night’s meeting, Havener will nominate Stephenson for School Board president; Stephenson said she and the rest of the community will have to wait until Monday’s meeting to see who the board’s next leader will be. Incumbent members agree Troeger and Loomis lack the School Board experience and know-how to vault to the top of the command.

Regardless, board members said the role of president will differ from the one assumed by Fisher. Fisher retired from his executive management position with the Dow Chemical Co. before he raised the gavel at a School Board meeting, so he was able to devote himself fully to district business.

“I took on a lot of stuff because I had the time,” Fisher said. “When I woke in the middle of the night, I thought of district issues.”

Whoever becomes the next president won’t have the time luxury Fisher did, and shared duties may be the board’s answer to effective time management.

“I think shared leadership will be critical,” Fisher said. “We have all the disciplines in place and very capable people. They’ve all demonstrated the ability to lead.”

Stephenson said the School Board’s incumbent members are ready to rise to the challenge.

“Tami, Pat and I are all very capable of being leaders,” she said. “I don’t think any of us has ever been shy about speaking out. I don’t think the board will ever lack voices.”

Learning Curve

Troeger, a professor at Colorado Mountain College-Alpine Campus, and Loomis, co-owner of Steamboat Spine and Sports Physical Therapy, have been involved in the school district in various capacities over the past couple of years. But catching up on all district and School Board issues will take time and effort.

The new members will be encouraged to attend several School Board training sessions during the next month, including one hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards in Colorado Springs. Troeger said he looks forward to the process and learning as much as he can about being a School Board member. Loomis could not be reached for comment.

Troeger began attending School Board meetings a year ago to oppose a School Board policy allowing outside groups onto school grounds during the school day. His repeated efforts to have the district change its policy were vehemently opposed by Sharp, but nonetheless the district did adjust its policies.

Troeger said he has no interest in bringing the issue back up in the near future.

“I spent a lot of time trying to convince the board to change (the policy) to my way of thinking,” he said. “Right now, we have a new policy in place, and let’s just see how that works.”

Communication and the way policy governance is practiced in the district are two issues Troeger would like to emphasize as a board member.

Interacting with the School Board shouldn’t be an intimidating experience, Troeger said.

“If you let people communicate, you have fewer problems later on,” he said.

He also wants School Board discussions and decisions to be as open to the public as possible, with the exception of matters that by law must be discussed in executive session.

Not having enough of its debate in public may have been a mistake of the School Board that led to the perception of unity among its members, Fisher said.

“There was a lot more debate and collection of information behind the scenes,” Fisher said. “But we tried very hard not to hide controversial issues.”

How the addition to the School Board of Loomis and Troeger affects the chemistry and direction of the group will only be understood with time.

“On the surface, the new board — any new board — appears to have the potential to add more diverse thinking,” Fisher said.

For now, incumbent members said they must first get to know Loomis and Troeger.

“I don’t think anybody knows how anyone else will perform as a board member until they get started,” Havener said. “Change is OK. It’s what needs to happen to continue to move the district forward.”

— To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com


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