School board hears update on sexual assault investigation, authorizes bond sale for new school | SteamboatToday.com

School board hears update on sexual assault investigation, authorizes bond sale for new school

The Steamboat School District Board of Education met to discuss updates on the investigation into reports of sexual assault at the high school.
Bryce Martin

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Dec. 20, 2019, Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks issued a request for proposals, an RFP, in order to hire an independent third-party to conduct an assessment and investigation into what was described at the Dec. 9, 2019, board of education meeting as a culture at Steamboat Springs High School under which female students were not being heard or protected amid allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Allegations, both past and present, came from a number of parents and also included concerns about conflicts of interest among staff and the students they were supposed to protect — underscoring the need to bring in an outside firm.

One of those parents, Chris Wittemyer, thanked Meeks and the board at Monday’s board meeting for a swift response.

It’s “starting to feel our voices are being heard,” Wittemyer said.

Wittemyer also emphasized the importance of the investigation being independent.

According to the RFP: “The overarching goals of this project are to identify and investigate whether there have been previously unreported incidents or failures to take prompt and appropriate action in response to complaints, whether students have confidence in reporting and know to whom and how they may do so; whether there has been appropriate follow-through in terms of consequences and supports when complaints are substantiated, and then, equally important, to identify, conduct trainings on and help implement strategies to promote a positive school climate and culture…”

Meeks said seven firms have thus far received the RFP, and the final proposals are due Friday, Jan. 17. Advocates of Routt County Executive Director Lisel Petis and Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen will be participating in the selection process, and Meeks said he expects to announce a selection at the Monday, Jan. 27, board meeting.

The board discussed the need to ensure surveys — part of the planned scope of investigation — bring back authentic information and avoid being repetitive. Meeks said efforts by Advocates of Routt County “will be closely aligned with the district efforts.”

The RFP and other information will continue to be available on the district’s website, Meeks said, and he will be providing regular updates about the investigation to the board.

“However, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the sensitive nature of what is being assessed and investigated,” Meeks said. “While I will be as transparent as possible with my public updates and reports, there will be things I cannot disclose due to our legal obligations around student and staff privacy. Ensuring anonymity, where it is requested, is an important part of this process.”

According to the RFP, the “ideal” timeline is to conclude the investigation before March 23, but that will depend on recommendations from the outside firm and ensuring the investigation is in-depth.

In other business, the board received an update on the new pre-K through eighth-grade school. Colleen Kaneda, owner’s representative with Dynamic Program Management, said schematic designs should start taking shape this month, after which “we will be diving into those drawing and getting them priced.”

The Design Advisory Group for the new school has now met four times, and information about their meetings and who is in the group can be found at buildingforthefuture.ssk12.org/.

Public meetings will begin in March.

Meeks said the best way for members of the public to comment on the plans at this time is to email him directly.

The board also unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the sale of the 2020 general obligation bonds, which will give the district the $79.5 million passed by voters in November for the construction and operations of the new school as well as upgrades at existing facilities.

The interest rates for the bonds will be set on Wednesday, Jan. 22, after which RBC Capital Markets, the underwriter, will buy the bonds and open up the sale for investors, according to representatives from Hilltop Securities Inc., the district’s financial advisor. They anticipate the bonds will close by Thursday, Jan. 30. All parameters set by the ballot language will be adhered to, the financial advisors said.

A board workshop will be held at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Bud Werner Memorial Library. The next regular school board meeting is Monday, Jan. 27.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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