Before three of seven board members turn over, Aurora school board members said Tuesday they support renewing Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract while citing district momentum, his responsiveness to concerns, and board interest in longevity.
Munn’s contract, which ends at the end of the school year, does not need to be renewed yet, but board members are choosing to do so ahead of schedule.
While all board members said they could support a renewal, some disagreed with the length. The draft proposed contract extension would give Munn an additional three years with the district. Board member Kayla Armstrong-Romero said she would support a one-year renewal.
A final vote on the three-year proposal is expected at the next board meeting Sept. 17.
The discussion, which board President Marques Ivey admitted turned out to be more of a justification of each member’s opinion rather than a discussion, followed public comment in which all five speakers on the topic, including a city council member, spoke out against the proposal to extend Munn’s contract.
“I would at a minimum ask that we consider a less amount of time,” said city council member Crystal Murillo. “This contract is one of the only mechanisms we have for accountability and to codify continual checks and balances and to evaluate the health of our community.”
Teachers union officials had requested last month that the board put off the discussion and decision on Munn’s contract until after the election, so that three board members who will be chosen by voters can have a say.
“Renewing any contract a year in advance just so you can be ahead of an election doesn’t sit well,” said Dave Ellis, who identified himself as a local business owner. “Wait until he is currently showing that he can do the job.”
But board members say that Munn should be evaluated by the board that he has been working for.
And several board members said that Munn has addressed everything they’ve wanted him to.
“Rico’s done exactly what we’ve dictated in policy,” said board member Dan Jorgensen. “If you’ve been in these meetings these past six years, we haven’t made it easy. He has elevated the district in many ways.”
In his time leading the district, Munn has had problems with the district’s teachers union, including recently over a plan to pilot teacher bonuses for hard-to-staff positions without negotiating it first. Union leaders have also criticized earlier reforms that included closing a school and handing over the building to a charter school, and inviting in the high-performing Denver charter, DSST, and offering it a new building.
Under Munn’s watch Aurora Public Schools improved its state ratings based on student achievement, and is no longer on a state watchlist.
However, one district school, Aurora Central High School, has had chronic low performance and faces a state hearing later this year and potential orders for improvement. Other district schools long have posted low student achievement scores, but Munn has presented innovative proposals to try to improve without state intervention.
In the case of North Middle School and Gateway High School, for example, Munn proposed allowing two consultants to help manage the schools, a year before the state would have stepped in with possibly more drastic orders.
Board members were not excited about the plan, but allowed Munn to move forward with it.
Armstrong-Romero cited that case as an example when she felt the district should have done more internally without having to give up authority to outside groups.
Other board members cited Munn’s work on a unique plan to use taxpayer-approved local funds to construct a building to lease to CSU-Global, an online university, in exchange for scholarships to its school for Aurora graduates.
“What other district in the whole U.S. has provided that for their students?” board member Cathy Wildman asked. “I believe Rico is innovative.”
In last year’s evaluation, the most recent one made available by the district, Munn was rated as meeting most goals. The evaluation showed he still needed to improve on goals related to collaboration and staff relations.
The proposed contract lists a salary of $267,422, which is what district officials say Munn makes now.
Read the full draft here: