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Douglas County school board fires superintendent in 4-3 vote

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Posted at 8:44 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-06 19:32:44-05

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — In a 4-3 vote, the Douglas County School District Board of Education voted to fire superintendent Corey Wise during a meeting Friday evening.

The meeting comes after the head of the Douglas County School District was allegedly asked to resign by school board president Mike Peterson and vice president Christy Williams.

The allegations were made public Monday by three school board members, who are in the minority on the board, who said they were concerned about the way in which superintendent Corey Wise was asked to resign.

The school board has been politically split since the most recent election. Four new school board members have taken the district in a decidedly different direction. The first policies of the new board have been to rescind the district's mask policy and make major changes to its equity policy.

Elizabeth Hanson, a director on the board, said she will file an official ethical complaint against the school board president and vice president for what she and her colleagues, David Ray and Susan Meek, agree are a violation of public record and procedure rules.

According to Colorado law, any meeting between two or more public officials must be made available to the public. Also, school board members are not allowed to take any action regarding the direction of the school district without input from other members.

Following the allegations, hundreds of teachers held a district-wide protest Thursday in support of Wise. In a letter to parents, teachers and staff, district officials said that due to a “large number of staff who have submitted absences for [Thursday],” the district was implementing what they’re calling a “no-student contact day.”

That display carried into Friday's meeting, with dozens of teachers arriving to the meeting wearing red in support of public education and Wise. However, the support was not enough to save Wise.

Board members began the meeting in executive session, then moved into an open meeting. According to Colorado law, any decision regarding the superintendent's job status must be made during an open meeting. The public was not allowed to speak during Friday's meeting.

Following three hours of contentious back-and-forth between the board members, Kaylee Winegar motioned for the unilateral termination of Wise. That motion was seconded by vice president Christy Williams.

Just after Winegar introduced the termination motion, David Ray motioned to postpone any decision until public comment could be made. That motion was seconded by Susan Meek. However, the postponement motion failed in a 3-4 vote.

The board then returned to the termination motion, which was passed with a 4-3 vote. Hanson, Meek and Ray voted "no" on the motion, while Becky Myers, president Mike Peterson, Williams and Winegar approved the motion.

There was some confusion during the termination motion. As Peterson went down the row collecting votes, Myers initially said "no." Peterson then questioned Myers, asking her if she was voting "no" for termination. She then changed her vote to "yes," but was met with criticism by Hanson, who accused Peterson of coercing Myers into changing her vote.

Peterson asked to confirm Myers' vote, to which she voted "yes." Out of frustration, Myers cried out, "Oh can I just go home?" Hanson quickly responded, "Yes, you can."

Wise's termination is effective immediately. According to Peterson, deputy superintendents Andy Abner and Danelle Hiatt will serve as acting superintendent. The board will then begin the process of searching for a new superintendent.

Before the termination vote was taken, Wise was given time to address the board. He began his time by discussing the "irony" of the situation.

"The irony is that this was about me and my performance, and I would love to go back and have the time where we can go through each of those and step those out and find the root cause," said Wise. "There's times where I wonder if you want to fire each other or fire me."

He continued, saying he still believes in the work he and his team have done.

"We are at the forefront, and we are doing amazing things throughout the challenges," Wise said. "We have an opportunity ... Challenge me. I like to be the underdog. Let me prove, and if I don't then come have that conversation, but please don't do it over the weekend and with the idea that the next day I have to choose to leave the district that I love or you're going to go for cause, in which, bring it. I love this district and I believe in myself, I believe in our people and I believe in all of you. We can do this. Give us a chance. Give me a chance, a real chance."

He then turned his attention to the audience.

"Mistakes will happen. We won't be perfect, but we will drive to be the very best that we can be because Douglas County wants to be the best district in the state, but we are going to be the best district for every single person," Wise said. "I love you all. And to our community, whether you know them or don't, whether you like me or you don't ... I promise you I fight with you."

Wise ended his speech saying, "I love you all. I value you. I believe in Douglas County, and I believe in what we can become." He was met by a standing ovation from audience members in attendance.

Board president Mike Peterson told Denver7 in a statement Tuesday that he did not intend to remove the superintendent or force his resignation behind closed doors. During the meeting, Peterson said he lost trust in Wise and his leadership. That sentiment was echoed by Williams.

Douglas County Federation, a teacher's union, released a statement Saturday condemning the actions taken by the board.

"Last night, Superintendent Corey Wise, on a vote of 4-3, was terminated without cause. It is hard to overestimate the shock wave this callous action sent through the schools and community. Superintendent Wise has worked for the children of Douglas County for decades, guided the District through the toughest time in its history, and always put the needs of the students first. For the new majority to ignore all due process laws and belittle a dedicated employee in such an insensitive way says a lot about the future of our district under their leadership," the statement read, in part.

On Sunday, over 50 sitting and past elected school board directors across Colorado signed a letter of support for Wise. The letter highlights their concerns about the way they felt the termination was handled.

Wise was voted in as the new superintendent in a 5-2 vote last April, but the board has since changed its makeup after last November's elections, in which the "Kids First" slate won.

Wise started his career as an educator as a student teacher with the Douglas County School District 25 years ago. He went on to become a social studies teacher at Ponderosa High School, taught at and served as Chaparral High School's assistant principal. He was also the founding principal at Legend High School in 2007, where he served for seven years before moving on to the district's central administration.

To watch the Feb. 4 meeting, click here.