By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) DougCo school board president Mike Peterson and vice president Christy Williams are ready to move on from firing former superintendent Corey Wise. In statements released after the district agreed to pay Wise $832,000 to settle his discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, Peterson and Williams said they want to focus solely on students and securing additional money for teachers and staff.
But many are shouting, not so fast.
While the district doesn’t have to accept liability or admit wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement, the lack of accountability left many of those most hurt by board majority members Peterson, Williams, Becky Myers, and Kaylee Winegar’s actions reeling.
Kate Gould is one of the nine parents of children with disabilities who sued the Douglas County Health Department after the agency decided that students and staff no longer had to wear face masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Three weeks after the board fired Wise, Gould’s son lost his federally-mandated 504 accommodation requiring his classmates to wear masks. She believes district leaders retaliated against her because of her participation in the suit.
“These are people (the board majority members) who wielded the power of their position and privilege to destroy the life of a 10-year-old boy with a terminal illness,” she said.
Gould’s son had to leave the only school he’d ever known for her to protect him.
Ultimately, the family sold their home and moved to California, where they had no issues getting him the protection he needed.
Gould believes the settlement helps demonstrate a pattern of behavior that will be helpful in her ongoing discrimination case.
“It means something that Wise won his case,” she said. “Insurance companies won’t settle a matter they believe they can win.”
Board minority directors respond
Peterson and Williams said they voted to fire Wise due to what they believed was his inability to effectively lead Colorado’s third-largest district.
Yet, board director David Ray, who voted to keep Wise as superintendent, said in a personal statement, “It was rather shocking to hear board director Peterson state that he was terminated due to a ‘lack of competency’. He was terminated without cause.”
Had there been proof that Wise was not fulfilling his duties as superintendent, the board could have avoided paying the remaining $270,000 of his contract.
Board director Susan Meek, also speaking for herself, feels strongly about disclosing the “unvarnished truth."
“Actions have consequences, and unfortunately, those consequences are still reverberating throughout our community and the courts.
"Indicating that Wise was fired due to incompetence is simply not true based on the board's motion. Superintendent Wise's contract was terminated without cause and in a manner that resulted in multiple lawsuits. Had there been evidence of incompetence, it would have been brought forward at the special board meeting on Feb. 4, 2022.
“Our community is sick and tired of politics seeping into our school district. Our students and the community deserve better,” said Meek.
The financial fallout
According to the settlement, the district’s insurance carrier will pay the $270,000 owed to Wise for fulfilling his contract and the $562,000 given to resolve the discrimination claims.
While this money won’t come from the district’s general fund, Ray argues the statement that “no money will be diverted from students” is misleading.
“While it is a relief that the district’s insurance carrier will pay the recent settlement, the district is still responsible for paying a deductible on this claim along with the previous salary payout,” said Ray. “When money is left in a fund at the end of the year, it can be reallocated to other areas, like student learning.”
“This marks a dark day in our district when disrespect, political agendas, and refusal to take ownership for mistakes impact much-needed resources for operating our school district.”