APS teacher union eyes school board election as referendum on Superintendent Rico Munn

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Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn – File Photo by Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Teachers in Aurora Public Schools want to delay a school board decision on renewing Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract until after November elections, a move seen by some as a politically motivated attempt to oust the head of the district. 

Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract with district is up for renewal at the end of the school year, and school board members began consideration this month. Munn has led APS since 2013. 

Election Day on Nov. 5 could bring a new school board, and Aurora Education Association President Bruce Wilcox wants possible new school board members to decide Munn’s fate. Three seats of seven voting school board seats are up for grabs. 

Wilcox proposed the delay to the school board at a meeting last week. 

He told Sentinel Colorado he thinks a delay is a long shot, but he wants he more transparency and public input in the discussions to rehire Munn. He thinks newly elected school board members would better represent the will of APS voters and more poised to decide whether to work with him for four years, rather than outgoing members. 

“Our thinking was: The voters go to the polls in November. I don’t know if the people running for office love Mr. Munn or don’t,” he said of the ask. “I have no idea. But they are the ones that are going to have to work with him.”

When asked about his relationship with the teacher union, Munn cited APS’ growing graduation rates and test scores and said his focus remains on serving the needs of students, families and staff.

“I am proud of our work and focus on community,” he added. “I invite AEA to be a positive force and partner in continuing this work.”

Wilcox denied that his proposal was politically motivated. But outgoing board member Monica Colbert suggested the union wants a new school board to end Munn’s tenure. 

The union typically fields candidates and endorses school board hopefuls. The union backed the four most recently elected members: Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey and Kevin Cox. 

Union officials recently endorsed two candidates for this year’s race. The candidates, Stephanie Mason and Vicki Reinhard, are both parents of APS graduates. Reinhard was also a special education teacher and AEA vice president.

The school board voted to retain Munn in 2017, but directors actually waited until after the election that year to make the decision, according to Gerkin. 

She recalled being a newly elected board member at the time, struggling to decide whether to renew Munn’s contract because she wasn’t knowledgeable enough about his performance as superintendent. 

“I for one did not want to be placed in that position, when I did not know the work, but only what other people told me,” she said. 

Colbert said the AEA made Munn’s performance a campaign issue during the 2017 elections and are attempting to do so again this year.

“I don’t want it to become a central campaign issue, and it will,” she said, if the contract was delayed. “It will become whether you’re for Rico or against Rico.” 

She also said she was against delaying the vote because long-serving members, including Dan Jorgensen and Cathy Wildman, will leave the board in November. They’ve each served two terms since 2011. 

Jorgensen said he, too, does not want to delay the vote.

Although Wilcox declined to say whether the union wants a different superintendent to lead the district, he described tensions with Munn and district leadership over key issues. 

Wilcox cited Munn’s invitation to Denver School of Science and Technology, which opened its first charter school in Aurora this year, Aurora Science and Tech. Wilcox also criticized Munn’s use of bonuses to fill hard-to-staff positions in district schools, he said, because the incentives are not negotiated with the teacher union. 

Colbert said that Wilcox will often testify at school board, criticizing issues that board members seem to have reached consensus on. She added that union officials sometimes treat Munn unfairly. 

Tensions appear high between district officials and the teachers union, even though the school year just began this month. 

In a fiery speech to the school board last week, union Vice President Yolanda Calderon accused Rico Munn of invoking the “final solution” — Nazi Germany’s plan to eradicate Jews — in his opening speech for the school year. 

Colbert said she was “horrified” at what she said was Calderon’s twisting of words. She said the accusations against Munn amounted to “public slander.”