In an apparent referendum, APS board votes 4-3 on Superintendent Munn exit pact

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

AURORA | Aurora Public Schools will begin the search for a new superintendent and the appointment of an interim superintendent for next semester after the school board voted 4-3 to accept a transition plan put forward by current Superintendent Rico Munn at its Tuesday night meeting.

On Dec. 2, the board announced that Munn will be leaving the district at the end of the school year and that the board would vote Tuesday on a transition plan he submitted, under which he would serve in an advisory role for the spring semester and the board would name an acting superintendent during the search for his replacement.

The message did not stipulate a specific reason for why Munn is leaving except to note that his current contract is up at the end of this school year. Before the vote, comments from several board members made the decision appear to be a referendum on his performance.

“One of the things that needs to be noted is the significant improvement that this district has made and has continued to make under the leadership of director Munn,” board member Michael Carter said. “It is not rhetorical, it’s quantifiable.”

Aurora Public Schools Superintndent Rico Munn is seen in a reflection from a framed Franco Harris jersey, which hangs in his office.
Portrait by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

This was the first time the board has met publicly since the announcement. On Nov. 22, the board had a meeting in executive session where the only item on the agenda was a discussion of the superintendent’s contract.

Ultimately, board members Tramaine Duncan, Vicki Reinhard, Stephanie Mason and Nichelle Ortiz voted to accept the transition plan and Carter, Anne Keke, and board president Debbie Gerkin voted not to accept it.

Mason, Reinhard, and Ortiz also voted no in the ultimate vote to accept Munn’s recommendation for the most recent phase of Blueprint APS, which included the closure of Paris and Sable elementary schools over significant community objections. The three along with Duncan had expressed frustration with the district, and at times Munn specifically, over how the process was handled.

On Tuesday, Gerkin acknowledged that “this is a difficult conversation” and asked the board to make the decision that they felt was best for APS’ students.

After a motion was put forward to accept the transition agreement, Gerkin said she thought the agreement itself was well-put together and that “the only thing that’s wrong with it is that it’s a transition agreement and not an extended contract.” 

“That’s what I’ll say about that,” she said. “Although I know that it’s largely ceremonial, I will be voting no.”

Keke also said that she “could not see herself voting yes” on the agreement and would have preferred an extended contract. She voiced concerns that Munn’s departure will lead to another period of instability in the district after the tumultuous years of the pandemic.

While she and Munn have had their disagreements, she said that she appreciated everything that he has done for APS students and their families and was grateful for the stability he provided the district during the pandemic.

“You are an amazing risk manager, and I’ve come to see that,” she said. “I don’t understand what is going on but I can only wish you the best.”

A sign indicating disapproval for a plan to close Sable Elementary rests outside of the conference room where the Aurora Public Schools school board meets, March 22, at the Aurora Public Schools Professional Learning and Conference Center.
Photo by CARINA JULIG/Sentinel Colorado

Ortiz said she initially hadn’t been planning to speak because the board “had an agreement to do this peacefully and what I thought was without commentary.”

“It’s time for a change for our district,” she said. “It’s time for healing. It’s time for trust. And my vote will speak to those things.”

Carter said that he would be voting no.

“I understand democracy is messy, but that does not mean my voice should not count,” he said.

Two people discussed Munn during public comment.

A representative from the Community College of Aurora thanked Munn on behalf of president Mordecai Brownlee. Michelle Pacheco, dean of admissions at CCA, thanked Munn for his work on the college’s advisory council and the collaborative leadership he has demonstrated.

“CCA is committed to the APS partnership and we are really excited about the P-TECH pipeline that is underway,” she said.

Former school board member and current APS Foundation vice president Monica Colbert-Burton also commended Munn.

“Our district is a better place because of Superintendent Munn’s leadership,” she said. “Thousands of student’s lives, including my own, have been impacted by his unwavering commitment to push harder and to demand more. Rico Munn prioritizes every student, every day.”

She then asked the board members to conduct the superintendent search “with integrity and transparency.”

“Our students are counting on you to put them first — all of our students. Our community is watching and wants to be engaged in this process,” she said.

After the vote, Gerkin said that an acting superintendent will be named in the coming weeks and that a “robust search” for a new superintendent will begin right away.

“Community input will be a critical component to this search and you will be hearing more about how you can be involved as soon as those details are available,” she said.

According to the terms of the agreement, Munn will remain active as superintendent through the end of this month, and on Jan. 1 will be placed on modified administrative leave to devote his time to implementing the transition plan. His contract will expire at the end of June.

U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten speaks with APS Superintendent Rico Munn at Clyde Miller P-8, May 4, 2022, during a visit to several Aurora Public Schools to see how ESSER funding is being used by the district.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

From July through December of next year Munn will serve as an independent contractor to the district to help onboard the new superintendent, for which he will be paid a total of $45,000.

The agreement includes a non-disparagement clause for Munn and the board members stipulating that neither “will make or publish to others any accusations or adverse or disparaging comments or statements about the other or in the case of Mr. Munn, about the School District, its current or former board members or staff.”

The transition plan, a full copy of which was shared with The Sentinel by the district, includes details on how to ensure the continuity of district leadership, community partnerships and projects.

“Given my relatively long tenure, an emphasis should be placed on stability and on a transfer of institutional knowledge,” Munn said in the agreement, which is dated Oct. 6 with revisions in November and December.

District and board officials have not said who will be named as acting superintendent, but the transition plan recommends that it be Mark Seglem, current APS chief of staff.

The plan said that Seglem does not intend to apply for the permanent position and has the necessary experience and relationships to ensure a stable transition.

The plan suggests that the board have an increased number of meetings in the winter months and a series of board trainings to ensure they have all the information they need on major processes. It also suggests that it increase its budget to accommodate the expenses connected to a superintendent search.

The plan said that there is a “national shortage” of candidates with the necessary experience, and that the board will need to work with a recruiter and potentially make changes to compensation or job expectations in light of national trends.

To ensure retention at lower levels, the plan recommends that board members meet directly with school leaders and to put together a draft superintendent profile by the end of January so that employees have an understanding early on of the direction the board will be taking.

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Cathy Wildman
Cathy Wildman
1 month ago

Rico Munn has been an outstanding Superintendent of Schools for Aurora Public Schools. His ability to wade through the remarks of board members and summarize their intent goes above and beyond their attempts at expression. He has led the district through a variety of board configurations. He has been there with the loss of enrollment in the northwest corner of the district and the extensive growth to the east. He has been there with the need for mills and bonds to support APS. He was Superintendent of the year. Students have been at the heart of his leadership. The Blueprint plan was created by previous boards and put into practice by his leadership. The demographics have changed during his tenure. He has listened to the various groups that have presented their side of the story. There are a litany of changes that he has implemented. Why “fix” something that is not broken. My hope is that this divided board can lead with integrity and transparency and keep their constituents informed with the transition process. Otherwise, there is always the next election cycle.

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

Rico Munn dares to ask for “stability” and a “transfer of institutional knowledge” after attacking those exact qualities in APS schools. Blueprint was 100% created under his watch (you’re wrong Cathy). He persistently put it up for a vote in 2020, instead of focusing on more pandemic-related needs. It passed after failing twice in front of a previous board. Blueprint dismantled communities after pretending to take community input. Rico signed his name on multiple, contradictory Blueprint emails and initiatives. He did not care what was already working in schools. He destroyed stability and institutional knowledge by scattering expert, green status educators to the wind. Multiple high-quality teachers left APS or retired early as a direct reaction to the cold nature of his Blueprint approach. Taking their veteran salaries off of the table was always a part of Rico’s plan, but soon there was an all-time teacher shortage, and he wasn’t prepared. Diverse leaders lost their jobs for daring to stand up to him, daring to protect what they had built for longer than his tenure. Yes, he closed schools, tragically, but he also rebranded schools that were already successful. He replaced good plans with non-plans, creating a vacuum of ineptitude. Those rebranded schools are operating far worse than before, so he broke schools that didn’t need fixing (Cathy). Many experts simply went to another APS school to spread the truth about his methods. He could no longer hide from his own non-plan. Finally, after digging his heals in about students returning to in-person learning, he did nothing to research the impact of this pandemic. His district minions maintained the same pacing guidelines and assessment structures that existed prior to Covid19. Pacing should be determined by data and mastery, yet teachers are hamstrung by guidelines that are devoid of data and are often created in some tiny office months (if not years) ago. Ironically, Rico could’ve done himself a service by proving this pandemic impact, had he cared to do the research. For example, just in the past two years we have seen that about 75% of elementary students are entering August two or more years behind in math. That is not normal. APS needs to invest in leaders that honestly care about doing the research before defaulting to old plans. Ask more questions of your expert educators. They are the ones combing through the data and seeing the stark shift since 2020. They also understand what it takes to set and reach high expectations. Some of us spent years turning schools around, but nobody studied our success. Instead, we watched that success get dismantled through Blueprint for reasons that are still incomprehensible. Sadly, Rico Munn was far more interested in sacrificing expertise for political or personal gain rather than truly understanding his educators.

Steven Zapiler
Steven Zapiler
10 days ago

This is another example of how uniquely effective Rico has been. All over the country, school boards are asking, “how can we be like Aurora Colorado”. For the longest time, Rico has been a National legend, a blessing for students and families and teachers in Aurora, and a shining star in large urban school leadership. This is how it’s done.