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Payler steps aside as Re-8 superintendent

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By Jeremy Johnson

FORT LUPTON – The Weld Re-8 Board of Education announced the resignation of Superintendent Mark Payler Aug. 11, just a little more than a decade after he took the helm of Fort Lupton’s schools in July 2004.

            Board President Mike Simone wasted no time at the district’s first meeting of the school year Aug. 11 in announcing that the board reached a “separation agreement” with the district’s colorful and sometimes controversial captain.

            The agreement comes just months after a citizens group began requesting Payler’s resignation based on what they felt was a lack of progress and achievement within the district. The group also leveled accusations that questioned the board’s transparency and the district’s commitment to ethnic diversity.

            In recent months, Payler’s opponents argued that he had not accomplished enough during his decade-long tenure and felt the district would benefit from a change of leadership. Calling themselves the Concerned Citizens for the Education of Our Students, the group presented the board with a petition  in June containing more than 700 signatures from community members allegedly supporting Payler’s resignation – a petition that was disputed on Monday by a local longtime educator.

 

“We have to work together”

            The announcement that the district was terminating the contract with Payler – a decision made official after a brief executive session regarding personnel – was presented with little drama or posturing on the part of Payler or board members.

            Rather, it included just one statement from a member of the public and some brief remarks from Simone, who ultimately conceded that he didn’t agree with the decision but would accept it and move on.

            “If we can put this separation agreement chapter behind us, I hope some of you will use that passion and focus that energy … to help us,” he said. “Please help us educate these kids. We want to focus on the education of kids and instead we’ve had this distraction for six months.

            “I personally don’t think it’s right or that it’s that simple, but hopefully this is all behind us and we can move forward,” he added. “We’re a large community of caring people … but we all have to work together. I don’t agree with you, but thanks for the passion.”

            Simone wasn’t the only person who didn’t agree with the decision to part ways with Payler.

            Former Colorado Department of Education consultant and 2011 school board candidate Bushrod “Bush” White said he not only disagreed with the decision, but the university director and former art and history teacher accused the citizens group of having a political agenda and currying to cyber-bullying.

            “I’m here to speak about some of the things I’ve heard and seen online,” White said. “Every time I hear the phrase ‘concerned,’ I associate that with having an agenda.”

            White defended Payler’s efforts as a superintendent and said his accomplishments should speak for themselves.

            “I know there were many things that were not perfect when Mr. Payler came here. I worked with the CDE at that time and I know how hard he worked for the district, and that’s stuck with me,” White said. “To say Mr. Payler’s work has been subpar hurts me almost as much as it hurts (him) because I think it hasn’t been subpar. I think this spring we will see improvement.”

            White also questioned the authenticity of the petition calling for Payler’s resignation and said, as a member of the community, he never saw the petition being circulated throughout town.

            Rosalie Martinez, Vicki Montoya and Gary Montoya followed White in speaking to the board, and all defended the opinions and actions of the community group.

Martinez, who requested a decade’s worth of the district’s financial audits, questioned Weld Re-8’s dedication to transparency, citing figures presented months ago by Simone regarding the district’s ethnic makeup – figures she said were misconstrued. Vicki Montoya followed by defending the group’s efforts in distributing the petition and said her group just wants to “make a difference.” Gary Montoya said Payler’s lack of leadership is causing students and families to leave the district, and take their tax money with them, too.

“It’s hurting our pockets at the end of the day,” he said. “And the whole hometown vibe has gone out (of Fort Lupton).”

 

“Blessed to work with the best”

Payler takes with him, too, a considerable chunk of change.

As part of the agreement, Payler will receive a little more than $23,000 in “leave payment” – comprising unused vacation time and “longevity pay” – as well as a portion of his remaining contract, just under $150,000, and some remaining benefits.

According to the agreement, Payler will remain superintendent until the end of August, at which time he will continue with the district as a “project-based consulting administrator” until his official resignation Dec. 31.

Payler gave his boilerplate superintendent’s report Aug. 11 and spoke briefly about the start of the school year, but did not publicly speak of his resignation.

Instead, Payler said in a statement to the press that he was thankful to have served the district and believes they are in a stable place to begin their search for a new superintendent. Simone later said assistant superintendent John Hoag will act as interim superintendent until July 2015, at which time a new administrator will be hired or Hoag will be given a long-term contract.

In his statement, Payler hinted that upcoming test scores should show the “district is on the right course and should not waiver from the map to success that’s been faithfully followed by our schools this past year.” He added that the district’s affiliation last year with the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business “is not about running our schools as a business, but is about the best practices of turning a school around.”

“The answer to increasing student achievement is already here, it is right under our very noses,” he said. “Good solid instruction practices … need to be supported by the district and community – they will lead all students toward academic success.

“It’s not about charismatic leaders,” he added. “The answer is about solid instructional practices, systematically implemented, which produce positive results.”

Payler also said he was “blessed to work with the best,” and thanked various “boards of education” and his administrative team, the present and past staff of Weld Re-8, volunteers who assist the district and outside agencies. “I have come to respect each of you and your vision for the district,” he said.

“I leave you now so the community can focus on what it needs to – ensuring that all of our children may reach their dreams. The board has a number of challenges ahead and it will take a community to educate our children,” Payler concluded. “Now is the time for the community to come together and unite behind the common effort of raising rigor and holding all accountable for those results – no excuses accepted.”