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FORT LUPTON — The ongoing saga of longtime administrator Mark Payler continued to play out very publicly, though probably for the last time, during an Aug. 25 board meeting intended as a celebration of new faces and improved assessment scores.
The festive décor adorning the meeting room of the Weld Re-8 District Building was there to serve as a celebration for the district, which was welcoming dozens of new teachers and personnel while also taking time to reflect on some slight improvements in the district’s academic success.
But along with blue and gold balloons, sherbet punch and cookies was a “farewell” cake and construction paper panels lining the board members’ bench — panels that touted Payler’s accomplishments throughout his 10-year career and served as a stark reminder of the underlying drama that has disrupted the board for nearly a year.
Between new teacher intros and presentations regarding recent assessments and analyses, Payler bid farewell to a district he has watched over longer than any other superintendent besides the highly revered Leo William Butler, for whom Butler Elementary is named.
Parting words from Payler were eventually heard, but not before Board President Mike Simone gave a statement that included guidelines he hopes will quash further “disruptions” down the road.
Following brief recognition from Wendy Sarazen-Faulhaber – the assistant to Payler and the board said the construction paper banners were “just a few of the things Mr. Payler has accomplished in his tenure here” and presented the outgoing superintendent with a stylish standing clock — Simone conceded he was “going to put a little damper on (the) celebration.”
“This needs to be said,” he added.
Reading from a prepared statement, Simone told the audience of about two dozen that he and the board would no longer “allow those trying to settle personal scores to continue to disrupt the business of the district.
“For almost a year we have heard from the same people over and over again who have suggested people in the highest levels of our … district administration have committed various infractions that have included, but (have not been) limited to felonies, misappropriation of funds, civil rights violations, malfeasance and some other things,” Simone continued. “We have performed cursory investigations and not once have we uncovered anything to substantiate any of these charges.”
Simone said the board has met with the “concerned citizens” group that prompted Payler’s resignation “on many occasions, spending dozens of hours” only to continue to be “bombarded with false charges.
“Other board members may speak for themselves, but my focus, from this point forward, will be to do what I was elected to do,” Simone said. “And that is to help in any way I can to improve the education of our children – period.
“I have no interest in serving as the middleman in, what has become clear to me, are nothing more than petty personal differences the leaders of the concerned group have with top administrators of the school district,” he added.
Simone also emphasized that it was not the board’s decision to reach a separation agreement with Payler.
“The request came from Mark,” he said. “The majority of this board was not interested in asking Mark to leave. Mark felt the attacks on him and other administrators had distracted from the board’s goals that we developed in April … Quite frankly, due to the distractions of the concerned group, we … haven’t been able to spend much time on these goals.”
Simone also laid some ground rules regarding any future public comment at meetings that he described as “held in public” but “not a public meeting.” The former Firestone mayor said the board would no longer tolerate personal attacks or suggestions of crime – the latter of which he said should be taken up with the proper authorities. Simone also said future public comment on personnel issues need to follow “proper chain of command” and said “applause or any other outbursts will not be tolerated during the public comment portion of our meetings.”
“We need everyone to be focused on our children and can’t allow those trying to settle personal scores to continue to disrupt the business of the district,” he concluded. “Let’s all get down to the business of education.”
“All about ... academics”
But before the board could get back to the task at hand, Rosalie Martinez – a former Fort Lupton educator and leader of the concerned citizens group that filed a petition signed by more than 750 residents and requesting Payler’s resignation – spoke before the board, once again defending the actions of herself and others.
“The important thing to remember is that community participation and representation was started by you,” she said to the board, referring to a series of forums held last year.
Martinez said it was comments from those forums that spurred the group’s action, that the supporting signatures were obtained arbitrarily and that the group’s actions were based on nothing more than a desire to see academic improvement within the district, which just a week earlier was upgraded in performance framework ratings by the Colorado Department of Education.
“I know we’re being accused of undermining the board, but it was you who opened up to a forum and it was those comments that triggered (the petition),” she said. “It’s all about academics. We’re here to encourage higher test scores.”
Martinez also attempted to recommend having current Fort Lupton High School principal Alan Kaylor take over as interim superintendent, but was cut short by Simone, who reminded her that her recommendation was a personnel issue and would not be heard by the board. Upon announcement of the separation agreement with Payler Aug. 11, the board had announced assistant superintendent John Hoag would serve as acting superintendent until next year when a new person was hired to fill the position. Hoag is eligible to apply for that position, the board said.
“A real rollercoaster ride”
Payler offered many thanks in his brief exit speech. He first thanked his administrative team for their continued support, and also thanked his wife Cindy, who was in attendance.
“It’s been a real roller coaster ride for the past half year, but she’s been there all the way,” he said.
In closing, Payler compared his departure to a Boy Scout mantra he learned along the way to Eagle Scout: “One of the things I was always taught was to leave your campsite better than you found it,” he said. “And I believe I’ve done exactly that.
“Thank you,” he added. “It’s been an honor to serve this district for over a decade. You do great work and I’m going to miss you.”
Prior to Payler’s comments, Simone suggested that recent assessment test scores proved the outgoing super had brought the district “from the lowest of lows 10 years ago to where it is now.
“You should be very proud and hold your head up high,” Simone said. “You’ve done great things.”
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.