Recent school board meetings expose community polarization in D51

The Mesa County Valley School District 51 Board of Education held a meeting Monday, Feb. 7, to discuss “legal advice on specific legal questions regarding the District’s employment contracts with Diana Sirko, Brian Hill and Tracy Gallegos,” according to the agenda posted by the board.

The special meeting raised much concern among the D51 community and resulted in a large crowd of teachers, parents, and students at the Harry Butler Board Room where the meeting was located. 

Many within the community feared the school board would follow in the footsteps of Douglas County, and attempt to fire some high ranking officials on the board. In early 2021, the media across Colorado heavily covered a story about the Douglas County school board. According to reports, the conservative majority on the Douglas County school board, in a highly politicized vote, decided 4-3 to terminate superintendent Corey Wise’s years of service in the county.

In fear of something similar being repeated in District 51, the Feb. 7 meeting was flooded with supporters of the superintendents and other members.. 

“It is absolutely incredible and greatly appreciated… we really appreciate the incredible support from our community and staff,” Sikro told reporters from Western Slope Now. The support from the community following the meeting left Sikro in tears. 

Only two days after the first special board meeting, the board held yet another meeting, this time at 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 9, when teachers could not attend. This controversial meeting time raised even more concerns among the community, as many stakeholders were unable to attend and voice their opinions. 

“It’s not OK for the body that regulates our system to have meetings when stakeholders can’t be there,” said Mesa Valley Education Association President Tim Couch, who heads the teacher’s union for the district.

In response to the protests and concerns, District 51 board officials released the following statement: “Yesterday’s executive session was not conducted with any intent to fire any District administrator, and no such future action is contemplated.”

The statement continued: “The Board and Dr. Hill both desire to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.” The board had no intent of firing the superintendent or any other board members.

Superintendent Sirko sent an email on Feb. 11 stating: “I am comforted to know that I will be able to finish the school year before my retirement in June and that Dr. Hill will be my successor as planned.” 

Though this eased some concern, the entire situation exposed the harmful political polarization of Mesa County. Many within the community jumped to conclusions, assuming the politically divided board was attacking other members. Couch and many others believe controversies like this disrupt the education of students. 

“When we do anything the first question we ask is, ‘How does this affect our students?’” said Couch. The Mesa Valley Education Association believes that students are the top priority on the board, and nothing should get in the way of benefiting them.

According to Couch, the perspective of students often goes unheard.

“The most impactful things I heard [on Feb. 15] were from four students,” said Couch. 

Feb.15 was a regular scheduled board meeting, moved to a larger meeting space at Colorado Mesa University, that was flooded with support.

Couch said education is the main concern for the board and the community. The best thing teachers, parents, and especially students can do is to show up and voice their opinions.

“Oftentimes we think we’re really far away on things, but we’re really not,” said Couch.