COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - The Adams 14 School District has paid out nearly $1.5 million in settlements and other payments for issues like discrimination in the past two and a half years, and the CALL7 Investigators found a school board member openly talking about hiring only minority candidates.
"You can't bring in somebody from Cherry Creek to try to tell these kids how life is because, No. 1, they don’t know how life is," said school board member David Rolla, during a meeting last year. "I think we need to open up our eyes and see what our population is and what our culture is and not try to mold them into something we really can't. I think we really need to start looking at people of color."
A human resources person at the meeting seemed uneasy about the public comments.
"Our obligation legally is to make sure we are hiring people who are qualified to do the job -- it's a bonus if their race might be reflective," said the HR person. "Now for us we want to make sure the race is reflective as best we can of the community, and I understand that's the intention that you're speaking to."
The district, which has about 7,400 students, has paid out nearly $1.5 million in settlements and other payments in the past three years, records show. Much of it was for allegations of discrimination. Those Adams 14 payouts were far more than much larger school districts, records show.
There are more potential claims coming against the district. Shelli Robins, a Caucasian woman, was appointed interim principal at Adams City High School and the superintendent recommended her for the permanent position.
"I absolutely loved my job," said Robins, who has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal for more than 20 years. "I sacrificed a lot to be there with students and to insure student success. I just did everything I could to make sure students were successful."
But the school board chose a Hispanic man for the job.
"It was absolutely devastating," she said. "I know I was the most qualified person for the position. I had been selected by students, staff, and community as the top candidate for the position.
"I feel the board wanted a male in that position and so they put a male in that position," she said.
"A minority male?" asked CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.
"Yes," Robins said.
Robins' attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai said it's clear she was discriminated against.
"Ms. Robins' allegations are that she was replaced due to her gender and due to her race," he said. "The board publicly said in board meetings that it had the intention of replacing qualified non-minorities with minorities and that is exactly what they did to Ms. Robins."
The school board president, Robert Vashaw, initially agreed to do an interview about settlements at the school, but canceled. So we caught up with him before a school board meeting
"John, I'm going to shake your hand and I'm going to attend my school board meeting," Vashaw told Ferrugia, who was asking Vashaw about the payouts.
In response to a question about Robins, Vashaw said it was not up to him to decide whether Robins will receive a settlement.
Vashaw also issued this statement:
"The settlements agreed to by the Board of Education were viewed as incentives to the former employees which would afford them the opportunity to seek alternative career paths. It was also felt that the settlements would allow the District to move forward with the recruitment of highly qualified employment candidates in a timely and efficient manner. Settlement expenses were considered to be a necessary cost of doing business in pursuing the goals of the existing Strategic Plan adopted by the Board of Education and the District. Confidentiality agreements preclude us from discussing the particulars of individual settlements unless allowed by law. Our most important and continuing objective is to provide the best education for our district’s students. At Adams 14, we strive to achieve our mission, in partnership with the community, of inspiring, educating and empowering every student to succeed in the 21st century. We have received significant and positive feedback from our community as to our recent efforts for success."
Along with allegations that the district violates federal law that bans discrimination by race, records show the school board also apparently violated state open meetings laws by discussing public topics by email and at a local restaurant. State law requires board members to meet at open, announced sessions, unless there is an exemption allowing them to go into executive session.
In fact, the board's Code of Ethics, posted on their website, says: "The Board of Education agrees to disagree privately, but we act as ONE in public."
That directly contradicts state open meetings laws that says: "All meetings of two or more members of any state public body at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal action may be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times."
Emails show Vashaw contacted staff and teachers to meet with the intention of convincing a reticent school board member to support the ouster of former Superintendent Sue Chandler. Adams 14 eventually had to pay $700,000 to settle charges of discrimination. Her settlement accounted for nearly half of the money Adams 14 paid out in the past 30 months.
Read more about Adams 14 payouts/settlements: http://media.thedenverchannel.com/documents/ADAMS14.pdf