District dumps Kirkland

By Trevor Hughes
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Disgraced St. Vrain schools business manager Ken Kirkland was axed Wednesday night by tight-lipped district officials who refused to discuss their decision.

Kirkland, once a high-flying assistant superintendent for the St. Vrain Valley School District, has been at the center of a financial crisis that has enveloped the 20,000-student school system.

“There’s nothing to say. We’re terminating him,” Board of Education President Kathy Hall said. “It’s a personnel matter, and those things don’t get discussed in public.”

Kirkland, who earned more than $111,000 annually, has been accused of helping cover up a crisis that’s forced his now-former bosses to slash reading programs, foist pay cuts on demoralized teachers and hand out pink slips to a handful of staffers to date.

Kirkland has been on unpaid leave since Nov. 18, 2002. He was fired by the board unanimously and without debate at 11 p.m, four hours after the meeting started.

But while Hall and other elected and appointed district officials refused to discuss why firing the now-reviled administrator took so long, or even discuss the reasons for doing it, state Treasurer Mike Coffman welcomed the news.

“I think it’s long overdue,” said Coffman, who bailed out the district when its potential $13 million shortfall became public. “I think that he was a central player in creating the financial crisis that this district has suffered from.

“His conduct was just outrageous and incompetent. Perhaps reckless would be a better term for it,” added Coffman, who believes the elected board shares some of the blame for the crisis.

The door is still open for Kirkland to sue the district for breaking his work contract. In a letter to Kirkland’s lawyer obtained by the Daily Times-Call, district officials acknowledged that Kirkland might sue them.

And Hall said Wednesday night that the board has known “all along” that Kirkland might sue. His one-page employment contract lacks a clause allowing him to be fired for a good reason.

Such a clause is commonly and explicitly contained in employment contracts for other public bodies, and that could give him grounds to contest the board’s decision.

The termination agreement between Kirkland and the district requires both sides to keep their mouths shut, and the board went out of its way to keep Kirkland’s termination low-profile. The item was added to the agenda at the start of the meeting, and elected officials never addressed it during the more-than two hour meeting.

Kirkland has been all-but invisible since the crisis began last fall. His last known public appearance was at the district headquarters Jan. 8, when he met with Superintendent Randy Zila for three hours.

Leaving the closed-door employment hearing, Kirkland rejected the cover-up claims against him.

“I have never falsified a document. I never lied in my professional career,” Kirkland said before being hushed by his lawyer.

Asked while he approached his car how the district could have gotten into such financial trouble without his knowledge Kirkland responded, “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the district that one.”

School board members have placed much of the blame for the district’s current financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of Kirkland and former finance director Walker Nielsen.

Board of Education Vice President Rick Samson has accused both of lying and falsifying financial documents.

The district was expected to face a $13.8 million budget shortfall if it were to make no cuts.

Both Kirkland and Nielson resigned in November as news of the district’s financial crisis came to light. But their resignations were contingent upon receiving their pay through the end of the year.

The board later rejected those resignations to prevent them from getting that money.

The pair was immediately placed on administrative leave. About three weeks later, Nielsen resigned without conditions in a an e-mail to the district — forfeiting his pay.

Kirkland, however, refused to quit and remained on unpaid leave until Wednesday. His health benefits also went unpaid by the district.

“I don’t think anything like this, in terms of a school district, has ever been seen in the history of this state,” Coffman said. “I think the fact that there’s community pressure led to this school district getting on track. The superintendent and the board have certainly gotten an earful from the public, and that had an impact of the decisions of the district.”

Calls to Kirkland’s lawyer’s home and office were not returned Wednesday.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.


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