Erin Kane has been tapped to become Douglas County School District’s next superintendent, selected by a divided school board to take the reins of the state’s third-largest district fractured by public disagreement among its elected leaders.
The board voted 4-3 late Tuesday night to direct its lawyers to begin contract negotiations with Kane, who beat out one other finalist for the job: Danny Winsor, the district’s executive director of schools. While board members praised both candidates, the vote to pick Kane over Winsor fell along now-familiar lines: New members Mike Peterson, Christy Williams, Kaylee Winegar and Becky Myers voted to support Kane, while the longer-serving members – David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson – voted no and instead supported Winsor.
Kane, a founder and leader of a Douglas County charter school, was the odds-on favorite to become the district’s next top administrator: Board president Peterson said in February that he’d asked Kane if she’d be interested in becoming superintendent before the job was vacant, and vice president Williams, who has children at Kane’s school, also said she wanted Kane to apply.
Board secretary Myers nominated Kane on Tuesday night to become the sole finalist for the job. She praised Kane’s courage and her leadership of the district during an interim superintendent stint between 2016 and 2018. She also noted that Kane had kept students in-person during much of the first year of the pandemic and hadn’t shifted toward the “progressive movement” or given in to fear. Winegar and Peterson also praised Kane’s prior executive leadership experience.
Peterson said Kane could lead with “honor and integrity” who would support teachers but would respect the role of parents in the raising and educating of their children.
The vote came after more than 100 people spoke during public comment, most of whom spoke in favor of Kane, though a number of callers toward the end of public comment spoke in support of Winsor.
Though he said Kane was a great candidate, Ray made an impassioned pitch for Winsor, noting that the vast majority of community was favorable. He said that Winsor is perceived less divisively within the community – “wrong or right” – than Kane, given her prior relationship with some board members.
Ray, one of the more veteran board members, said supporting Winsor would bring stability to the district, and Meek said Winsor could “build a bridge the best.” She also noted that Kane had donated money to support the four new members’ candidacy and that Peterson had contacted Kane before the superintendent position was open.
Meek expressly asked Peterson if he felt there was a conflict of interest with his support of Kane, given her financial support for the candidates, his prior conversations with her, and her attendance at a weekend retreat in November that was also attended by the board’s newly elected members. Peterson then asked the board if any felt they had a conflict of interest to report. None of the new members said they did.
Ray said he was disappointed the board couldn’t come to a consensus on a single candidate and warned that the district “could go wrong” in its selection of Kane, given questions about her relationship with some board members. He had hoped, as a “symbolic” gesture, the board could pick one candidate to support together. Peterson replied that he was voting for the candidate he thought would be best and wasn’t voting to make a symbolic gesture, and Williams said the board’s three other members could compromise by fully supporting Kane’s candidacy.
The district is not quite seven weeks removed from firing Kane’s predecessor, Corey Wise, during a contentious Feb. 4 meeting that revealed the deep fractures within the board: The board’s four new members, all elected in November and with the majority needed to direct policy, all voted to oust Wise after communicating individually before the decision was made. The board’s three, longer-serving members all spoke strenuously against the decision.
The board’s leaders set a rapid timeline to replace Wise, which drew further criticism from the three longer-serving members.
In any case, the district is now Kane’s to oversee. A consultant with little educational experience before helping to launch the American Academy charter school in 2009, Kane has two months of this academic year left. She’ll also be charged with preparing the district’s likely push for a funding ballot measure in November, to make good on the board’s stated priority of increasing teacher salaries.
During her public interview earlier this month, Kane said she didn’t see a “role for (politics) in leading a school district,” and she said she viewed the role of the superintendent as executing the school board’s vision. She said she opposed a voucher program or something similar and that she supported raising teacher salaries and building more neighborhood schools.
She will also steer the district out of what is hopefully the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw further division within the district over masking and other mitigation measures. It was that disagreement – which saw the district sue the county health department to keep masking in place – that fueled the successful election of the board’s new leaders and, in part, Wise’s ouster.
While Kane’s hiring necessarily signals a pivot away from Wise’s tenure, something the board’s leaders have advocated for since they fired him, obstacles to doing that remain: The board is still engaged in litigation alleging the four newcomers broke Colorado law in the run-up to Wise’s termination, and they’ve already suffered an early setback.
Wise, whose lawyers directed the district to maintain and turnover a broad swath of records related to the board, Kane and Wise, has also indicated he will file litigation against his former employer of 26 years.