PARKER - Over the past few years, emotions have run high in Douglas County over the direction of the district and school board. Monday night, the board wants to try something different to maybe heal some of the angst.
"We're going to have a different kind of a meeting where we can have more of the public attend and we can have a combination of some presentations, but some interaction," Kevin Larsen, School Board President, said.
At Cimarron Middle School in Parker, the board will host the first of three public forums entitled "Board Unplugged."
"At a normal board meeting, the board members are simply listening to comment that's given," Larsen said. "This one is designed to have a little more back and forth dialogue going on."
But, parents like Anne-Marie Lemieux and Cristin Patterson do not believe the intent of these forums are genuine.
"There's widespread distrust right now," Patterson said. "The fact that three days before the meeting, we still didn't know what time it was going to be."
The time did change. And, Larsen admits a clerical error did publicize the wrong date of the meeting initially.
"That was an honest mistake, that was corrected," Larsen said.
But, he says the changes made were due to an unexpectedly large applicant pool for the current school board seat which is vacant. Larsen says he only expected 5 or 6 candidates to apply for the seat vacated by Justin Williams who said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Larsen says the board wanted to allow for more time so the public could watch the interview process with the applicants.
"It was all above board and with the best interest in mind because we want the public to know," Larsen said. "It's going to start at 5. If you want to watch these interviews, you can do that."
He says after the interviews, board members will meet and interact with the public.
Lemieux doesn't buy the changes.
"They're going to talk about very specific board-driven topics rather than letting the community ask questions and engage," Lemieux said. "I think it's very different than what they said it was going to be."
Larsen says the board will meet in small groups with people to discuss any concerns and district-wide issues like finances and standardized testing.
"Apparently, they're going to be at small group tables, so it's not even a full conversation that everyone in the room can hear," Lemieux said.
Lemieux wants to discuss the school board's decisions on how it's using tax dollars.
"Millions of dollars when you add it all up is being spent on experimental reforms when we know what works," Lemieux said.
She's also concerned that recently a judge ruled that district violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act when it paid for a study to be done on the school district.
"It literally wasn't a fair campaign they violated fair campaign practices," Lemieux said. "That's very disappointing that our communication is being used to mislead the public."
Larsen says the board is appealing that ruling which did include five other decisions that ruled in favor of the school district.
"I understand that sometimes there is angst that's there's concern. There's people that want to go a different direction," Larsen said. "And, the best that we can do is to remain focused on what we're trying to do."
Larsen hopes these forums can get people to start working together.
"They get a sense that they're seeing everything that's going on and I think that's going to be very important," Larsen said. "I think we've heard from people that they need to see more of that."
Patterson is doubtful.
"I don't know that it is headed towards healing right now," Patterson said. "I think it is a long ways off before there's going to be some healing."
The "Board Unplugged" forum will start at 5:00 p.m. on Monday at Cimarron Middle School on the south end of Parker. The next two "Board Unplugged" meetings will be during the first week of each of the next two months.
"They get to sound like they're being engaging the community and yet for us it's just banging our heads against the wall again and I feel duped," Lemieux said.