Douglas School Board rejects Superintendent departure agreement
The surprise rejection of an agreement between the majority on the Douglas County School Board and Superintendent Keith Lewis after droves of supporters turned out on Friday leaves him with a decision to make.
“I am deeply humbled by the outpouring of support from the community,” Lewis said in a statement to The Record-Courier on Saturday morning. “It remains to be seen whether the disdain that a faction of the Board has toward me will be so great that my continued presence as superintendent will be detrimental to the future operation of the district.”
Lewis said he will attend Tuesday’s school board meeting at Whittell High School but plans to take some time off.
“I intend to take some time away to reflect on what’s best for my family, health, and professional future,” he said.
What many thought was the end for Lewis’ superintency on Friday took an unexpected turn when Trustees Doug Englekirk, Tony Magnotta, Carey Kangas and Linda Gilkerson voted to retain Keith Lewis as superintendent.
The overwhelming majority of the audience at the special school board meeting Friday spoke for the first three hours to support Lewis.
Parents, teachers, students and community members filled the Douglas High School media center to capacity in the commons with more than 400 watching on Zoom.
“You have seen here today, the love for him,” said Trustee Linda Gilkerson. “I not only hope you heard them, but that you heard them in your heart.”
Lewis’ contract as head of the district administration was placed on the school board agenda for consideration.
According to Lewis’ attorney, Thomas Beko the agreement was reached after Joey Gilbert approached Lewis, asking if he felt he could effectively manage the district.
“He said honestly, it would be difficult,” said Beko.
Conflict developed between Lewis and the school board earlier in the year when the school board began exploring a policy on transgender students.
Things escalated when the district’s legal counsel was replaced by Joey Gilbert Law Firm, which Lewis opposed. From there, other policies and bylaws were questioned, ones that outlined Lewis’ job as superintendent.
“Something has to change,” said Gilkerson. “We have to let him do his job.”
School Board President Susan Jansen said the ball is now in Lewis’ court.
“It’s up to him, it’s his decision whether he stays or not,” said Jansen.
Tuesday’s Douglas County School Board meeting at Lake Tahoe may be as much a review of the last 10 months as of Lewis.
Attorney Joey Gilbert Law turned in $74,000 in invoices, according to records on the Douglas County School District’s website.
Combined with August’s bill of $36,000, legal service has already cost the district $110,000 in the first two months. If this rate continues the district will exceed its annual budget for legal service just three months after hiring Gilbert.
The superintendent is responsible for the district’s budget and Lewis had warned against the hiring of Gilbert due to costs exceeding the district’s budget for legal counsel.
Friday’s meeting occurred after The Record-Courier’s press time. Under an agreement between the board and the Douglas administrator, Lewis would continue to be paid a lump sum equal to a year’s salary of $180,250.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda is the approval to amend Bylaws 070 which refers to the Code of Conduct of board members, Bylaw 060 regards meetings, and policy 902 communication with the board and public comment.
They’re also expected to adopt a whistleblower policy and hire an independent professional accounting firm to conduct a full forensic audit of all district funds received and expended over the last three years.
The board meeting will be held 4 p.m. at Whittell High School and via zoom. Whittell is located at 240 Warrior Way, Zephyr Cove. Visit https://meetings.boardbook.org/Public/Organization/1502for more information.
Editor Kurt Hildebrand contributed to this report.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.