Harrison School District 2 Superintendent Clifford O. Brookhart has abruptly resigned and will leave the city's third largest school district leaderless three days after classes begin Aug. 28.
Brookhart's departure comes at a critical time for the district that encompasses much of southeast Colorado Springs, whose 10,300 students represent both the most culturally diverse and at-risk population in the area.
He is clearing out just as the district, led by a fractious Board of Education, has launched a critical campaign to convince voters to approve a mill levy override in November.
Four other top administrators have also quit or retired since April, including the district's directors of student services, finance, communications and human resources. D-2 has no assistant superintendent.
His departure comes just three months after he signed a new, four-year contract. Brookhart gave less than 30 days notice to his employers.
Brookhart quit after he was offered a job as a professor of educational leadership at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
"It benefits me personally," Brookhart said. "My wife is the executive director of learning services in the Mapleton School District (near Greeley) and it fit together for us."
Brookhart said he is taking a pay cut, but, with help from his Harrison pension plan, it will not be significant. Brookhart currently makes $102,272 a year, plus insurance and fringe benefits that include $400 a month for a personal car.
What to do
Brookhart broke the news of his departure to the school board last week. The board planned to meet in secret session last night to determine what they will do next.
Earlier in the week, board president Henry Blackwell refused to say what steps they might take to replace Brookhart or how the board will respond to the unexpected news that the district will head leaderless into the new school year.
"I'm not giving out any information," Brookhart said. "These issues will be dealt with."
But board member Steve Hester said he doesn't believe a new superintendent should be hired until the five-member Board of Education can learn how to get along.
For months, the board has been rife with infighting. During critical issues, three men on the board -- Blackwell, Hester and Bill Zalman -- have locked horns with the two women members, Jan Bruner and Stephanie Lewis.
In May, Bruner and Lewis hotly protested a mostly glowing yearly evaluation that the men approved for Brookhart. They disagreed with their colleagues in offering the superintendent a new, four-year contract.
And they were critical because Brookhart broke a "gentleman's agreement" to live in the school district when he moved to the exclusive Broadmoor neighborhood. He also removed his own children from the district he oversees, citing a lack of quality educational programs and disciplinary problems at the D-2 school his son attended.
Doesn't laugh anymore
Hester said that he considers Brookhart a "good friend and a fine individual." And, he said, the strife of the school board was taking a toll on the superintendent.
"To quote someone who is close to him, 'Cliff doesn't laugh anymore,' " Hester said. "He's lost the energy to keep fighting. He will go back to academia and recharge his batteries."
But Bruner said she is not disappointed to see Brookhart go. And she certainly won't miss him.
"Cliff and I never did really hit it off, I just don't think he likes dealing with assertive women," she said. "But it was in poor taste for him to give less than 30 days notice. I thought it was kind of a dirty trick."
Asked to name his greatest accomplishment as superintendent of D-2, Brookhart said he appreciated the "decision making processes, and open conversations" with the staff at the schools.
"Coming to an agreement and understanding that openness and teamness (sic) is going to pay big dividends," he said.
Of the timing of his departure, Brookhart said, "It's never a good time to transition out as superintendent. But the plans are all in place and the staffing in place for the new school year. There's been some of the discussion about the mill levy override, and now it's up to the staff and the community to make the decision on whether to approve additional staff and resources."
Where's the money?
However, Bruner is critical of the poor timing of his departure, and is concerned about lingering questions about finances at Sierra High School, one of the district's two high schools. Bruner has claimed that top administrators have for months attempted to stifle her efforts to examine allegations of financial mismanagement at the school.
After months of complaints from Bruner, a financial audit was ordered at the high school. In May, Brookhart told the Independent he expected the audit to be finished within two weeks, but Bruner said the report is still incomplete.
Specifically, Bruner questioned the whereabouts of funds from a certificate of deposit that had been cashed in by the school and inappropriate expenditures from the school's student activity fund. And, she said, Sierra High School has not been refunded $31,000 from a signboard that had been ordered, then cancelled.
The principal of Sierra High School, Dean Palmer, who oversaw the finances at the school, left District 2 this summer and took a job in the Boulder Valley School District.
"Brookhart has been stalling on this thing, and they're still not giving me an answer to the question, 'What happened to the money?'" Bruner said.