DougCo school board investigation to cost taxpayers $163,696.25

The public won’t know until Monday what investigators found after reviewing a closed-door meeting between two members of the Douglas County Board of Education and a high school student. But we do know, however, how much their probe will eventually cost taxpayers: $163,696.25.

The price tag would have been even higher if the law firm that conducted the investigation hadn’t given the school district a break on the cost.

Anne-Marie Lemieux, a member of the Douglas County Board of Education, posted the invoice on her Facebook page Sunday.

The investigation, conducted by the law firm Sherman & Howard, took place between April 27 and June 14, according to the invoice.

At least four investigators looked into the March 4 meeting called by board Chair Meghann Silverthorn and vice-chair Judith Reynolds with then 15-year-old Grace Davis, then a sophomore at Ponderosa High School.

Related: Grace Davis coming of age

Davis had organized a March 9 student walk-out at the school to protest teacher turnover at her school.

Davis, a minor, claimed Silverthorn and Reynolds called her into the meeting during a school day, without consulting her parents first. Davis’ audio recording of the meeting makes it clear that the two board members attempted to intimidate her into canceling the protest.

A week later, board member Dr. Jim Geddes called Davis a “puppet” of the teachers’ union.

Davis and hundreds more critics of DougCo’s embattled school district accused Silverthorn and Reynolds of abusing their power by trying to intimidate a student, and called on them to resign. The district ordered a probe of the incident, which is due to be made public this week.

In the wake of the controversy, Reynolds was suspended as a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of America and subsequently resigned from the organization.

The invoice from Sherman & Howard, reviewed Sunday by The Colorado Independent, shows the investigators listened to Davis’ recording of the March 4 meeting. They also reviewed news coverage, spoke to Davis, her parents, Silverthorn, Reynolds, Geddes and fellow board member David Ray. The investigation totaled 372 hours, according to the invoice.

Sherman & Howard gave the school district a discount below its $720 per-hour charge. Had the firm billed at that rate for the 372 hours, the total cost would have been $267,840.00.

The per-hour rate actually billed appears to be about one-third less – $477.95.

The investigation report is due to be released Monday and reviewed by the board at its Tuesday evening meeting.

Silverthorn commented on the report – which has been provided to the board of education members – on her Facebook page Friday. Her comments indicate the results of the investigation might not be pretty.

She said she has “outlined” to the board of education “a path forward for action,” to include the following:

  • A public presentation on the report from the investigators, likely in July;
  • A “full and fair hearing” to allow board members to discuss the conduct of other board members;
  • Resolutions, to be made available to the public along with time for the public to comment in board meetings on those resolutions;
  • “Action that follows policy,” to be spread out over several board meetings and work sessions, no sooner than July 19

“This timeline follows policy, respects everyone’s rights, allows the public to have the opportunity to hear directly from the investigator, and allows comment by the public,” Silverthorn wrote.

Yet public comments won’t be allowed on Tuesday, when the board will take its first public look at the report.

Lemieux said any questions around disciplinary action would be discussed in executive session. The board meeting on Tuesday will a “work session” – a decision made unilaterally by Silverthorn, according to Lemieux, who indicated the decision to change the meeting to a work session may have been made to prohibit public comment, which isn’t allowed in a board work session.

And while the two board members at the heart of the investigation have been given the report, Davis and her parents have not seen the report as of this writing Sunday afternoon.

Davis told The Independent Sunday she believed it was “ridiculous that the district had to spend so much money to verify something contained in a recording.” She also pointed out that Lemieux had suggested an internal investigation, which was rejected by Silverthorn.

Update: The Colorado Independent received a more detailed invoice on 6/21 that showed the actual billed amount of $163,696.25, including a “courtesy discount” of $18,000.