Douglas County Board of Education member Doug Benevento announced Aug. 17 that he is resigning effective immediately, leaving the board with three members who support the district's reform policies and three who oppose them.
Three years into his second term, Benevento has been a strong supporter of school choice and pay-for-performance for teachers as a member of the reform-minded majority on the board. Benevento, an attorney who lives in Highlands Ranch, was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. Term limits would have prevented him from running in the next school board election in November 2017.
"I feel like the things I talked about in the two elections, I've done," Benevento said. "I understand that there is a minority on the board that doesn't like them, but honestly, those things are going to be litigated in the 2017 election and they're not going to change in the next year. I was kind of looking around and saying, 'Well, what am I staying on the board for?' Once we got past the transition to a new interim, I felt like that was a good time to leave and maybe a time for someone new to come in."
Benevento was among the four board members who voted to approve a contract for interim superintendent Erin Kane the night of Aug. 16. School board president Meghann Silverthorn, vice president Judith Reynolds and Dr. James Geddes also approved hiring Kane, while the three members who have largely opposed reform measures dissented. Until a replacement is appointed, David Ray, Anne-Marie Lemieux and Wendy Vogel - each of whom was elected in November 2015 - will find themselves on even footing with the senior board members.
"Although I rarely saw eye-to-eye with Mr. Benevento and disagreed with his approach, I certainly give him credit for his seven years of dedicated service," Ray said. "I sincerely wish him well..."
But Ray added he is hopeful that Benevento's "stepping down will continue the process to restore and heal our school district."
Silverthorn served the longest with Benevento and calls him a "longtime friend."
"He was the last remaining colleague I had from my initial election to the board in 2009," Silverthorn said. "I wish him the very best in his future endeavors."
Benevento represented District E, which encompasses eastern Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Acres Gree and Castle Pines. A replacement will be required to reside in the district. A replacement will be required to reside in the district and will serve out the remainder of Benevento's term.
At the next board meeting, scheduled for Sept. 6, the vacancy will be officially announced and a timeline for finding a replacement will be established. Board members will be able to nominate potential candidates for interviews. A nominee will need to receive a board majority to be appointed, according to district policy.
In the event that the board does not select a person to fill the vacancy by the end of the 60th day following the declaration of the vacancy, the president of the board will appoint a person to fill the vacancy as required by law.
Benevento said he doesn't think his replacement will be much different philosophically from him, but may bring new ideas and new energy that the board needs right now. At the same time, it may be difficult for the board members to agree on a replacement.
"It's not inconceivable that ultimately it will come down to (Silverthorn) choosing," Benevento said.
The community group Voices for Public Education said they see the resignation of Benevento as a win for students, teachers and community of Douglas County.
"The damage done to our district during his time on the board will take many years to undo," Amy DeValk said in a statement on behalf of the group. "The community continues to pressure the reform majority to return the focus of the board to what is best for students and not political agendas. We are hopeful the search for a replacement will be open-minded, transparent, and support the needs of students and teachers above all else."
Community group Douglas County Parents said Benevento’s tenure on the DCSD Board of Education has been fraught with controversy and his resignation is “a welcome development.”
“Benevento's dismissal of community concerns about increased turnover, his recent threats against another director, and chronic absence at board meetings are only a few of the disappointing elements of his time spent on the board,” Douglas County Parents said in a statement. “Moving forward with the selection process, we hope for transparency and the placement of a director who better represents the interests of our community.”
Benevento said he is proud of what he accomplished during his time on the board, specifically helping increase school choice, the implementation of performance-based pay and decentralized decision making that gave power to schools.
"We expanded choice dramatically," Benevento said. "If you look at the charter school enrollment when we first came in and the charter school enrollment now, it's significantly up, and they are quality charter schools. They're up because we attracted them and did things like equalizing funding for charters and working with them to find land in our high-population area."
Benevento said the contentious nature of the board over the past year made it difficult to find common ground and work with the other side and that he did not foresee that dynamic changing.
"There seemed to be a lack of seriousness dealing with real issues," Benevento said. "The board was more centered on drama than substantive issues where people may disagree."
Benevento said he would not speak on his legacy, as those are "for presidents not school board members," but did say, "We absolutely did important things and those important things will carry on."