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Charter school director Erin Kane will be the next Douglas County Schools superintendent as soon as she inks a deal approved by the board of education tonight. The offer: a three-year term as chief of Colorado’s third largest school district, with an annual salary of $250,000.

The Douglas County Board of Education held a special meeting on March 29, approving a proposed contract for Kane’s employment in a 5-1 vote. Kane was named the sole finalist in DCSD’s superintendent search on March 22 and has been in contract negotiations with the district since.

She can now accept the contract and sign it, or renegotiate, board President Mike Peterson said. Once the contract is signed, Kane is acting superintendent.

The contract approval was a milestone in what’s been a heated superintendent search for the district. Director Elizabeth Hanson said she met with Kane for three hours last week, and that the conversation left her optimistic about the district’s future.

“We laughed, we cried, we had a really good opportunity to talk through some important things for our board and for our district,” Hanson said.

Hanson had advocated for shortening the contract from a four-year term to three years, not to criticize Kane but to put the district in a secure position, she said. Hanson said future boards might want to change leadership. She emphasized she does not think it is healthy for the superintendent to change with each new board, but that it remains a possibility.

Going with a three-year term could save the district financially by avoiding paying out a longer contract that is ended early, she said.

Former Superintendent Corey Wise‘s contract spanned three years, and his predecessor Thomas Tucker’s contract stipulated a five-year term. Both ended early.

Directors Peterson, Christy Williams and Becky Myers all said they could agree to a three-year term in hopes of securing unanimous approval behind a contract.

The board agreed in a 4-2 vote to amend the contract’s length. Director Kaylee Winegar had voted against amending the contract because she preferred a four-year term but did throw her support behind the amended version.

Director Susan Meek also voted against proposed amendments, which included a word change to the contract.

Meek voted against approving the amended contract. Her preference was a two-year term. Director David Ray was absent.

Under the approved contract, DCSD would fully cover health benefits for Kane and her family.

The board will conduct a performance evaluation at least once a school year. Concerns must be communicated to the superintendent in writing, and Kane would have a chance to respond. A written evaluation is not a prerequisite for suspension or removal of the superintendent, according to the contract.

The superintendent’s contract may be terminated by mutual agreement, because of disability, by the board for cause, by the board without cause, and by the superintendent with four months’ notice.

The process to select Kane as DCSD’s next superintendent has sparked controversy, prompting Ray to stay home from the March 29 meeting. Ray announced that he would not attend the meeting in protest of the search process, which he has scrutinized as too short and dismissive of public feedback, and the manner of Wise’s firing.

The board fired Wise without cause in a split 4-3 decision. The Feb. 4 vote ended Wise’s 26-year career with the district, sparking both praise and condemnation within the divided district community.

Douglas County resident Robert Marshall also sued the board alleging majority directors Peterson, Myers, Williams and Winegar violated open meeting laws by using a chain of private meetings to plan Wise’s removal. Before the vote to fire him, directors Peterson and Williams asked Wise in a private meeting to step down. Majority directors have maintained they followed state open meetings law.

In a March 29 statement, Ray said the meeting “is the culmination of a series of unethical and unacceptable practices. These include the wrongful termination of the former superintendent, a deeply flawed selection process, and decisions/discussions that were made outside of the public eye.”

Ray told Colorado Community Media that Kane is a successful leader who he has a good working relationship, adding his absence March 29 “is not a vendetta against her.”

“I just really felt like my presence would legitimize events that have happened. I just felt that I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I just am very concerned that we are transparent in our process. That we treat people the way they are supposed to be treated.”