NEWS BLOG
LovelandPolitics
Loveland's Independent News Source
Loveland - June 27, 2012

On June 11, 2012 the Thompson R2-J School District Board of Education met in closed session with an
attorney to determine the future of School Superintendent Ronald Cabrera.  The Board of Education voted to
remove Cabrera during that meeting.

Two days later, Cabrera was privately notified and by June 20, the Board of Education voted in an open and
regularly scheduled meeting (5-2) to remove Cabrera who will leave his position as Superintendent on June 30,
2012.  Dissenting Board Member Lola Johnson bitterly announced her resignation that same evening.

Why Was He Paid $200,000

Behind the scenes, an animosity between Cabrera and a majority of the Board had been growing for months.  
Frustrated by a perceived lack of leadership by Cabrera, School Board members voted to pay $200,000, (as
required under his current contract) to dismiss him immediately instead of waiting until the end of his current
contract.  Besides his $200,000 salary, Cebrera was pulling down an additional $50,000 from the District’s
budget for benefits and retirement contributions.

Hired four years ago by the narrowest of margins (4-3 vote), Cabrera’s original contract only provided for 6
months of severance pay.  However, a subsequent Board of Education amended his contract to extend from 6
months to 1 year his salary compensation in the event of a dismissal.  Facing another contract negotiation
within a year, some on the board thought it better the District cut their losses rather than pay an additional ½
million dollars in compensation over the next two years for a person whose skills they already doubted.

Why Cabrera Was Fired

Contrary to much speculation in the community, the Board of Education’s decision to remove Cabrera was not
the result of any single decision or action by the superintendent.  Instead, it was the culmination of events
including budget problems for the district Cabrera was ill equipped to handle.

According to one insider, the Board of Education became frustrated by Cabrera’s inability to anticipate and
prepare the board for approaching budget problems while only exacerbating those problems once they
arrived.   Facing a tight budget and two school bonds coming to an end, the board was concerned Cabrera was
in over his head and incapable of stopping the current exodus of talent from the district and hemorrhaging of
finances.

In the past year, an unprecedented number of elementary school principals resigned their positions under
Cabrera's leadership.  While some point to better salaries in Poudre and other districts as their incentive to
leave, this explanation cannot excuse all twelve resignations nor is the salary discrepancy a new issue.    One
former employee told LovelandPolitics that money freed by departing senior teachers was never “repurposed”
to support other pressing budget needs within those schools thus frustrating administrators.

Another source told LovelandPolitics that Cabrera was incapable of challenging the status quo thus leaving only
20% of the budget for covering all the costs.  Currently, 80% of the budget is consumed by salaries and
benefits.  While shifting the balance even slightly could have balanced their previous budgets, Cabrera was
incapable of making this happen and may have cooperated with the teacher's union to hide this potential savings.

For example, if a teacher earning $60,000 a year leaves the district and their younger and newer replacement
earns only $30,000 annually, that savings of $30,000 each year was not reinvested to cover rising fuel costs
and other expenses but instead recaptured to increase the compensation of other teachers.  Had Cabrera
properly re-allocated the cost savings by the attrition of older teachers, the district could have balanced its
budget.

Teacher salaries are not only set by the job description (like the private sector) but also time in service and level
of training or education - regardless of position.  The time in service is described as a “step” while the
education and training is called “columns.”   When an educator receives a master’s degree, for example, they
move by column and are paid more even when performing the same job.  If they receive a salary increase by
“step” than it relates to their years of service.  Thompson R2-J has many “master teachers” who have reached
senior levels in both categories thus receive a higher annual salary as a result.

Freezes in raises due to budget constraints in previous years has created a situation where the teacher’s union
seeks to recover those funds whenever money is available because a senior instructor retires.  For his part,
Cabrera was perceived to be ineffectual at applying those saving towards other areas of the budget and instead
allowing any savings to be soaked-up by additional salary increases.

Generous With Other People’s Money

One perception of Cabrera has been his generous use of school funds when reimbursing his own expenses.   
In 2011, Cabrera invited losing incumbent school board candidate Karen Stockley and departing school board
member Lucille Steiner to the 4th Street Chop House for a consolation dinner.  The dinner cost taxpayers over
$600 when Cabrera submitted the receipt for reimbursement by the School District.   Now a candidate for
Larimer County Commission, Karen Stockley, failed to reimburse taxpayers for her meal.   Staff told
LovelandPolitics it was inappropriate for Cabrera to be spending school money “
to assuage the egos of losing
candidates who were friends
.”

After being reimbursed more than $600, Cabrera continued inviting elected officials, senior staff and even
teachers to lunch or coffee at the expense of schools.   As one source told LovelandPolitics, “
He wouldn’t
even buy a cup of coffee without turning his receipt into the district - even though he makes over $200,000
a year.


Cabrera was seen as particularly stingy with his personal funds while generously entertaining friends and
officials using taxpayer funds.  While this issue was only a concern for a few on the Board of Education,
defenders of Cabrera grew weary of trying to justify his lavish spending with their more budget minded
colleagues.  As one official told LovelandPolitics, “
what was he thinking we are in a budget crisis?”

Lowest Common Denominator – “a race to the bottom”

Some of the news coverage surrounding Cabrera’s dismissal gently suggested his Vision 2020 Plan had too
many goals.   While the initiative created considerable extra work load for senior staff, few could find any
value in it and described his goals as “amorphous” and “immeasurable.”    

It appeared to some to be largely a political tool to rally people around his objectives without committing
Cabrera to any specific performance metrics that could later be used to judge his job performance or progress
for the district at large.   

In addition, Cabrera believed no student should have more opportunity than any other thus implemented what
was described by one former employee as a “
Maoist Chinese philosophy of management.”    If anything of
value goes to a student than the same should be given to every other student, according to one source.  This
created a financial burden on the district since targeting learning tools or resources to a particular category of
student was difficult given his Maoist philosophy about only sharing wealth.  
Story Behind The Firing Of
Ronald Cabrera
Thompson School District
Press Release

June 21, 2012 - Board terminates
Superintendent’s contract In a move to
take the Thompson School District in a
different direction, the Board of  Education
voted Wednesday night to terminate
Superintendent Ron Cabrera’s contract.

Dr. Cabrera will leave his position on June
30, 2012. The board will select an interim
superintendent no later than September
2012 and begin a superintendent search
in January for a replacement to start in
July 2013.

Cabrera agreed to return for July 2012 to
complete tasks and projects to ease the
transition for the interim superintendent.

“This is not a termination for cause,” said
Sharon Olson, president of the BOE.  “An
option that the board has when they want
to change direction is to buy out one year
of the contract.”

She added that only one of the current
board members was seated on the board
that hired Dr. Cabrera. “When you have
such a dramatic change of the board
composition, it changes our goals and
vision,” Olson said.

The terms of the settlement agreement
included $200,005 to be paid in two
installments in August 2012 and January
2013. Cabrera has been superintendent
since July 2008.

Board of Education President Sharon
Olson said that while the Board will not
have regular meetings during July, it will
convene openly to discuss the processes
for seeking temporary leadership, an
interim superintendent and a
superintendent as well as a
replacement for Lola Johnson’s board
position in District A.

“We are in the process of talking to
executive staff about someone who will
step in to fill in as superintendent for July
and August,” Olson said.

Meanwhile, the search will
begin for an interim superintendent. “We
would like to have that filled by
September,” she added.  She said the
BOE will seek someone from within the
state who possibly recently retired. A
national search will likely begin in January
with a projected decision
on the new superintendent by March.
Estimated timeline:

 June 25-28: Name senior leadership
member to lead district during July and
August (Deputy Superintendent Judy
Skupa, Assistant Superintendent Mike
Jones or Chief Financial Officer Steve
Towne) Melissa Adams Assistant
Directorwww.thompsonschools.org

 July: Search begins for board member
replacement

 July-August: Process determined for
interim superintendent search

 August: Start BOE meetings with a full
board

 September: Name interim superintendent

 January: Start process for national
superintendent search

 March: Name a superintendent to start
July 2013


What does R2-J mean?

The “R” indicates that this is the
“reorganized” second district, not the
original school district #2.

The “J”  indicates that the district is
“jointly” located in more than one county:
Larimer, Weld and Boulder.