Colorado Springs School District Safety Director Gets ‘Preferential Treatment’ During Hiring Process, Former Officials Say | Subscriber content


A retired Colorado Springs police officer and former Douglas County school security official received preferential treatment when hired as the new director of security at Academy School District 20, the former security director alleged in a formal complaint.

Former District Security Director Brian Grady said in the file filed with the District that his new Director, Rich Payne, received preferential treatment during the District’s hiring process based on ” good old network “from Superintendent Tom Gregory.

Former D-20 deputy director of security Steve Liebowitz, who like Grady and Payne also served in the Colorado Springs Police Department, joined Grady in interviews with The Gazette in claiming that Payne had been hired with a starting salary greater than $ 15,000 above the salary scale for the position. , and only after the post has been edited and reposted with academic qualifications suited to Payne.

Payne, Grady and Liebowitz said, were considered for the job because of Gregory’s professional ties to Payne’s wife, Susan Payne, and although they did not initially meet the qualifications for the job, including having at minus a bachelor’s degree in criminology. The two men based their allegations on the cell phone, hiring, and personnel records that Grady acquired through Colorado Open Records Act applications to the district, and turned them over to The Gazette for review.

In the November 11 complaint, Grady wrote that the only reason Rich Payne had not been fired after apparent violations of the staff leave policy was “because of preferential treatment (Tom’s Good old network Boy) ”.

District spokeswoman Allison Cortez wrote via an emailed statement that the district had gone through a “long-standing process” to hire people at director level or above, noting that Rich Payne had been recommended as the best candidate on the search committee because of his work ethic, experience, and positive leadership. She added that Gregory and Rich Payne only met at a graduation ceremony in the summer of 2020.

“As with many positions, work experience (especially in schools) can be just as, if not more, important than academic experience / university experience,” she wrote.

Rich Payne did not respond to multiple calls for comment or to an email sent to their district email address. Gregory also did not respond to requests for comment, but Cortez said she consulted him on the information she sent or told The Gazette.

According to cellphone records, on the day the job was posted, December 11, 2020, Gregory called and left a message on the phone for Susan Payne, Founder of Safe2Tell and Director of Safety and Security Management. safety at Cheyenne Mountain School District 12.

When she called back, the two spoke on the phone for 18 minutes. Grady, the former executive director of security and transportation for D-20, added that cellphone records show Gregory and Susan Payne shared a 30-minute call two days before Grady’s retirement on the 13th. November, and appeared to keep in touch based on several other messages and calls during and after office hours over the past year.

In the district statement, Cortez said it was true that Gregory had had several phone conversations with Susan Payne, but added that at the time she was acting as the K-12 liaison with the county public health. El Paso and that the conversations were about his role with the health department.

When reached by phone, Susan Payne said Gregory was a “subject matter expert on school safety” but declined to answer further questions about her phone calls with the qualifications of. Gregory or Rich Payne.

In the district records of the original job posting, Rich Payne was among five other applicants – three with a master’s degree, one with a doctorate, and one with a bachelor’s degree. In the “qualifications required” section of the position, the district required a bachelor’s degree in criminology and five or more years of law enforcement experience.

Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Lt. Jim Sokolik said Payne started in the department in February 1989 and retired in August 2014. Payne then worked at the Douglas County School District as principal. school safety and security, according to documents from that district, in early July. June 28, 2014 and ending June 30, 2021, according to district spokesperson Paula Hans.

He has also served as a safety consultant for the Jefferson County School District, according to Douglas County and Academy School District 20. documents and recordings, for over two years prior to his post in Douglas County. Cortez said he served in Jefferson County while working for the Colorado Springs Police Department between 2012 and 2014.

In hiring records provided to the district, Payne said he had completed “a bit of college,” but did not have a degree.

Cortez said the district had “no right answer” as to why Payne was considered for the job under the original advertisement when he did not have the required qualifications. She said the district human resources department was investigating the matter as part of an investigation into the official complaint filed by Grady.

Later, after speaking with members of the original hiring committee, including Gregory and Dr Jim Smith, she said committee members considered Payne “even though he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree” because he had “a ton of professional law enforcement experience.” and because of his roughly six years in Douglas County, “a bigger school district.”

Liebowitz, who retired from the district at the end of June, was among the candidates who applied for the top security post. Prior to his stint at D-20, which began in early 2019, Liebowitz said he worked with the Colorado Springs Police Department from 1979 to 2009. Gregory told him he was the “guy to beat. “before applying for the post of director. , said Liebowitz, members of the district’s hiring committee informed him and other applicants that they were not ready to select someone for the job and were canceling the search.

Liebowitz said he decided not to reapply “because the writing was on the wall.”

More than a month later, on March 19, the position was re-posted, this time with amended qualifications required allowing candidates to apply if they have a bachelor’s degree in criminology, or experience in law enforcement or in school safety, or five years or more in leadership or higher education administration positions. Cortez said the qualifications had been altered to cast a wider net in an industry that hiring committee members felt did not require the required qualifications from educators, for example, adding that often “the best in the industry – they don’t even have a diploma. “

Of the original candidates, only Payne reappeared in the preliminary interview records, and the second posting resulted in four candidates compared to the six in the first posting, according to district records.

Payne was selected as the top candidate on the hiring committee, which did not include Gregory the second time around, under the job posting with amended qualifications, and was presented as such by Gregory to the D-20 Board. of Education, who confirmed her hiring at a public meeting on May 6. According to his letter of hire, Payne’s annual salary started at $ 137,500 pre-tax, over $ 15,000 on the position’s salary range of $ 112,000 to $ 122,000 listed on the second job posting.

According to the district’s monthly pay stubs starting on the effective date of his appointment, July 1, that annual salary apparently rose to over $ 143,000 at one point.

Cortez said in the district statement that “the salary for the position is commensurate with that of other director positions, with similar work / professional experience,” adding that when the district posts a salary scale, it takes into account the number of years of experience. a candidate has and can pay more by providing “monetary credit for accurate and related work experience”. When asked, the district was unwilling to disclose the formula it uses for this monetary credit.

Douglas County School District payroll records obtained by Grady under Colorado Open Records Act applications show that Payne in 2020 made just under $ 121,000.

Grady and Liebowitz said they were concerned about Payne’s “compliance” in a safety leadership role, citing two weeks of “staff leave” he took in the first month of his contract, according to staff records, which according to the leave request the logs were recorded months later, on November 3, after Grady requested the records from the district on November 2.

Cortez noted that Payne admitted during his interview that he “already had travel plans” but said he “used the wrong type of leave” and that “the issue has since been resolved and clarified. with Mr. Payne “.

Citing login records, Grady also noted a delay of almost six weeks between the first time Payne logged into a district computer and the second time, which appeared to be August 23.

Liebowitz also highlighted Payne’s time as director of security in Douglas County, noting that he had difficulty obtaining threat assessment and district security reports under Payne’s direction for them. students charged with felonies attempting to transfer to District 20. They also highlighted Payne’s decision to purchase ten AR-15 rifles for school security in that district, claiming it showed Payne was someone who wasn’t ‘didn’t have a “big picture of how things should go.”

When asked if there was any friction when simultaneously serving as the Colorado Springs Police Officer, Liebowitz said he and Payne had never clashed and maintained a ” professional working relationship ”, which resulted in friendliness in their interactions when Payne was in Douglas County. Grady noted that his complaint was not about “the person”, but rather behavior and responsibility.

“In this situation, they hired someone who was relationship-based, not qualifications-based, and that’s wrong,” Grady said in an interview. “I don’t know what the relationship is, I don’t care about the relationship, all I know is that employment opportunities have to be fair. “

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