The Iowa Board of Education voted Friday to temporarily appoint a new superintendent and chief financial officer to the Davenport Community School District. It is the first time the state board has taken such an action against a district.
Superintendent Robert Kobylski or interim CFO Lisa Crews have not been fired, said Amy J. Williamson, of the education department’s bureau of school improvement.
That decision is in the hands of the district’s board. But the district will bear the cost of the temporary replacements, the board said.
The move comes as the district has spent several years working with the Iowa Department of Education to address noncompliance issues identified during state audits of its operations. Among the issues identified was disproportionality, the disproportionate number of Black students flagged for special education services, and the higher number of Black and special-education students who receive certain types of disciplinary action, including suspension, seclusion and restraint. During the process, the district was only conditionally accredited by the state education board while it worked to make the required corrections.
The state board said the district is failing to meet objectives in an action plan to bring it into compliance.
“We don’t feel that Davenport appears to be taking this seriously,” Williamson said in her report to the state board.
"The (state department) has made every effort over the past three years to work with the Davenport Community School District to address inequities in how minority students are disciplined, inadequate special education services, and serious school safety concerns,” according to an education department release issued after the decision.
The appointees will have the authority until the state board believes they are no longer necessary, Williamson said. They will answer directly to the state.
Kobylski and Bruce Potts, the Davenport school board president, both spoke before the vote.
“During my 14-month tenure at Davenport, I have witnessed the collective energy and attention devoted to improving our accreditation status as well as a genuine desire to commit to a model of continuous improvement,” Kobylski said.
He closed Keystone Academy, which he described as a place where misbehaving students — predominantly students of color — were sent, not a program. Those students were returned to their home schools and are now thriving, he said.
The district has been working to improve while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Potts said the district board has developed standards and goals for Kobylski and itself meant to address the citations issued against the district. They deal with topics that include academic achievement, finances and disproportionality.
The board has added an extra meeting, and is setting aside time during meetings to review finances or special education and discuss progress on its citations.
“The school board is committed to this, we’re committing the superintendent to it,” Potts said.
After the vote, Mike Vondran, a district spokesman, said the district was waiting on details and a timeline from the state. More details would be released when they became available.
There was a public comment period during the meeting, and a number of people spoke — some in favor of leaving the existing staff in charge, others supporting the recommendation to replace them or asking for further help from the state.
Those making statements included several parents, Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, John Kealey, president of the Davenport Education Association, and Iowa legislators Cindy Winckler and Monica Kurth.
A recording of the meeting provided by the state is available here. The public comments, which include Kobylski and Potts’ statements, begin about 3:45 in the video and last about a half hour, Potts and Kobylski are toward the end.