While discussing the request, two members cited a recent Times Recorder article

Colorado’s Board of Education voted 6-3 earlier this month to deny the Elizabeth School District’s substitute teacher licensure waiver request. Two board members cited a “concerning” Colorado Times Recorder article as part of the reason.

“We do get news in our CDE (Colorado Department of Education) email boxes, and you are one of the articles in there, meaning Elizabeth, about this relationship to Tagg. It was very concerning, and I wanted to ask you if there’s anything in that article you would like to dispute,” said Karla Esser, Colorado Board of Education director.

The article highlights the relationship between Elizabeth Superintendent Dan Snowberger and the district’s attorney Brad Miller to Tagg Education (Tagg), an app-based service that matches a pool of users with open substitute spots. Tagg conducts background checks on its independent contractors but doesn’t require them to obtain a substitute teaching license from CDE.

Trevor Miller, Brad’s son, and his cousin Andrew Lundeen founded the company in 2018. Lundeen’s father, Paul Lundeen, is the state Senate Minority Leader and serves on the Senate Education Committee.

The senior Miller didn’t sign a conflict of interest disclosure with the Elizabeth School District when it contracted with Tagg to provide substitute recruiting and placement services last summer, despite admitting he has a financial interest in his son’s company. 

The article also highlights how Tagg stands to gain financially if more public school districts ask for and receive a substitute license waiver, a practice common among charter schools. Colorado has around 270 charter schools and 2,000 public schools. Opening their services to public schools could exponentially increase their bottom line. Only one district, ​​Falcon School District 49 (D49) in El Paso County, has a substitute license waiver, which the state board approved in 2018. 

In response to Esser’s question, Snowberger said he spoke with “that reporter,” and none of what was printed was true. Yet, neither Snowberger nor Miller contacted the Times Recorder to dispute Snowberger’s quotes. The Colorado Times Recorder stands by its reporting.

Snowberger also didn’t offer evidence of false statements. Instead, he said, “Unfortunately, this is a media outlet that has chosen not to print any of the accurate facts, so I’m happy to sit down with you and present all of the facts we’ve shared with that outlet.”

The board’s six Democrats, Esser, Rebecca McClellan, Angelika Schroeder, Lisa Escárcega, Rhonda Solis, and Kathy Plomer, sided against the district. Its three Republicans, Steve Durham, Debora Scheffel, and Stephen Varela, voted in favor.

Snowberger voices outrage in op-ed letter

In an opinion letter published by The Center Square, Snowberger wrote, “I am saddened that board members Escárcega, Esser, McClellan, Plomer, Schroeder, and Solis showed such disdain for rural teachers and denied them a simple request for relief.”

Noting their “condescending tones and statements,” Snowberger said the board voted down the waiver “citing concerns over background checks.” 

All educators must pass a Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check. CDE conducts those checks on licensed teachers and substitutes, while schools or administrations are responsible for ensuring non-licensed educators go through the same process. 

Board president McClellan worried that a third-party service like Tagg could change how it flags and monitors criminal behavior without disclosing its protocols. She said her concern wasn’t knowing background checks are conducted but rather subcontracting the state’s responsibility to a private firm. Private companies also aren’t subject to open records laws and have no obligation to be transparent despite receiving taxpayer dollars from school districts.

Escárcega, who also mentioned reading the article, said she struggled with the fact that the number of unlicensed substitutes working in charter schools is actually very small and that CDE has made it incredibly easy for interested applicants to obtain a license. 

CDE executive director of school choice, Bill Kottenstette, added that the turnaround time for getting a substitute license once fingerprinting is complete is just one day. Solis also agreed that the state has done everything it can to simplify the process and that she’s confident the current guard rails in place are necessary.

Durham and Scheffel argued that the substitute license waiver is a well-supported solution to a documented problem and that what works for one district may not work for another. 

Woodland Park Considering Substitute Licensure Waiver Request

One day before the state board ‘s vote against the Elizabeth request, the Woodland Park School District posted a public notice in the Colorado Springs Gazette that it was considering filing a similar waiver. 

The district hasn’t responded to whether its board will continue considering a waiver proposal when it meets next month. 

Screenshot from the Colorado Spring Gazette.

Snowberger, Woodland Park Superintendent Ken Witt and Miller, who also represents the Woodland Park district, worked together at Education ReEnvisioned BOCES. BOCES stands for Board of Cooperative (Educational) Services.

During a phone interview, Snowberger said that while he worked for Witt at one time, there’s a reason he’s not working for him now. 

“I’m here in Elizabeth. This board had some major conflicts. I’ve come in, and I think you can agree that in the last year since I’ve been here, the board has not been in conflict. We haven’t adopted American Birthright Standards, and we have no intention of doing so. We have governed calmly. We have no nefarious plan, and it really upsets me when people try to paint us as something that we’re not.”