A rebuke for Mr. Cacioppo | VailDaily.com
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A rebuke for Mr. Cacioppo

Eagle County School Board

In his rhetoric, Michael Cacioppo casts himself as a government watchdog waging a Don Quixotic battle against “the system.” In the opinion of the Eagle County School District Board of Education, his actions demonstrate a far different reality. What he has done, versus what he has said, reveals a man who appears to be interested in making a quick buck at the expense of schoolchildren and manufacturing “news” for his own “newspaper.”For more than two years, the school district and Mr. Cacioppo have been engaged in a high stakes legal battle regarding ballot question 3-D. Because this was an active lawsuit, members of the school board could not comment regarding the case. During a 28-month period, Mr. Cacioppo temporarily thwarted the will of Eagle County’s voters as demonstrated in the November 2001 election. He also held up cost-of-living payments to school district employees – money the voters wanted them to have and money they well deserve in compensation for the vital work they do every day.To understand how the school district became entwined in such a quagmire, it is important to understand one central fact. The district did not launch this battle, but having been attacked, the Board of Education had no other option but to respond. The district would much rather have spent more than $100,000 on library books and computers. Mr. Cacioppo left the Board of Education with no other option than to spend that money on attorneys’ fees to uphold a legal ballot issue that was properly presented to the voters. Scenarios such as the 3-D debacle are rooted in complicated histories. Consider what Eagle County School District has endured to defend this suit:– The 3-D case is not the first lawsuit the district has experienced at the hands of Mr. Cacioppo. In the past, even though school board members believed they had acted in good faith and within the law, the district agreed to settle cases with him in an attempt to minimize costs and save taxpayers’ money. However, these experiences taught former and current school board members two important lessons. The first is don’t bother signing a settlement agreement with Mr. Cacioppo because he will not abide by the terms it sets. The second is that any money paid to Mr. Cacioppo will simply be applied to his next lawsuit against you.– In 2001, Eagle County School District decided to present a cost-of-living adjustment question to the voters. Under the guidance of the district’s attorneys, a ballot question and TABOR notice were written to comply with Colorado election law. During an August meeting, the Board of Education approved the ballot question for that vote. Mr. Cacioppo correctly asserts that from this very early point, he voiced objections to the ballot language. Colorado law allows for such objections and provides five days to voice such concerns to the district court. Presenting his objections would not have required a full-blown lawsuit. Rather it would have been as simple as presenting a written petition to the court seeking a review of the language. After such a petition is filed, the district would have had five days to respond. The court would then have had 10 days to summarily rule on the challenge. The District Court would have provided corrected wording for the ballot question if it had determined there were any problems with the original language. This entire process would have taken 20 days and would have, at the latest, been completed by Aug. 28, 2001. The law is written this way to avoid the very situation that Eagle County School District has experienced for the past two years – the contesting of election ballot language long after the voters have made their decision. Mr. Cacioppo ignored this established procedure. — After approving the ballot question, the Citizens for Quality Education prepared its fact sheet for 3-D, which was included in the district’s TABOR notice. In the very same TABOR notice, Mr. Cacioppo’s statements in opposition to the ballot question were included. In simplest terms, the 3-D election sought additional money for employees because it costs more to live in Eagle County than it does to live in other parts of the state. The 3-D election also provided funding for a performance pay initiative and this effort eventually led to the launch of the Teacher Advancement Program. The voters agreed with the philosophy behind 3-D and 3,945 of them voted in favor of 3-D – representing 59 percent of the vote. If Mr. Cacioppo desired to contest the election results and any TABOR notice issues, he had 10 days from the date the election results were certified to file a challenge. This date was well after the TABOR notice was mailed in September and after the election results were known.– In February of 2002, Mr. Cacioppo filed his lawsuit contesting the ballot language and TABOR notice for 3-D. Within three and one-half months of that filing, Judge Ruland (a former judge from the Colorado Court of Appeals who was substituting for Judge Hart who was out on medical leave) handed down a decision stating that the case was barred from proceeding because Mr. Cacioppo failed to comply with the five-day rule. Mr. Cacioppo filed a motion for reconsideration and Judge Hart agreed to try the case on its “merits.” It is interesting to note that two years later, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with Judge Ruland’s original ruling barring the claims. It is also interesting to note that at the time Judge Ruland ruled, the district’s total legal bill for the 3-D litigation would have been approximately $13,000.– In February of 2003, the 3-D case was heard by Judge Richard Hart. At trial, Mr. Cacioppo, who at that time had legal representation, presented the “merits” of his case. In April of 2003, Judge Hart ruled in favor of the district on all counts. Mr. Cacioppo did have his day in court to argue his case and he lost. He elected to appeal the case.– Finally, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Mr. Cacioppo – a stickler for the process when it involves other people – failed to follow the law for challenging the 3-D ballot language. The Supreme Court also noted that Mr. Cacioppo is not entitled to seek punishments based on what he hypothesizes the district could do in the future. The Supreme Court, on different grounds, thus affirmed Judge Hart’s ruling regarding the merits of the case. Under well-established legal principles, Judge Hart’s ruling still stands and remains binding on the district and Mr. Cacioppo. Monday’s ruling was a complete victory for Eagle County School District, its students, its employees and its taxpayers. But by threatening to file an additional lawsuit, Mr. Cacioppo still believes he can “win.” He is ignoring the reality that future claims by him on these issues are prohibited by law.– Throughout these two years, Mr. Cacioppo has presented numerous settlement offers that would have put money in his personal pocket while at the same time freeing up the 3-D money for the district. Apparently, he was willing to allow 3-D to stand as long as he could personally benefit from it. The last of his settlement offers came only three weeks ago and in it he sought payment of $288,000, an amount far in excess of his estimated legal expenses. Eagle County School District has important work to do. We must focus on our mission to “Educate Every Student for Success.” We have made a commitment to our community to make sure that a highly trained and well-prepared teacher is in front of every student every day. We are excited and invigorated by these challenges. We are thrilled that our efforts can now be directed at improving student achievement without the distraction of this misguided lawsuit. Michael Cacioppo may well file another lawsuit. The district certainly cannot prevent him from doing so, and as everyone knows, it is all about Mike. However, the district has Colorado’s highest court upholding the legality of 3-D and will proceed with paying its employees. Eagle County School District can understand why Mr. Cacioppo wants to keep his 3-D case alive. It has provided him with extensive media coverage. He must have believed that this litigation gave him massive negotiation leverage as he held up money from district employees. The district fully expects to receive a new settlement offer from him any day. Some people never learn.The members of the Eagle County School Board are Scott Green, president, Andy Arnold, Louise Funk, Connie Kincaid-Strahan, Mary Ann Stavney, Carri Tedstrom, Keith Thompson.


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