CASTLE ROCK – A candidate for Douglas County School Board is under fire for protecting a union teacher convicted of assaulting a student after the same teacher assaulted another student four years later.
When Bill Hodges was the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Douglas County Schools in 2002, teacher Todd Bennethum at Mountain Vista High School was arrested for child abuse and eventually convicted of assault after he struck a student softball player.
Four years later, after being transferred to a different school, Bennethum struck a student in his class at ThunderRidge High School and was again charged with child abuse.
When Hodges was questioned by 7News as to why the teacher wasn’t fired after the first assault conviction, he said “at the time we felt the severity of the situation didn’t justify a termination.”
The mother of the second student was reportedly frustrated by Hodges’ decision, asking 7News that if the school had a zero tolerance policy for violence from students, then why didn’t teachers have to abide by the same standards?
According to Hodges, who could have prevented the incident had Bennethum been terminated after the first offense, “…what happened at Mountain Vista High School was not severe enough for us to move for dismissal.”
“He’s a very good teacher…extremely well thought of,” Hodges continued.
Bennethum’s students remember he had a “short temper.”
“He was a strict teacher who taught straight out of the book. He yelled a lot,” noted a former student after the second incident.
That controversy is now appearing on Douglas County voters’ screens across the district in the form of a TV ad from the Douglas County Education Alliance (DCEA), which is tying Hodges’ judgment regarding Bennethum to his role in negotiating a controversial deal with the teachers union.
In his role as Assistant Superintendent, Hodges helped negotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union.
“This was the most non-adversarial collective bargaining group I have ever worked with… [they] truly were our partners, and they advocated that they didn’t want a bad teacher in front of our kids in the district any more than we did,” Hodges said.
But, as the Denver Post reported, that deal became controversial after it was discovered that it included a “verbal side agreement” that allowed the union to use district dollars to pay staff salaries for union employees who spent no time in the classroom. According to the Denver Post‘s investigation, over $1.3 million was diverted to union salaries since 2007 – the largest in Colorado.
The current board decided to end that agreement, which board supporters say has driven the public campaign against it.
Voters will decide whether Hodges’ relationship with the union and his judgment regarding violence in the classroom disqualifies him to serve on the school board on November 5 when he faces Doug Benevento for the District E board seat in November.