PARKER – Union-endorsed candidate Bill Hodges asserts that he’ll “heal the damage done” if elected to the Douglas County School Board. But, the parents of children who were the victims of a teacher’s abuse still wonder why Hodges protected that educator who was later financially rewarded.
Hodges refused to fire the teacher for assaulting a student in 2002, and four years later the same teacher faced a second abuse charge and stepped down. But, thanks in part to Hodges, that teacher was paid $42,000 over several months – after he resigned in November 2006.
The teacher, Todd Bennethum, also received a $1,250 bonus for being an “outstanding educator” in 2006 despite criminal charges of child abuse and students’ reports of verbal abuse.
After the first incident in 2002, the Bennethum continued to receive salary increases and additional pay for curricular activities and duties in the school district.
Records indicate that Bennethum was paid $5,272 a month – for eight months – after he resigned according to records obtained by The Colorado Observer through a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.
Hodges was Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Douglas County School District at the time. In that position, Hodges also helped negotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, which was a contract agreement that appears to have locked in salary increases each August and renewed annual contracts.
“This was most non-adversarial collective bargaining group I have ever worked with,” said Hodges, who described them as partners. “They advocated that they didn’t want a bad teacher in front of our kids in the district any more than we did.”
Bennethum, a teacher at Mountain Vista High School and girls’ softball team coach, struck a member of the team in 2002 and was arrested on charges of child abuse and assault. In a plea bargain, Bennethum pleaded guilty to assault and was given a 12-month deferred sentence.
Instead of firing Bennethum, Hodges transferred the teacher to ThunderRidge High School. Four years later, the teacher hit a student over the head with a ruler because the class was too noisy.
The boy’s mother questioned why the district had a “zero tolerance” policy for kids, but had allowed Bennethum to continue teaching after a previous assault. She wanted to know why the teacher hadn’t been fired in 2002.
“We just felt at the time the severity of the situation didn’t justify a termination,” Hodges told 7News after the assault in October 2006.
After the assault in October 2006, Hodges put Bennethum on paid administrative leave.
After the child abuse in 2002, the teacher’s salary increased from an average $3,873 to $4,208, and $5,272 in 2006, which continued to be paid monthly through July 2007 – eight months after Bennethum had resigned and was no longer employed.
Hodges told the Rocky Mountain News that Bennethum “is a very good teacher. He’s is extremely well thought of.”
Hodges and the school district administration began their own investigation into the assault, questioning students who witnessed it. But Bennethum resigned before appearing in court to answer abuse charges on Nov. 20, 2006.
The incident has been the subject of campaign advertisements in the hotly contested race.
Hodges is running against DSCD Board member Doug Benevento, who is a member of the current school board that cut ties with the teachers union – a key issue in this election.
“We wouldn’t accede to union demands that we take $300,000 a year out of the classroom to pay its leadership team, none of whom do any work in the district,” said Benevento. “We raised concerns that while the union was collecting $1.3 million in dues, it was only spending about $4,900 on professional development for its members.”
“For some, the concern isn’t about students or parents or achievement,” wrote Benevento. “It’s because we refused to sign a contract with the union.”
Hodges did not respond to requests for comment.