12.10.15 BOE meeting tonight!

Clean SlateWe’ve been a bit quiet, but like you, our schedules are full of school concerts and other assorted holiday events. (Trust me when I say the above is an understatement!) Also? Not much is happening yet for us to write about.

Here’s what has happened since we last posted:

  • The new board members were sworn in and talked about their priorities. Those aren’t a surprise: employee compensation (for everyone, not just teachers), restoring trust, addressing growth areas in the district, student achievement, managing district resources, testing and assessment, and revisiting the composition of the newly-formed District Accountability Committee to address any gaps.
  • Brad Miller resigned, effective Nov. 30.
  • Board members held a study session on Nov. 30 to talk though how they will do outreach with the community and to map out next meetings.

The study session was basically about process: how they schedule school visits, how they should do community outreach meetings (like community budget forums), etc. You can watch or listen to the full meeting here:  http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310/videos/105904116.

They’ll have their first regular meeting today. The study session starts at 5:30 and is about the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). They’ll likely also talk a bit about projections for the 2015-16 budget cycle, which begins soon.

The regular meeting begins at 6:30 and it looks like public comment will occupy the vast majority of the agenda. The consent agenda largely contains the usual: approval of minutes, approval of contracts for temporary buildings at overcrowded NW Arvada schools, mill levy certification (which happens every year in December), and approval of new hires, staffing changes, and resignations.

The only unusual item is about a reconfiguration of Bradford Elementary from a K-6 to a K-8. According to Superintendent McMinimee and district staff, the change is being driven by parents, students and staff, and those affected have been able to comment on the change at meetings at the school and through a survey. The board members asked about this specific item and questioned whether it should be on the consent agenda at their Nov. 30 study session, and the advice they were given was that this decision is being made with support from that community.

The board will also work on the calendar and agenda for upcoming meetings.

The last item on the agenda is listed as a two-hour executive session to “receive legal advice on the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials, and relevant board and district policies related to the same.”

The fact that it’s listed as an executive session has already drawn fire from the usual players, including one who ironically commented that the public deserves to know why the board might need its own counsel. Guess she finally caught on to what JCSBW has been saying for two years – not to mention parents, students, community members and the two members of the board minority. We will also note, however, that unlike two years ago, the agenda item is to merely to receive information.

We’ll also remind readers that former BOE attorney Brad Miller required such the board members to meet to discuss what legal counsel the board would need. That requirement was in his original contract and was mentioned again in his resignation letter:

Please note that upon receipt of notice of termination, the Board agreed that it immediately will make a good faith effort and take all necessary steps to obtain any needed new counsel.

We applaud the efforts of the new board to immediately learn what they need to do to be fully compliant with both Colorado open meetings laws and the Colorado Open Records Act. That was very clearly a problem for members of the old board, as we noted in the past. Should this agenda item also be conducted in open session? Perhaps, though receiving legal advice on specific legal questions is a protected use of executive session:

State and local public bodies (including college and university boards) may use executive sessions to receive advice from an attorney on specific legal questions.

It’s also possible that board members may choose to conduct some of the agenda item in public before moving to executive session to request legal advice about other specific questions they may have. In either case, moving to executive session requires a vote, so we’ll see what they choose to do.

You can watch the fun here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

And as suggested by a reader, we’re going to start ending our posts with a new phrase:

JeffCo Proud!

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll update about tonight’s meeting, unless the pile of holiday preparations awaiting buries us until January.


 

11.18.15 Ready for a New Era

motivation-is-when-your-dreams-put-on-work-clothes

As you can tell, we’ve been enjoying some rest the last couple of weeks (translation: we’ve been tackling all the stuff we put off until after the election, and this proves that we’re actually parents and not a funded 24/7 machine!). But we’re not going away. Yes, we’re excited about the Clean Slate. We’re thrilled that we’ll have a full set of school board members dedicated to tackling the many challenges that Jeffco Schools faces with careful consideration and community input.

But we also know that WNW supporters are incensed that voters exercised their critical thinking skills and clearly stated that partisan politics have no place in our schools. They’ve always been fired up, but their outrage took on a new level at the Nov. 5 board meeting. We’re not going to repeat their drivel here because it doesn’t deserve the light of day (and can be heard on the recording of the meeting anyhow). It’s clear that our job is not done.

What we know:

  • There are challenging decisions ahead
  • The new board members will solicit community input
  • Community input needs to be based on good information
  • WNW supporters are already working to spread their lies and rumors.

So we’ll continue to watch. For the time being, we hope to simply highlight the topics that will be addressed at upcoming board meetings and to provide a summary of the meeting afterward. We’ll try to highlight big issues and give you a more detailed picture as it comes. And we’ll let you know what else we’re seeing and hearing out there. Brad Miller, WNW’s board attorney hired under extremely questionable circumstances and the top vote-getter among a poll of our readers, has already resigned, opening the door for less partisan legal counsel and discussions.

We hesitate to say that we’ll let you know what we’re seeing from “the other side” because this is not an our side/their side fight. But — and we cannot emphasize this strongly enough — the Independence Institute, Jeffco Students First, and the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity do see this as an our side/their side fight. They don’t see middle ground nor do they value it, and they are already making it clear that they will fight anything that doesn’t align to their very strict, partisan ideology with every lie and rumor they can fabricate. Jon Caldara also made it clear they intend to start working now, “ruthlessly” and “24/7” in order to be successful in 2017 when the three seats are up for election again.

We, on the other hand, recognize that there are many perspectives on education, many needs to address and insufficient resources for doing so. We hope the board members are able to successfully navigate the decision-making process and find the middle ground — and that they’re equally successful in communicating that message to the public.

We’ll continue watching and hope you’ll continue reading.

The Clean Slate members, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell will be sworn in this Thursday, 11/19, at 5:30 pm in the board room. They’ll decide leadership positions, and then will hear public comment if you’d like to sign up for a slot. It should be refreshing to have five board members who care about what we think. We’re looking forward to it.


 

11.2.15 The final push: Get out the vote!

ballot

Today and Tuesday before 7 are the last chances to vote if you haven’t and more importantly — to remind every Jeffco voter to turn in that ballot.

You can find drop-off locations here: http://jeffco.us/elections/voting-and-registration/drop-off-locations/.

Colorado also allows same-day voter registration, so if someone you know thinks they can’t vote, please direct them to one of the Jeffco Voter Service & Polling Center locations.

We need to recall Jeffco School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams and we need every vote. We’ve outlined the reasons we support the recall, and we hope that you will continue spreading the word in this final stretch.

Need a reminder about how to fill out the ballot:

  1. Vote for Ali Lasell in District 3
  2. Vote for Amanda Stevens in District 4
  3. Vote yes to recall Julie Williams.
  4. Vote for Brad Rupert as the successor candidate.
  5. Vote yes to recall John Newkirk.
  6. Vote for Susan Harmon as the successor candidate.
  7. Vote yes to recall Ken Witt.
  8. Vote for Ron Mitchell as the successor candidate.
  9. Drop off your ballot at a drop-off location or in a 24-hour ballot box by 7 pm this Tuesday, 11/3.

It’s as easy as that. Go vote if you haven’t, and if you have some time on Monday, considering phone banking during the day or in the vening to help encourage others to vote too.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

10.26.15 WNW #LogicFail

LogicFailThe irony is impossible to miss. Jeffco School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, aka WNW, claim to be “laser-focused” on student achievement…but only in certain cases. Ditto for fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency, and respect. For example:

When it comes to offering free full-day kindergarten to low-income families at a cost of $600,000, they said it’s not a mandate and we can’t afford it.

When it comes to equalizing mill levy funds–a move that is is not mandated and that at a cost of $8.1 million is 13.5 times more than it would cost to expand free full-day kindergarten, WNW said “it’s only fair.”

#LogicFail

When approached with any district request, WNW demand to know how it will impact student achievement.

When WNW equalized funding for charter schools, they didn’t ask how it would improve student achievement.

When told how full-day kindergarten improves student achievement for at-risk families, WNW ignored multiple national studies that demonstrate achievement gains, including Jeffco results that clearly showed student gains when they controlled for days attended (which is what good scientific studies do).

#LogicFail

WNW claim that they are moving Jeffco forward because they improved student achievement results.

As proof, WNW cite Jeffco graduation rates from before they took office.

#LogicFail

When WNW wanted to make sure the DAC aligned more closely with state statutes than the former SPAC did, they rewrote membership so that it was in violation of state law.

When this was pointed out to them — after they tried to rush the approval through that night without revisions and eventually agreed to follow their own policies — Witt said “that’s why this ‘compromise’ makes sense.”

#LogicFail

WNW are bragging about the school they “built” without incurring debt. But wait–do you see a new school in Candelas? No? Neither do we. Perhaps they should try “are building?” And that’s without addressing the fact that the K-6 school WNW approved is neither as large as it should be, that it will require an addition, that the district’s recommendation was for a K-8 and that new schools are needed in two other locations plus an expansion to Sierra Elementary, or the fact that by taking $18 million from the operating budget, they’ve left nothing for addressing unexpected budget needs like security.

#LogicFail

WNW repeatedly say they want a new District Accountability Committee that doesn’t look like the former Strategic Planning Advisory Council and that is truly aligned with state laws. Then John Newkirk proposes a membership that violates state laws.

#LogicFail

And our favorite: when Witt held a closed-door press conference to announce he was asking the Independent Ethics Commission to investigate him regarding allegations that he violated the Colorado open meetings act. Note that the IEC has no jurisdiction over school boards, that they do not weigh in on open meetings laws, and that they exist to advise about future decisions — and that Witt somehow thought a closed-door press conference was the perfect antidote to allegations of closed-door meetings.

#LogicFail #LogicFail #LogicFail

You know what you need to do. Vote and get those ballots in by Nov. 3 — or better, yet, turn in them in tomorrow! The sooner you turn them in, the sooner both sides will stop calling you and knocking on your door.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Vote for Ali Lasell in District 3
  2. Vote for Amanda Stevens in District 4
  3. Vote yes to recall Julie Williams
  4. Vote for Brad Rupert as successor candidate
  5. Vote yes to recall John Newkirk
  6. Vote for Susan Harmon as successor candidate
  7. Vote yes to recall Ken Witt
  8. Vote for Ron Mitchell as successor candidate
  9. Turn in your ballot by 7 pm on Tuesday, November 3. 

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

10.25.15 One reader responds to the Denver Post

election_ballot_box_2We received a message from a recall supporter who had a letter published in the Denver Post in response to their Oct. 14 editorial against the recall effort. Because the Post required him to keep the letter to about 150 words and eliminate the chart and percentages in his original letter, we’re reprinting the full letter as he originally submitted it.

His letter speaks to the board majority’s failure to adequately address teacher compensation, the exodus of our Jeffco teachers, and why we need to recall Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. We hope you will share it.

I was disappointed by your recent Editorial (Oct. 13th) suggesting that the Jeffco School Board recall effort should be rejected. But I was not surprised. While I have great respect for this paper and its dedicated employees, I have found its coverage of the new board majority to be very one-sided.

To focus on just one example: your editorial questioned why teachers would be upset by the recent pay plan, but neglected to mention that teachers only received a 1% average raise. This is well below market and was particularly painful for Jeffco teachers who gave up raises for years to help the District during the downturn and were promised they would be fairly compensated when the economy recovered. The new board majority broke that promise. I put together a chart outlining the raise that a teacher with a Master’s Degree and seven years of experience received from other districts versus Jeffco in 2015:

School District 2014/15 (Yr 6) Salary 2015/16 (Yr 7) Salary % Raise
Cherry Creek $51,680 $56,503 9.3%
Littleton $49,369 $52,751 6.9%
Aurora $50,373 $53,961 7.1%
Boulder $59,043 $61,909 4.9%
Average of 4 Districts $52,616 $56,281 7.0%
Jeffco $46,646 $47,112 1.0%
Percentage that the Average of Other Districts is Higher Than Jeffco 12.8% Higher 19.5% Higher 6.0% Higher

No wonder Jeffco teachers are upset and many are leaving the District! To make matters worse, the District sent an email to parents touting the “raise” without telling anyone how under market the raises were. That was very misleading. And if the Board majority continues these extremely small raises for the next several years, the effect on teacher pay and teacher retention could be devastating.

I am the son of a former teacher and husband of a current Jeffco teacher, and strongly believe that most teachers are heroes in our community, giving everything they have for their students. Thus, rather than being the enemy, Jeffco teachers deserve to be treated with respect and to be fairly compensated as they were promised during the recession.  Unfortunately, I think’s it’s very clear the current board majority feels differently and thus needs to be recalled.

John Mulhern lives in Arvada with his wife and three children who attend Jeffco schools.

We can’t say it enough: Please vote for Ali Lasell in District 3 and Amanda Stevens in District 4. Then vote YES to recall Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt, and choose successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell.

Don’t know where to find a 24-hour ballot drop box? Look here.

24 hour Drive-up Ballot locations- Jefferson County, Colorado

Elections Locations for Voting and Ballots – 24 hour Drop-off locations

A list of other ballot drop-off locations is here.

And for early voting and polling center locations you can look here.