Kim Johnson: The Worst Kind of Lies and Why You Really, Really Shouldn’t Vote for Her

distraction“Independent?” Really?! Says who?

There are lies that don’t matter much, but then there are lies that matter a whole lot. This lie matters a whole lot: Kim Johnson has been spinning a web of lies about her “independent” campaign.

Why? She doesn’t want to be associated with WNW — but she’s been working with them for months.

You see, Johnson was mentioned as a potential candidate in a Nov. 4, 2014 meeting of Jeffco Republicans.  On Dec. 13, Johnson met with the Jeffco Republican group and introduced herself “to the team.” The minutes also noted:

Kim expressed her strong desire to be part of this process regardless if she is the candidate or not

You can read the emails containing the two sets of meeting minutes at this link, thanks to our friends at Support Jeffco Kidshttp://www.supportjeffcokids.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Opposition-meeting-minutes-1.pdf

Months later, Denise Mund — who previously co-owned Charter School Solutions with Jeffco board attorney Brad Miller, sent this June 29 email stating that Johnson was selected by the same “team” after an extensive, months-long vetting process:

After months of meetings, about 12 Jeffco conservative education leaders have selected a candidate for the Jeffco school board, to represent District 3 (Arvada).

Five prospective candidates participated in an extensive vetting process that included weekly meetings for five months and mock interviews, speeches, and responses. These people were grilled!

Following this extensive vetting process, the team selected Kim Johnson.

In a recent blog post on her campaign website, Johnson readily admits that she was asked “early on” to be part of a team. She says she “chose not to, because it would undercut my goals in running.” Then she goes on to say that “members of that group decided to support me, but saying anyone selected me is not accurate.”

We don’t buy it. And we especially don’t buy it because Johnson filed her campaign with the Colorado Secretary of State on June 19 — a mere 10 days before Mund sent her email stating that Johnson had been selected after a five-month vetting process. If Johnson knew she wanted to run as an “independent candidate,” why did she wait until she had the approval of the GOP selection committee? She could have announced her candidacy months earlier — but she didn’t.

And Johnson wasn’t picked by just ANY group. According to emails from Jonah Hearne, an officer with the Jeffco Republican Party, a group of “about 12 Jeffco conservative education leaders” convened to “contact the potential candidates for District 3 and 4 to invite them to a potential candidate meeting to discuss ideas and reach a consensus on who will be in it to win it with our support.” Other emails confirm this information. They included:

  • Sheila Atwell – executive director of Jeffco Students First, who publishes the Jeffco Observer, defends WNW at every turn, and who was often seen as the only face opposing the recall on the news over the summer (also the group to which the .com version of our domain name and the Support Jeffco Kids domain name redirects to trick recall supporters)
  • Ben DeGrow – the Independence Institute’s Education chief, who is also a graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies
  • Laura Boggs – former Jeffco School Board member censured twice for her reprehensible behavior
  • Denise Mund – former co-owner of Charter School Solutions with partner Brad Miller, (see above)
  • Preston Branaugh, Brett A. Moore, Rachel Swalley, Dan Green, David Brazzell, Jim Powers and Mary Everson.

The connections among the group involved in selecting Johnson run deep. Several of them ran for open seats on the Board of Education in 2011 or have been appointed to serve on district committees by WNW.

But now, because she says so on her website, we are to believe that Ms. Johnson is running an “independent campaign?”

No, ma’m. At this point, probably the worst lie you could tell when running for school board in Jeffco is to say that you’re independent when in fact you’re collaborating with WNW’s team. Hiding your intentions, again. We fell for it in 2013, but we won’t fall for it this time, Kim Johnson!

This is why JCSBW has been starting to use the term WNW + Johnson + Merritts.

If leaked memos aren’t convincing enough, consider that Johnson and Merritts both recently had ads in Atwell’s WNW/Koch mouthpiece (and newspaper wannabe) The Observer, and both candidates’ yard signs are appearing together. Jeffco Students First is also endorsing both of them.

The email string about Tori Merritts’ selection process just hasn’t been leaked yet.

It’s time for a clean slate — and we have just the ticket. So when you receive your 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 District 1 successor candidate
  5. Vote YES to recall John Newkirk
  6. Vote for Susan Harmon as District 2 successor candidate
  7. Vote YES to recall Ken Witt
  8. Vote for Ron Mitchell as District 5 successor candidate

Jeffco voters will start receiving their ballots this week. When you receive yours, please vote! Every vote counts, and we need yours.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

Story #8 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Koch Brothers and Other Major Outside Funding Flood Jeffco for WNW

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

Note that if we had run the poll this week, we certainly would have included Witt’s bizarre and appalling press conference that even his media allies can’t restrain themselves from criticizing and joking about. Safe to say that his presser will be on everyone’s mind for a while.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #8:

Koch

What Happened: To summarize what we posted a few weeks ago, in 2013, WNW sent approximately 6 mailers out across much of Jefferson County. Jeffco Students First also sent out “The Jeffco Observer.” According to multiple professional estimates, the mailers alone would have cost *at least* $200,000 dollars for design, printing, and postage. The Observer, designed largely to support WNW, cost a lot too.

These communications were paid for by sources outside of their official campaign reporting, by third-party organizations that were nonetheless formed specifically to aid WNW. This is what’s often called “dark money.” WNW’s campaigns also raised some money.

Clear as day on mailers was “Americans for Prosperity”: The Koch Brothers’ political advertising and activism machine. As for other donors? It appears that WNW’s biggest fundraiser took place in Arapahoe County, and the guest list was packed with wealthy donors from outside of Jeffco.

Meanwhile, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne, and Gordon “Spud” van de Water each raised in the $35,000-$60,000 range for their official campaigns. Those numbers were indeed higher than the “official” reporting for WNW’s campaigns, but A LOT LESS than the money that was spent on all of the mailers via the “dark money.” Why is that “dark money?” Because most or all of it came from the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity, or the other wealthy donors from outside Jeffco, and THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT.

It’s like comparing two families’ spending on food for a month, and saying that one spends a lot more after just comparing their grocery bills, neglecting the fact that the other family that’s spending less on groceries is only doing so because someone is paying for them to eat out at restaurants all the time. In the end, which family spent more?

It’s simple: WNW easily outspent their opponents in 2013. In their usual sneaky tactics, WNW’s allies are just looking only at the official campaign contributions in order to convince you that they were outspent, to further the idea that their elections were driven by a “grassroots” effort.  That’s both laughable and sad. As you can see, WNW really weren’t outspent, and that’s a major reason we’re in this mess.

Why It Matters: We think that everyone intuitively understands why this matters. Political research indicates that more than 90% of elections are decided by those who spend more money. Of course, some of that is because the candidates have real grassroots support among the people that know them, but the Kochs and others wouldn’t be doing this unless they knew that it was usually successful. In local elections, although people joke about putting mailers straight in the trash, they do work because they’re often the only exposure many busy voters have to candidates. Send a good mailer, get a vote.

The juxtaposition is shocking. Not that long ago, winning school board candidates in Jeffco commonly raised $10,000 – $20,000 for some yard signs and brochures, and perhaps a mailer to a cross-section of voters. The sudden transformation from the $10,000 range to $1,000,000+ should cause anyone alarm. That kind of jump in spending, especially on a nonpartisan election, should raise huge red flags about the political nature of the fight. It should also raise your hackles.

It is a disturbing trend that anyone can spend unlimited amounts, mostly hidden, wherever there want, on any local race in the country. Somehow it seems even more painful in Jeffco. Maybe that’s because we’re from Jeffco, and we pride ourselves in the rich history of independence and spirited debate among locals here. This is Colorado; this is Jeffco; we are independent and don’t take well to outsiders with an agenda trying to buy elections and supporting candidates that they don’t even know.

It also matters because it looks as if they’re on an even bigger spending spree to support WNW in 2015. Look for “Americans for Prosperity” on that TV ad, door hanger, or mailer…and then vote for Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell, who have vastly more local support in every way.


 

9.26.15 WNW illustrate why they’re being recalled

Chances are you’ve already seen the videos from the Sept. 24 board meeting. Colorado Pols said it best: Ken Witt Presents: How to Make the Case for Your Own Recall.

It was that bad. The whole meeting was bad. The three items we highlighted in the last post about this meeting? All three of them proved our suspicions. If you’re short on time, here’s the summary version:

  1. Witt, Newkirk and Williams are going for the nuclear option on the new District Accountability Committee (DAC), which was formerly SPAC – the Strategic Planning Advisory Council. They want to wipe it out and start over.
  2. Witt, Newkirk and Williams approved a K-6 school instead of the district-recommended K-8 at the Candelas site and then patted themselves on the back.
  3. A proposed budget increase for Jeffco security was pushed off for another month, and although WNW seemed to suggest they might vote for it, we also saw hints that another surprise is just waiting in the wings.

Now, the details.

Proposed DAC bylaws

The first agenda item was a second review of the proposed new DAC bylaws. The usual process is to review the bylaws, ask a few questions, make any additional revisions, and vote. That didn’t happen.

Instead, Newkirk revived his nuclear option and offered a lengthy motion detailing the membership of the new DAC. Surprise! He didn’t bother to share it with the full board until around 1 pm that afternoon. Somehow, both Witt and Williams had plenty of time to sit down and read it thoroughly. Dahlkemper and Fellman, meanwhile, had no idea that they should even expect anything new to be added with a board meeting only a few hours away. They told Newkirk they were not ready to vote on an item they had just received that afternoon, and had not had time to review it on account of things like work obligations.

And then it got ugly. You know the routine: Witt makes sneering remarks that suggest Fellman and Dahlkemper didn’t adequately prepare for the meeting and condescendingly implies that they aren’t very bright, while Fellman and Dahlkemper argue for following board policy in which a proposal is introduced at one meeting and voted on at the next. (One quote from Witt: “Ms. Dahlkemper, this has been read to you twice, but we can continue to go over it until you feel like you understand all of the terms.”) Dahlkemper and Fellman fought the good fight, as they have EVERY SINGLE MEETING since the board majority was elected. Colorado Pols included this quote from Dahlkemper’s response after she reached a point of extreme frustration, and it’s worth printing again here:

But I will tell you – the mistake that you are making right now is that we have a policy on the table about how we govern. You are throwing governance right out the window because you have some agenda that you feel so critical that we have to vote on tonight…that even a simple request that is to say, “Look, our policy says we review it, and then we vote on it.” And don’t you dare insinuate that I don’t understand this policy. And stop talking down to people on this board, and also people who come forward. Enough.

What Witt clearly doesn’t understand — or more likely, could care less about — is that having a discussion in which people toss around ideas, and reviewing a written document are not the same thing. In this case, the board had reviewed a proposal to split the SPAC into two committees:  a District Accountability Committee (DAC) and a separate Strategic Planning Advisory Committee. Members, rather than trying to cover two large topics, would focus on accountability measures in the former and strategic planning in the latter.

WNW have repeatedly expressed concern that SPAC didn’t adequately conform to state statutes, although even their own board lawyer, Brad Miller, assured them that everything was fine. But then the SPAC members suggested that it would be easier to split the two so each could focus on a separate set of duties. Those volunteers, including the SPAC chair and chair-elect, worked with district staff to write a new set of by-laws.

They met with the BOE at the Aug. 27 meeting to get feedback. For the record, those by-laws included a suggested membership. This was also the meeting where Newkirk suggested they clean house, appoint new members and then direct those members to write their bylaws. As we noted, the idea didn’t go anywhere at the time, but resurfaced in Newkirk’s motion.

There are several problems with Newkirk’s motion. For starters, how many people would be on the new DAC?

the Board of Education shall vote to appoint eleven members, which shall include parents, at least one member of the business community, and at least one and up to three teachers to the District Accountability Committee, which also shall have as members one School Accountability Committee president from each of the 17 parent articulation areas, and the Superintendent of the District

Huh? Newkirk specifies 11 members, but also specifies that the committee would include one SAC chair from 17 articulation areas. The math doesn’t add up.

+ 1 (or more?) parent + 1 business community representative + 1-3 teachers + 17 SAC chairs = 20 – 23 members.

Is Newkirk suggesting that the BOE would only appoint 11 members but there would also be more on the committee? Despite his concerns about poor ACT performance (cited in the motion!) did he not realize that 11 ≠ 20?

We weren’t the only ones who weren’t clear about what this meant. The motion that was eventually approved also directed staff to solicit applications for review a the Oct. 1 meeting (yes–solicit and receive applications in the space of one week). Staff and board members alike were also confused about how, who, and how many applications they should solicit.

Staff asked what information applicants should include. Witt said applicants should include their background and “checkpoints for statutes.” Terry Elliot pointed out that the current SPAC membership includes some School Accountability Committee chairs and some members but Newkirk’s motion only specified chairs. Should they accept applications from SAC members or only SAC chairs? Witt replied that that’s what the bylaw draft says but they hadn’t approved it yet. (Another question: which bylaw draft? Newkirk’s or the other?)

Elliot also pointed out that as written, Newkirk’s proposal didn’t include all of the members outlined in state statutes. The 2013 revision of the law requires a school administrator and at least three parents; Newkirk’s resolution left out the administrator and didn’t specify the number of parents. When Elliot noted this, Witt responded (again condescendingly) that that’s why the “compromise makes sense.”

We ask, how is it a “compromise” to put off a vote on an ill-conceived proposal that would establish a DAC that did not conform to state laws, despite Witt and Newkirk’s constant “concern” that the current SPAC didn’t conform to those very same laws?

That’s irresponsible governance, pure and simple.

It also makes us wonder about Sunshine Laws. Here are some potential scenarios:

a. Newkirk is a severe, chronic procrastinator who simply does not get proposals written until the last minute, and that’s why the membership proposal wasn’t shared with Fellman and Dahlkemper (and presumably Witt and Williams) until the afternoon of the board meeting. Also, Williams and Witt just happened to have the afternoon free and were checking for any last-minute additions sometime between 1 and 5 pm.

b. Newkirk is a severe, chronic procrastinator but he also notified Witt and Williams that a new, different proposal would be headed their way sometime on Thursday afternoon so they could set aside time to review it.

c. Newkirk had written the proposal earlier, shared it with Witt and Williams, and only shared it with Dahlkemper, Fellman and the rest of the public after consulting with Witt and Williams.

Options B and C are clear violations of Colorado’s sunshine laws.

Option A is not, but, if true, is also is a clear example of how this board is not transparent. Posting a new proposal that varies considerably from the membership outlined in the proposed DAC bylaws only hours before the meeting, and pushing to approve said proposal without any public comment (or time to write the board before the vote) is neither transparent nor respectful.

Option A is also the least likely of the three. Too many stars have to align, and we find it curious that two members of the board majority just happened to have checked for last-minute additions and had plenty of time to review them.

K-6 vs. K-8 at Candelas

The vote against district recommendations to build a K-8 school at Candelas wasn’t a surprise but is another example of pennywise but pound-foolish. It’s not clear why WNW pushed for a K-6.

One concern they articulated repeatedly was that students from Leyden Rock would be joining an established cohort at Candelas for 7-8, but it’s equally true that at most of our middle schools, cohorts from the surrounding neighborhoods all merge in middle school. If the Candelas students head to Wayne Carle Middle School, they’ll join cohorts from Lukas and Witt Elementary. If the Leyden Rock kids head to Oberon or Bell Middle School, they’ll join cohorts from the elementary schools in those articulation areas.

WNW also argued that there was only demand for seats at the K-6 level and not in the middle school level. District staff pointed out that although area middle schools have capacity available now, they won’t by the time these developments reach full-buildout. We’ll need those middle school seats in the not-too-distant future. McMinimee cited the current numbers of sixth-grade students at current, overcrowded NW Arvada schools, but WNW ignored those concerns.

A third concern is that it’s much cheaper to build a K-8, even if it will need an addition, that it is to build and maintain a K-6 and separate, future 7-8 building. It’s cheaper to add to a building than it is to construct a new one. One K-8 building is also cheaper because there are less custodial costs and less administrative costs (2 principals vs 1, and so on). Utility costs are also cheaper because you’re only paying for electric and heat in one building. There’s only one gym, one library, one cafeteria, one kitchen, and one set of main offices, as opposed to double of all of that with associated costs.

Staff also noted that the Candelas site could accommodate multiple structures. If they built a K-8, there would still be 10 acres available that could support another building. It’s unlikely that will be possible with two separate buildings.

Also, Witt suggested that he really likes the 7-12 model and wants to see more 7-12 schools. He suggested a “D’Evelyn Northwest” though noted staff would need to flesh out plans. Staff pointed out that the district doesn’t own any other land in the NW area, though that’s only one among many questions we have regarding Witt’s “D’Evelyn Northwest.”

What’s the real reason behind a K-6? Is Witt hoping to put a charter school into the new building?  We wonder.

Jeffco Schools Security budget request

The other main item was a budget request from Jeffco’s Security and Emergency Management department. Director John McDonald had given a brief presentation on the increased numbers of threats and suicide assessments that his department has seen in the past couple of years. His staff of 11 is at capacity and he needs more staff to keep up with the increasing number of issues. About half of the $1.5 million request is for on-going expenses (additional staff), and the other half is for one-time expenses.

The response was surprising. Newkirk asked about the “school to prison pipeline” and what other schools across the nation are doing about it. Keep in mind that the board already had a Q&A session with McDonald two weeks ago. Why this question? Steve Bell had the winning answer, telling Newkirk that the answer is that many of those schools are coming to Jeffco for advice. McMinimee also jumped to McDonald’s defense, telling the board that Jeffco has one of the best systems out there, and that as someone who has worked in four school districts, he could “say this with confidence.”

Williams asked a number of odd question she said she’d been asked, too. She said people were worried about bringing Child Protective Services into the schools like New York. McDonald said he hadn’t heard of such a thing in Jeffco. She asked if FERPA no longer applied if students had contacts with law enforcement.  Answer: FERPA remains in place.

Williams wanted to know whether students knew their rights, and whether policies regarding contact and interviews with law enforcement had been made available to the public. Answer: policy JIH and JIH-R, which are available in BoardDocs. Just click the “policies” tab and type JIH. (Capital letters work better, FYI. And so on). Basically, Williams doesn’t appear to have read the Student Code of Conduct in full, and certainly hasn’t bothered to read through all those pesky district policies either. (But she had time to read Newkirk’s last minute proposal!) Note again that she could have asked McDonald these questions two weeks earlier during his presentation, and that they aren’t related to his budget request. The disconnect is odd.

Witt asked what the funding was for, despite the fact that McDonald had already provided that information to the board two weeks ago. Apparently the document contained some information that could compromise district security, so it hadn’t been posted to BoardDocs. There are plans to extract the information that can be made public and post that soon. Witt also asked where the money would come from, which to us is the only reasonable question we heard on the topic.

The problem is that WNW already allocated all the funding (see $18 million to build a “debt-free” school in NW Arvada), and little discretionary money is left to handle the request. They may be able to borrow money from vacant positions and retirement savings to fund the request this budget year, but money is tight. Fellman asked about pulling half a million from reserves to address immediate needs, but Chief Finance Officer Kathleen Askelson cautioned against it, saying they’re hearing dire news from the state regarding 2016-17 budgets, and that there could possibly even be a recision for the current year.

The plan is to revisit the issue at the Oct. 15 meeting. The board seemed to be in favor, but the odd questions from Newkirk and Williams combined with Witt’s statements also make us wonder if they’re taking the request seriously or if we’ll see another Plan B or other nonsense instead.

What You Can Do

You know the drill:  you can donate to the recall campaign and/or to the five candidates we’re endorsing in this election: Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell. You can donate to the candidates individually or support all five by donating to Jeffco United Forward.

You can write a letter to the editor. You can walk Jeffco to talk to the 70 percent of voters who do not have children in our schools currently to let them know why we support the recall. You can put up a yard sign or wear a button.

You can speak at public comment during the Oct. 1 board meeting, or you can boycott the meeting to speak to Jeffco voters instead. You can write to the board.

Most importantly, you can vote. This is on the November 3 ballot. Watch for your ballot to arrive in the mail, and be sure to fill it out and return it by November 3.

Hopefully you’ve also seen the post about board president Ken Witt telling board member Jill Fellman she would no longer be needed at the district agenda-setting meetings, and that John Newkirk would now attend all of the meetings until the election. If you haven’t seen it, Support Jeffco Kids has that story.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

 

9.1.15 Notes from the Aug. 27 BOE meeting

recallshirtHere’s an update from last Thursday’s Jeffco School Board meeting, just in time to be prepared for the Sept. 3 regular meeting this Thursday.

JCEA contract

The board did approve the JCEA contract on a 5-0 vote but the mood was anything but celebratory. Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman both expressed their disappointment in the contract’s short 10-month duration, with Dahlkemper stating she knew of no other organization that would spend six months and 150 hours to negotiate a contract that would only last for ten. She also pointed to the waste of taxpayer money (spent on a facilitator who would agree to stream and record the negotiations) that could have been funneled back to the classroom.

Fellman also said she thought everyone had better things to do than continually negotiating a contract when the process would need to start over again in five months. Nevertheless, both agreed that it was better to have a contract in place with appropriate protections for class size and more, which is why they voted for it.

Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, predictably, considered the contract a success. Why? Well for one, all three praised the factor that it was shorter. Seriously? Were people complaining about the number of pages? Did reading all the pages hurt their poor little heads? It’s hard to understand where the inherent victory is in shorter when they spend so much time saying student learning needs to be more rigorous.

Williams also cheered the fact that it had less pages (not that you’re surprised) and said the contract was easier to understand for every “layperson.” Huh? Again, the irony that a school board majority who harps on improving student achievement wants their own material dumbed down so they can understand it.

This 5-0 vote is not a victory but a challenge. Our teachers only have a contract through June 30, but if we want our great teachers to stay here in Jeffco, we need to turn things around in this district by November 3.

We need to get the word out about the recall and about the candidates we support for school board: Amanda Stevens and Ali Lassell to fill the seats that Fellman and Dahlkemper are leaving, and Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell to fill the recalled seats.

SPAC and board committees

A proposal to split the current Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) into two committees was presented by district staff. SPAC has been a WNW target for some time now, though the proposal presented on Thursday night seems to have support from SPAC members (besides the usual “minority report” character, even).

One member of SPAC wrote to JCSBW and shared that the request to modify the workload of SPAC came from last year’s SPAC members and not from the board. Among the concerns was that they often didn’t have the time they wanted to be able to adequately analyze and discuss the many issues on the agenda.  That member said she was pleased by the way the workload and emphasis would be divided between the two committees. Both will need to be monitored closely to prevent the majority of members from being board appointees.

The idea is this: the committee would be split into the District Accountability Committee (DAC) and would still be chaired and led by parent members. It would focus on the district’s Unified Improvement Plan and the many other accountability measures required by law. The second committee would the Strategic Planning Advisory Planning Committee, which would focus only on strategic planning, leaving the accountability work to the other committee.

The current parent chair and chair-elect, Julie Oxenford-O’Brien and Orin Levy, would chair the new DAC. The new SPAC would need to be organized, but district officials said they want to get the DAC organized first. Under the new reorganization, DAC would be a board committee, and SPAC would be a superintendent committee.

Witt immediately said that he wants to make sure all DAC members are approved by the board. Williams had her usual laundry list of demands about posting the scheduled meetings (which are already posted), streaming and recording all meetings, including a majority and minority report, reporting to the board on a regular basis, etc.

Williams also questioned one change in the bylaws that would allow the DAC to remove members who didn’t attend on a regular basis or who bullied or threatened other members. The co-chairs explained that they didn’t have a problem with dissenting opinions, but that members needed to express dissenting opinions in socially-appropriate ways (known to parents the world around as “use your inside voice, don’t interrupt and be polite”) — something that certain SPAC members have failed to do at recent meetings. Naturally, Witt also questioned the measure and said that expelling members will be subject to board approval.

Newkirk wanted to go for the nuclear option and start from scratch to create an entirely new DAC. Predictably, he had “worked up some language,” and even more predictably, he had not sent it to other board members before the meeting because well, why show your cards, right? (Oh right, transparency.) He proceeded to read his ideas, including the idea that once they choose new members, the new members should write all the DAC bylaws. Elliot pointed out that what Newkirk proposed was essentially what the district was doing, minus the bit about wiping out all the members and starting over.

Witt also jumped on Newkirk’s plan, arguing that a group of people doing all the same things didn’t sound new to him. McMinimee defended the district proposal. Newkirk responded by proposing that not only should they wipe the slate clean, the new DAC should start its work with only the six members required by law, despite McMinimee’s detailed discussion of how they had looked at comparable districts like Boulder, Cherry Creek and Douglas County, and all of those also had large DAC committees due to their size. Elliot pointed out that the six member requirement was a minimum for small districts who might otherwise have trouble meeting that number. And at this point Dahlkemper jumped in, asking what problem Newkirk was trying to solve.

That problem, of course, has been the elephant in the room during every WNW conversation about SPAC: they clearly want to replace some (or most!) of the current members with friends of theirs. No votes were taken, and the issue will be back on the Sept. 3 meeting, where you can use the public comment time to share your own opinions.

Facilities (the NW Arvada question)

It’s been a year since this board started talking about growing populations in north and central Jeffco, and yet most of those issues remain unaddressed. As you’ll remember from this spring, WNW refused to use Certificates of Participation to address the multiple growth issues in the county, instead choosing to keep $18 million from the classroom in order to build a school somewhere in the NW Arvada area. That led to another problem, which is that the district estimated they could build K-8 schools on two of the sites for $25 million, or a smaller K-6 school on a third site for slightly less.

Thursday’s presentation showed what the district could provide for $18 million, because it is possible (though unwise!) to build smaller schools at those sites under the $18 million budget constraint. The drawback, of course, is that current estimates show 6,000 to 7,000 new students needing seats in the NW Arvada area in the next six years. Building smaller schools on lots that could accommodate larger schools won’t save us in the long run. An argument could be made that those schools could be expanded down the road–but we’ll simply point to the situation at Sierra Elementary, also in NW Arvada–where parents and students have been waiting for just that for seven years, since the 2008 bond measure failed. The district has repeatedly said that Sierra needs to be a priority, but none of the three have discussed it at all.

The conversation in the board meeting was every bit as frustrating and idiotic as they’ve been in the past.

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer, told the board that his goal is to open a new facility in the fall of 2017, and the options he was presenting were based on what they could do with an $18 million budget.

The issue: a project shortfall of 6,784 seats in the next five to six years in the “northwest corridor” (the area north of I-70 and west of Kipling). This area includes the new housing developments in Candelas, Leyden Rock and Whisper Creek (approximately 4,884 seats), as well as a number of smaller projects where “farmettes” in Arvada are now being developed into neighborhoods (1,900 seats).

That number could grow higher because they are beginning to see some neighborhood turnover in the area, as older families move out and younger families replace them. Schools impacted include Fairmount, Mieklejohn, Mitchell, Sierra, Van Arsdale, and Westwood Elementary, along with Drake and Oberon Middle School and Ralston Valley High School.

The three potential sties are Table Rock, located at 58th and Hwy 93, or the Candelas site or Leyden Rock site, both located in their respective subdivisions. The district has recommended Table Rock as the best location to build first, and continued to do so in their presentation.

Here’s what the district can do with $18 million:

  • Table Rock – 625 students in a PK-8 school
  • Candelas – 625 students in a PK-8 school, with room for additional buildings in the future (Bell said they would master plan that site before building)
  • Leyden Rock – 450 students in a K-6 school, plus an additional 6 months of construction time due to the challenging topography of the site

Bell had two goals: how to maximize the number of seats the district could get with $18 million, and how to impact the most schools positively. Based on those goals, he recommended the Table Rock site, or secondarily, the Candelas site.

And this is where the conversation got interesting.

Witt asked if Bell was suggesting that they should never build on the Leyden Rock site. Bell said they would need to build on that site, but under the current budget constraints and with the number of students expected, he wanted to maximize how the money was spent. The cost to build the Table Rock or Candelas schools is about $28,800 per student, but the Leyden Rock school will run about $40,000 per student.

Witt suggested that goals that maximized the use of money and impacted the most schools were not “shared values.” (Got it? Using money effectively to benefit children is not a value Ken Witt shares.) But Witt continued to press for the Leyden Rock site. Why?

Why build a smaller school that will take an additional six months to construct when other sites will provide seats for more students more quickly?

Why focus on Leyden Rock? There doesn’t seem to be any data that would suggest Leyden Rock is growing faster than Candelas, or that Leyden Rock will have a noticeably larger number of students who need a school than any of the other areas.

We have many theories about Witt’s obsession with Leyden Rock, and suspect that there’s $$$ involved somehow. Some have suggested potential real estate investments or ties to campaign donors who have financial interests in Leyden Rock. Some have also suggested that perhaps a new Leyden Rock school would not become a neighborhood school but a charter. Either way, we smell a rat.

The issue will be on this Thursday’s agenda as well, and district staff are recommending they build on the Table Rock site. What are the odds the board agrees? We think the odds are better that Witt or Newkirk pulls something out of their pocket (language they “worked up” or whatever they drew on a napkin) to propose an entirely new plan, while Julie Williams continues to push for a building that can be printed by a 3D printer.

Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.

Other agenda items for this Thursday’s meeting

The regular school board meeting is this Thursday and starts at 5:30 pm in the Education Center board room (5th floor) with a study session about master’s degrees and compensation, as well as “draft policy language for study by Board members regarding codifying equal funding and compensation in Board policy.” Witt is supposedly writing that language, though as of Wednesday morning it had not been posted (or written? Perhaps he’s waiting for the muse?).

Also on the agenda: a presentation about college and career readiness with a focus on ACT, AP and algebra results, a monitoring report on school safety, and a student based budgeting update. If you can’t attend, you can watch the live stream here: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

We also encourage you to write the board about issues that concern you at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and to sign up to speak at public comment. Individual board member addresses are also listed on the Jeffco Schools website, though keep in mind that if you only write individual members, they are not required to respond nor do they have to include your message in the official board correspondence that is available for the public to read each month.

You have until 3:30 pm on Thursday to sign up to speak about agenda-related items on Part 1 or to sign up for non-agenda items on Part 2. Remember that you have, at most, 3 minutes for public comment (10 if a group), and that if there are enough speakers, your time will be reduced to 2 minutes or even 1 minute. Be prepared to only have one minute to speak (5 minutes if a group) because that is the most common scenario.

Keep watching and keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

8.27.15 BOE meeting tonight!

school-crossing

Yes, it’s that time again. It would appear the Jeffco School Board has finally finalized the meeting agenda, which has been modified more than once in the past few days. Here’s what you have to look forward to tonight:

 

– 2.01 Resolution: Negotiated Agreement–Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) (EL-3)

JCEA’s membership ratified the agreement, so now it goes to a school board vote. Based on what we’re seeing further north in the Thompson School District, there’s plenty of good reason to suspect that Witt, Newkirk and Williams (WNW for those new to the school board majority shenanigans this year) had no intention of working out a tentative agreement, much less approving one. With the recall mechanisms in motion, however, perhaps they’re more incentivized than usual?

There’s a lot to not like (i.e., a ridiculously short 10-month contract and the money that will be spent to negotiate another contract next year). And yet there are some protections for class sizes and other important issues in place–which is always important for a group of ideologues who are convinced that 40 or 45 kids in a classroom is actually an ideal situation for kids.

2.02 Review of Board Committees (GP-12, 13)

This appears to be more monkeying around with SPAC, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council, who WNW appear to have been targeting since they took office. SPAC has been functioning as the state-mandated district accountability committee and the district’s lawyer and Superintendent McMinimee have confirmed that it meets the law’s requirements. Nevertheless, WNW want that committee under their thumb and this may be another move in that direction.

2.03 Facilities Planning Preview (EL-8, 11)

This item was listed on Monday morning without attached documents, removed, and since has been replaced on the agenda. (We know!)

This is one of multiple presentations the board has heard since August 2014 about the growing population in north Jeffco. It’s an issue that primarily affects the northwest Arvada area but is also affecting nearly all the Jeffco Schools north of I-70, as Steve Bell pointed out in one of his presentations last spring–and to which north Jeffco parents can testify.

The issue is due to a couple of factors, including the number of new housing developments: Leyden Rock, Candelas, Whisper Creek, and also smaller amounts of construction on what used to be small farms around Arvada, like the area just to the east of Majestic View Park near 72nd and Kipling.

A second factor is that Sierra Elementary in Arvada was due for phase 2 of a remodeling and expansion project, but the bond to move that project forward was on the 2008 bond referendum, which failed. Sierra families have brought this issue to the board repeatedly in past years, but WNW have ignored them. Completing phase 2 would add more seats to the area, but there are no plans to do that.

The third factor is that two schools in the Arvada/Westminster area were closed in 2012 as the district grappled with budget cuts. One of those now houses the Head Start program–and that will continue because Westminster tore down the building that Head Start had been using (also due to budget cuts which meant a lack of money to do the necessary maintenance and repairs to the aging structure). The other was Zerger Elementary, which remains unused. It has been suggested repeatedly as a possible option to deal with the growing number of students, but Bell said the building was stripped when they closed it down.

Reopening Zerger would require replacing not only the usual classroom furniture, but also chalkboards, projectors, and more. The school is also located about six miles away from Candelas, so if the plan was to send children from the area to Zerger, they would have a lengthy bus ride–assuming that parents chose to fork over the $150 for bus service.

Suffice it to say that no one is championing reopening Zerger, temporarily or otherwise, including Williams who continues to suggest that the district use an empty retail building, like a grocery store as a new school. (Fact check: the Leyden Rock and Candelas areas were empty fields before the housing developments were constructed. There are no empty grocery stores nearby, so it’s not exactly a feasible plan.)

What we do know: the board set aside $18 million to build a school, and it’s unlikely that WNW will budget from that number no matter what. We’ll try to post a review of the Certificates of Participation and construction costs issue in the district in the next couple of weeks.

2.04 Montessori Peaks Academy (EL-10, 13)

Last spring, a Jeffco family brought a number of issues regarding Montessori Peaks to the attention of the board. This item revisits the district’s investigation into the matter.

The meeting will be streamed, and the district is telling us this is the link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

The meeting starts at 5:30 pm in the board room on the 5th floor of the Education Building (1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO). If you can’t be there tonight, please join us virtually on the live stream.

Don’t like what you see tonight? Write the board, sign up for public comment at the Sept. 3 meeting, and never forget:

Keep fighting, JeffCo!