Advice to New School Board Members – From a Veteran, Jill Fellman

Once again Jeffco School Board Watch was able to get time a current school board member, this time Jill Fellman.  When asked about her time on the board and advice to future board members, her advice was to “listen.”

“LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!!  Then, be willing to compromise and work together to improve education for all students.  Remember that every decision must be made while considering the needs of students, teachers, schools, and families.  Take the responsibility of being an elected official seriously.  Advocate for needs of Jefferson County schools with other elected officials in county, state and federal government positions. Be active in the community — even at those events that may have many attendees that may not agree with some of your positions — to demonstrate that you are willing to engage respectfully with all segments of our community to pursue the shared goal of what’s best for Jeffco kids.”

Ms. Fellman truly walked the talk with respect to getting out in the community.  Just a few days ago she was seen at Lakewood High School at a student produced play called “Fractured Light”.  This show about struggles students face outside the classroom was powerful.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “I love reading to students, visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, principals, and parents, hearing about the challenges and the joys of learning.  Attending art nights, athletic events, musical performances, watching our talented students engage in their learning bring me moments of great pride.”  She added that as a school board member you help create a structure and capability in the district to teach “the whole child,” which is not just about core knowledge, but life too.

Ms. Fellman came to the board with an interest in budgeting, and to that end has been treasurer the last two years.  Prior to that she was board secretary.  She has been successful in both roles, and helped guide the priorities at the meetings.  “When I first came to the board, there was a presentation on the budget EVERY meeting.  Don’t get me wrong – the school district budget is extremely important.  However, we only had a half-hour presentation on student achievement in four meetings.  That was changed so that EVERY meeting we had a presentation on student achievement while we got regular budget updates in writing.  The change in meeting structure better reflected our values and focus.”

She takes her role as treasurer seriously, and she is a member of the Audit Committee.  In addition, she attends meetings of the Colorado School Finance Project and learned everything she could about school finance.  Her advice to new members: “In an environment where board members’ goals and interests are respected, those members ought to be willing to encourage each other to serve in some positions where they can offer the most experience as well as others where they have an opportunity to grow.”

Her greatest disappointment is that we do not have a plan to deal with the tremendous amount of growth in NW Arvada or West Lakewood.  Assuming the predictions by expert demographers are even close to accurate, the district is looking at an increase of 5,000 – 8,000 students and we currently do not have seats for these students.  There are many schools that are at full capacity and adding students to these schools does not make sense.

“I understand the argument against using Certificates of Participation (COPs) to fund schools but, I strongly believe we MUST have schools for all students who live in Jefferson County and using COPs to finance schools in this situation is not only appropriate, it is also a smart, responsible business decision.  Taking advantage of COPs to build schools is the best solution to the overcrowding we are experiencing now and the extreme overcrowding we will see going forward, unless the board quickly adopts and implements a plan.”

It is worth repeating that listening to input from staff is critical too, as is acting upon their sage advice.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “We had a large number of community members write us emails offering ideas, and we had our staff experts provide us with multiple alternatives to address the growth issues (supported by our superintendent). Unfortunately, despite the continued efforts of two members to find compromise, the board did not listen to our community or our staff experts.  There are extremely few black and white issues that we face.  In fact, most are shades of gray, and in order to best serve our students we need to engage with all interested parties, and actively look for compromise solutions.”

As her four year term winds down, Ms. Fellman knows she will continue to be an advocate for ALL children, right up until the last day of her term.  She has literally spent a lifetime involved in Jeffco Schools.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in Jeffco schools, teach here, work in the Jeffco Schools administration, and serve as a member of the Board of Education for 4 years. I have been part of Jeffco Schools for over 47 years.  I am sure to find new ways to continue to advocate for teaching and learning.  I cannot stop caring about this district!”

Hopefully our readers are looking at this critical board election with open eyes, and ears, and are seeking candidates for the next board who will “walk the talk” as Ms. Fellman has over her long career, listen to the community and their peers, and stand up for ALL students.

Stand-Up-Be-CountedNeed a quick refresher on the candidates? Check out this post about Ali Lasell (running for the District 3 seat currently occupied by Ms. Fellman), as well as Amanda Stevens (running for the seat occupied by outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper), and recall successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell.

Remember: vote for Lasell and Stevens, vote yes to recall, and then vote for Rupert, Harmon and Mitchell.


 

10.15.15 Jeffco WNW Recall Fact Check (Part 4)

It’s time for our Jeffco Recall fact check, Part 4! As you know, there’s no shortage of topics, but this should provide a useful boost for conversations with your neighbors, family, and colleagues.

Transparency

Hiding-Money-From-the-GovernmentKen Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams like to claim that they’ve made board operations “more transparent” because the board meetings are now streamed—or at least the parts of the meetings that include all five board members.

The facts:

  • During their first year, WNW repeatedly declared how much they wanted to stream meetings and then repeatedly chose to meet in local high schools where streaming was impossible.
    • When those high school auditoriums filled up, sometimes an overflow room was established so attendees could at least listen to the board meeting, but after a while they stopped doing that too. That’s not transparent.
    • WNW didn’t stream the meeting in which former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson announced she would be leaving the district even earlier than her intended resignation date—which means you have to look at audience videos to see Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman asking WNW about the transition plan and not getting a response. Yep, more closed-door conversations taking place between WNW while Dahlkemper and Fellman were shut out.
  • The streaming has been spotty for a lot of Jeffco taxpayers who’ve tried to use it—sometimes refusing to stream, sometimes streaming only for mere seconds before seizing up, then streaming 5 more seconds seizing up again, etc.
  • Play-by-play tweets from district staff have disappeared, so there’s no information for the times when the streaming goes down or doesn’t have sound, as was the case recently.
  • Even Witt’s little media stunt last week was behind closed doors — literally. Only invited press were allowed in. That alone speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

And let’s not forget the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) violations.

Colorado Ethics Watch called out WNW for violating the CORA requirement that the district have a written policy regarding email retention, which they pointed out was in violation of a 1996 CORA amendment that mandates the board “adopt a policy for retaining, archiving and destroying emails and other digital records.”

The school board’s refusal to adopt an email retention policy in the face of such clear mandatory language in a state statute is a flagrant, and apparently willful, violation of CORA.”

— Ethics Watch Senior Counsel Peg Perl in a July 29, 2015 letter to Jeffco Schools

Also check out this story from Colorado FOIC, and Nic Garcia’s Chalkbeat stories, in which he documents missing emails that were not provided in response to his CORA request, and where he documents board attorney Brad Miller advising the board to simply delete emails.

We’re talking about broken laws — again. If someone tells you WNW increased transparency because they stream meetings, ask them about the deleted emails and the board lawyer hired behind closed doors who advised them to write a policy stating that emails could be immediately deleted and therefore not subject to CORA requests.

We’ve mentioned violations of Colorado’s sunshine laws before, but here’s Chalkbeat reporter Nic Garcia explaining Colorado open meetings laws and “spoke: meetings in case you missed it:

The state’s open meeting law allows board members to discuss the school district’s business one-on-one.

However, it forbids three elected officials or a quorum, whichever is greater, from meeting without proper notification.

Further, transparency activists and case law from around the country suggest it is illegal for elected officials, like school board members, to work around the law by coordinating “spoke” meetings.

A “spoke” meeting, also known as a “walking quorum,” is when one elected official meets with other members of the board on the same subject to coordinate a vote or policy stance.

One example of a “spoke” meeting is Witt contacted Newkirk and Williams and told them to interview Brad Miller and the other board lawyer candidate long before he told Dahlkemper and Fellman and you the public. Newkirk said he interviewed Miller during a convention that took place Dec. 5 through 8 — a week before the regular board meeting. Dahlkemper and Fellman weren’t told until Dec. 10. The agenda item itself wasn’t added until the 10th.

Bottom line: WNW aren’t transparent and never have been.

One of the largest issues around this recall is not necessarily what’s been done, but how it’s been done.

— Nic Garcia in an interview with Ryan Warner on CPR’s Colorado Matters

EXACTLY.

The way issues have been pushed through without careful planning, without conversation and without collaboration is unacceptable.

Do you want last-minute surprises + board majority who ignores portions of the CORA law + a board lawyer who advises them to simply delete their emails + a board member who advised her supporters to email her privately to skirt CORA requests + more than one violation of open meetings laws? No! That combination equals one thing: RECALL.

Here’s what you need to do:

Vote!

  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 forRon Mitchell as District 5 successor candidate

WALK!

Go to JeffcoUnited.org to sign up to walk this weekend. We need to get the word out to the 70 percent of Jeffco voters who do not have children in schools, and we need to remind everyone to vote!

DONATE!

It’s not too late. You can donate to any of the candidate’s individual campaigns, or to Jeffco United Forward to benefit all five.

It’s time to get out the vote! Ballots start arriving this week. You may have already received yours. When you have it, vote and return it. We can’t afford apathy this year.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

10.8.15 Witt’s Carnival Sideshow

If you saw Witt’s stunt this morning–and it’s hard to imagine that you didn’t because social media has not stopped talking about it since–you know that it was merely a distraction.

  1. The Independent Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over Colorado school board members (see page 6).
  2. The IEC isn’t meeting until Nov. 6 — after the election.
  3. There’s no reason for them to call a special early meeting (see #1, above).

Witt’s complaint only asks if voting on the matter in a public meeting was a violation of sunshine laws, failing to make the distinction between voting in public and deciding in public. Sunshine laws exist to prevent elected officials from merely rubber-stamping behind-the-scenes decisions in public.

Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams made the decision to hire Brad Miller before the Dec. 13 board meeting.  We know because Bob Kerrigan, president of the Thompson School District Board of Education, told his fellow board members that Jeffco had a school board attorney — and told them this on Wednesday, a full day before the Dec. 13 Jeffco BOE meeting where the issue was first discussed in public.

Not only did Kerrigan know that Jeffco had already hired a firm 24 hours before the BOE met to discuss the issue, he knew that Jeffco would be hiring Brad Miller himself, as reported by the Reporter Herald on Dec. 12:

Kerrigan then revealed that a contract had already been drawn up by a Colorado Springs-based law firm that currently represents Jefferson County schools.

The proposed contract, dated two days after Kerrigan was elected board president, begins: “We are pleased that the District has asked Millers Sparks LLC … to represent Thompson.”

It’s an issue we’ve written about multiple times, and it’s one of many, many reasons to vote yes on the recall.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with some of today’s highlights, such as the 7 News story “Jeffco Public Schools board president Ken Witt stunts for attention as he faces recall” (and hopefully this clip will open with the anchor saying “Bizarre news out of Jeffco today” because that’s by far our favorite).

And we’ll end with one of the many, many funny social media posts that we saw in our feed today:

Charles Buchanan on Twitter

Kinda wish Witt had ended the press-stunt with a citizens arrest of himself. #Copolitics #JeffcoRecall #JeffCo

Keep fighting, JeffCo!