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!


 

9.21.15 Jeffco WNW Recall Fact Check (Part 3)

Recall The FactsIt’s time for our Jeffco Recall fact check, Part 3! As you know, there’s no shortage of topics, but this should provide a useful boost for chats with your neighbors, family, and colleagues.

 

Teacher Compensation

Why does it matter? Teacher compensation matters because our children are taught by teachers. We want to keep our great teachers here in Jeffco and be competitive to attract other great teachers. Compensation, respect and a good working environment are all essential to attract and retain great teachers, but even more importantly, because a teacher’s working environment is also our students’ working environment. Our students matter — and this issue is vital to student success.

CLAIM 1: WNW increased teacher compensation by 7 percent.

FACTS:

  • Compensation increases ≠ salary increases. Compensation refers to the entire package — health insurance, other insurance, retirement benefits and more. Salary refers to the amount of money in your paycheck.
  • This year, Jeffco teachers will receive salary increases of 0.5 percent to 1 percent, depending on whether they were rated as effective or highly effective.
  • WNW’s 7 percent is a compensation increase that includes additional costs for healthcare and retirement that make up the bulk of that number.
  • The Denver Public School Board gave their teachers a salary increase of 6 percent for 2015/16, on top of the additional costs for healthcare and retirement.
  • Boulder Valley teachers will also receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living salary increase, plus another 3 percent salary increase on top of that for 2015/16.
  • Bottom line: A salary increase of 1 percent — or less! — doesn’t stretch very far. The average Jeffco teacher will see about $40 more each month, and we’ve already lost hundreds of teachers who’ve left for better-paying positions in neighboring districts like Boulder and Denver.

CLAIM 2: Their new compensation plan rewards great teachers.

FACTS:

  • “Board member Ken Witt, who first proposed the pay system in a hand-drawn sketch and asked the staff to present the plan for a vote one month later….” (Yesenia Robles, Denver Post, July 28, 2015, emphasis ours).
  • The plan was introduced without warning and implemented with no discussion with JCEA or the district’s teachers through other means.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores, despite the fact that teachers had been told 2013/14 was a “hold harmless” year.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores despite the fact that the federal mediator specifically stated the evaluation in its current state lacked interrater reliability and should not be used for determining compensation.
  • The compensation plan had not been mentioned once by Witt or other board members during previous months of contract negotiations, impasse and mediation. 
  • Many teachers agreed that they appreciated the raise, but strongly disagreed with the process that shut them completely out of a conversation about what would make them feel rewarded.
  • Bottom line: A compensation plan that rewards great teachers needs to be planned months in advance and discussed with teachers, not introduced and approved with a vague sketch after the school year had already started.

CLAIM 3: WNW raised salaries of current teachers to match the starting salary schedule for new hires that had been developed after the new compensation plan was approved.

FACTS:

  • They did—but only after JCEA took them to court because the board majority refused to address the issue in their budget process.
  • Amy Weber, the district’s personnel director, warned the board that they would need to take steps to equalize pay between new hires and current Jeffco teachers after the board voted to raise starting salaries and approved a new salary schedule for new hires.
  • Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman also raised the issue and pushed to close the gap—but were ignored by Witt, Newkirk and Williams.
  • Superintendent Dan McMinimee and district staff proposed a solution that stayed within WNW’s budget guidelines and addressed the inequity.
  • At no point did Witt, Newkirk or Williams direct staff to equalize the gap between new hires and veteran teachers.
  • When McMinimee and staff presented their proposal to equalize pay for new hires and veteran Jeffco teachers, the board majority members said they would prefer to see a raise go to substitutes rather than address this issue for teachers who are in the classrooms every day.
  • Bottom line: WNW spent months refusing to address the issue despite requests from district staff and the two other board members. Waiting months to approve a common-sense solution — and even suggesting that it couldn’t be done at the meeting when they finally did approve it — is bad policy and bad governance. Claiming this as a WNW achievement is laughable.

CLAIM #4: The board fought to raise substitute compensation.

FACTS:

  • A raise for substitutes was part of the original district proposal.
  • It was dropped after McMinimee and his staff looked for ways to equalize the gap between new hires and stay within the numbers the board had allocated.
  • When Witt suggested that the district wouldn’t be able to equalize pay because the raises should go to substitutes instead, McMinimee jumped in with a solution that provided substitutes with some raise and kept salary schedules intact.
  • Bottom line: McMinimee — not WNW — provided the momentum on this issue from start to finish. There was that minute in one meeting this spring when all three said they prioritized giving substitutes a raise and would wait on equalizing pay (see above) when they learned the increase had been dropped, but McMinimee was the one found a way to solve both issues. The fact that WNW did not look for a way to compensate both, when both have been at a pay disadvantage for years, speaks volumes about the board majority’s priorities and goals. This is not an achievement they can claim.

What seems to be missing in the minds of WNW is the recognition that when they talk about putting money “into the classroom” that means paying teachers and others who serve as resources. Our teachers have been clear that increasing salary was one of their top priorities. Already, many have left to make as much as $7,000 to $10,000 more in other districts. As parents who have bills to pay and children to feed, we can hardly blame them for finding a job that pays better.

This highlights a serious problem. If the board majority doesn’t value our teachers, then our teachers will continue to leave in large numbers and will have a harder time attracting new great teachers to the district. Those who do come will lack mentors, as many of our experienced teachers will have gone elsewhere. Our students will experience constant churn as teacher turnover increases. Multiple studies show that high teacher turnover hurts student achievement (see here, here, here and here). It’s also expensive because more money goes into recruiting and training. Churn is not good for students, and we don’t want it in Jeffco.

So what can you do?

  • Spread the word! Please talk to your neighbors, your friends, and join us to walk Jeffco to let voters know about the recall. Some of us walked doors this weekend and it’s easy. You’ll be partnered with someone so you’re not out there on your own and the time flies past.
  • Donate! Americans for Prosperity have already sent two mailings in support of WNW at a cost of $35,000 – $45,000 each, according to our friends at Support Jeffco Kids. If you don’t have the cash to spare (we get it!), please join us to walk Jeffco and tell voters how negatively WNW is affecting our students and our schools.
    • Donate to Jeffco United Forward to support Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell who are running for the regular election seats, and to also support Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell who are running as replacement candidates.
    • Or donate to Jeffco United for Action, which supports the recall portion of this campaign.
  • Vote! The recall will be on the regular Nov. 3 general election ballot. Mark it on your calendar and tell everyone you know to be sure to vote. Elections matter!

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

It’s time for a clean slate!