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!


 

2013-2015 Poll Results: The Huge School Board Stories That Didn’t Make the Cut

A few days ago, we initiated a poll, asking you to pick a Top 10 out of 30 disturbing stories from the last two years under the rule of this new Jeffco School Board majority. More than 400 people voted, and we knew the results would surprise us, but we think the biggest surprise is how many big stories didn’t make the Top 10.

Now, all of these stories got more than 100 votes, so we think this emphasizes just how huge the other stories are. Couldn’t you see this as a Top 10 standing alone?

WNW reject the well-reasoned findings of a costly, neutral fact-finder that strongly recommends not using pilot evaluations for helping to determine teacher salaries because the evaluations were not designed with a link to compensation in mind…showing that they never intended to listen to the pricey fact-finder anyway.

John Newkirk and Dan McMinimee speak at an Evergreen Tea Party event where the “American Freedom Party,” an avowed White Supremacist political party, is listed as a co-sponsor. After intense questioning by parents, an angry Newkirk calls the listing of “American Freedom Party” as a “typo” for what should have been “Americans for Prosperity” (the Koch Brothers) despite the fact that “typos” only usually involve one or two letter differences. The genesis of how THAT mistake could be made is never adequately explained.

WNW drive off former Superintendent, and national Finalist for Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Cindy Stevenson. Dr. Stevenson had announced her plans to leave at the end of the school year, but they couldn’t wait to get her out to implement their agenda.

John Newkirk personally purchases website domain names designed to trick readers who want to see information critical of the board. Instead, the similarly named websites purchased by Mr. Newkirk redirect readers to a website supportive of him and that he personally helps fund. Aren’t the voters of Jeffco “already with you,” John? We’ve seen no such activity on the other side of this debate.

⋅ Regular school board attendees notice a disturbing trend of Ken Witt regularly talking “down” more to women far more than to men. His treatment of Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman is the stuff of legend, but his tone with Julie Williams was also much more condescending than his tone with Newkirk, and he seemed to direct this kind of boorish behavior toward female staff, too. Insiders have even informed us that they observed him recommending that women “button up” more often. We get it: at times everyone’s comments can be misconstrued, but Ken Witt can’t seem to help himself.

WNW approve loans to charter schools that have a serious history of financial mismanagement.  Their promise to be “fiscally responsible” seemed to have very limited applicability. When it comes to charters, the principle doesn’t seem to apply. A documented history of waste and poor budget management, and out of control spending? WNW’s solution: give them more money, including some extra thrown in for a marketing budget! We like charters too, but bad ones should be allowed to fail.

⋅ Dan McMinimee, likely at the direction of Ken Witt, tells John Hickenlooper not to come to Jeffco for a bill signing, citing “security concerns.” Never mind that Jeffo hastily arranged a Katy Perry concert (which Hickenlooper attended!) at the very same school Hickenlooper planned to visit, and that governors of all political persuasions have a long history of signing bills around the state without politics interfering. This ultimately seemed like nothing more than a naked political move.

The Jeffco District Court had to demand that the school board negotiate in good faith with the teachers. Of course, authentic good faith cannot really be demanded, but after WNW’s repeated insistence that they were bargaining in good faith and the teachers weren’t, thankfully the court intervened and made the right call.

John Newkirk, in describing the hardships that he sees (mostly imagined in Jeffco)  for charter school families, absurdly compares charter families’ situations to African-American families in the Deep South in the 1960s. No more explanation needed.

⋅ Responding to concerns about a real exodus of Jeffco teachers, Mr. Newkirk implies that it’s ineffective teachers that are leaving the district, despite the personal stories of hundreds of teachers officially deemed highly effective that are leaving and blaming it on this new board majority, and an avalanche of data to back it up.

Can’t believe that none of these made our Top 10? Agree with us that in any typical year, any one of these could make for THE top story of the year?

Just keep these in mind as we dig into our Top 10 in the coming days. It can’t be exaggerated how controlled by outsiders, unfit to govern, and destructive this board majority has been.

9.14.15 Jeffco Recall about Survival of Public Education

Your Childs EducationWe received this from a JCSBW reader and received permission to share it here.

The survival of Public Education in Jefferson County is on the ballot this November as the five seats of the school board are contested. It is a battle that has ramifications not only for Jefferson County but also for the state and the nation. Will extremist right wing policies and outside money interests prevail over a community’s interests and the benefit of its children?

While much has been written, pro and con, about the autocratic actions of Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who erroneously call themselves conservatives, little has been said about their mission. To put it succinctly, in the words of former board member Laura Boggs, their intention is to “destroy this district.” Why would anyone want to do that unless he or she had something to gain by doing it?

From their mismanagement of Jeffco’s funds, to extremist attempts alter established AP curricula, to bullying children speakers and other board members, to attempts to intimidate through threats, innuendo, and armed security—their regime seems more like an arm of autocrats of the 1930s in Europe than America in the 21st Century. Their ham-handed attempts at privatizing public education and railroading anyone who would oppose them have, fortunately, awakened a community that values the kind of progressive, award-winning education that their children have gotten in Jeffco for many decades.

Unfortunately, extremist ideologies and corporate profiteers have weaseled their way into the Jeffco School Board and now threaten the district’s very existence as resources have been diverted to non-public/semi-private schools that serve select groups and line the pockets of investors. To destroy a school district one must:

  • Run off the best educators,
  • Cut funds for programs and compensation for staff
  • Increase class sizes
  • Cut funds for construction and maintenance
  • Destroy morale
  • Cut services for schools and community and then hire a PR firm to convince the public that what they’re doing is in the best interest of children.

It’s classic double-speak. In time, the quality of education and the educated will drop. Mission accomplished.

Shame on them when they duped voters in 2013. Shame on us if we allow it to happen again.

Vote to recall Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. Vote to elect candidates whose interests are genuinely aimed at children and learning. Vote for Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, Ron Mitchell and Susan Harmon.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

9.11.15 Recall will be on November ballot & WNW surprises

If you attended or watched the Sept. 3 Jeffco School Board meeting, you may have heard something you never expected to hear: the three board majority members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have said they do not support raising taxes for schools, are thinking about raising your taxes.

We know!

contortionist

Here’s how that played out. Now a year later, the board majority had (yet another) discussion about where to build a school in the northwest Jeffco corridor. They have been considering three sites: Table Rock (Hwy 93 and 58th Ave), Leyden Rock or Candelas, and at the last meeting Witt was pushing pretty heavily for Leyden Rock, despite the reality that a school built at that site will seat less kids and take longer to build. The Sept. 3 meeting was a general meeting, so parents from NW Arvada came to comment, with some strongly advocating for Leyden Rock because, they argued, they’re growing faster than Candelas.

Newkirk opened the Sept. 3 discussion with a long, meandering and pointless preamble about how as elected officials they didn’t need to accept district recommendations. A few minutes later, he finally got to the point and made a motion for the district to build on the Leyden Rock site and for staff to begin soliciting bids to build a school with 625 seats in 24 months at that location.

Reality check: That’s not possible, at least not with the paltry $18 million the district designated for a school. Leyden Rock has some steep slopes that make designing and constructing a school more complex. Retaining walls and a lot of earth moving will be necessary in order to build, and the school will need a couple of building pads and at least one elevator. All in all, that makes for a construction premium of $3.5 million according to estimates, which leaves only $14.5 million for the school building itself. Between the limited budget and topography, Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell and Facilities Director Tim Reed estimate they will only be able to build a 450-seat school and it will take six months longer than construction at the other two sites.

Newkirk later asked if the issue was that companies wouldn’t make such a low bid, but Superintendent McMinimee pointed out that we are building schools to last. Remember the adage about fast, good, and cheap? You can only pick two.

The discussion was lengthy and painful, so I’ll skip to the highlights.

Highlight 1: McMinimee went to bat for his staff, and our hat is off to him for taking a stand. After Newkirk’s grandstanding and motion, McMinimee told the board he felt compelled to respond, and he defended his staff’s recommendations and estimates. He pointed out that the topic had been on the table for more than a year and that their original recommendation was to use Certificates of Participation to build a school and finish phase II at Sierra Elementary to relieve some of the pressure on surrounding schools.

McMinimee also noted that Jeffco was in the process of adding temporary buildings to West Woods Elementary this year, and that the growth issue is not only north of 82nd Avenue. If you missed it, you can catch McMinimee’s comments in the meeting video. You’ll want to scroll to about 2:52:45 in the video which is about where his comments begin.

Jill Fellman eventually called for the board to put Certificates of Participation back on on the table, but it was met with the usual argument from Williams that the issue should be put to a vote of the people. The option of a bond came up, and Newkirk said he would be “very open” to that possibility.

Witt did some grandstanding and claimed that the 2012 bond measure should have been larger and included money to build new schools, which was ridiculous considering that the economy still was weak in 2012 and more to the point: he didn’t even support the very small amount that was needed to keep our students warm, safe and dry and has been trying to take that money and use it elsewhere since he was elected.

Highlight 2: Dahlkemper made the motion to direct staff to present a comprehensive bond scenario for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot, and the motion passed 5-0.

Then there was another painful discussion about whether the district should build the K-8 recommended by the district at Candelas, or just a K-6 because Witt thinks that’s the real growth issue (or something). It was another conversation that was quite confusing, not least because it takes two years to build a school and children will age toward middle school during that time. Finally they agreed to push off the decision about grade configuration until the next meeting, which provides staff some time to put together a presentation about the benefits of each scenario.

School Safety

School safety was another topic, largely because the district’s safety office is stretched to the limit. Suicide assessments are up 600 percent over the last two years. There were also 281 threats last year, which is a 100 percent increase. Safe2Tell fielded more than 700 reports in which Jeffco students reported a friend in crisis requiring immediate help, and 44,091 calls for assistance were made from schools to security asking for help.

Jeffco has 11 patrol officers and 3 management team members to respond to calls. Our law enforcement agencies also provide School Resource Officers–36 of them–at no charge to the district. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the $1.3 million budget they have is not sufficient given the increase in threats and suicide assessments. They need more money.

School Based Budgeting (SBB)

There was a brief report on school based budgeting. The short version is that they are hearing positive comments from principals who have more flexibility to provide resources based on student needs. They also looked at the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

Here’s the point to remember: the number of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten appears to have increased, but the number of schools offering free full-day kindergarten has decreased from 40 to 32. We’ll know more after the district has an official count later this fall.

Recall to be on the Nov. 3 ballot!

Jeffco United for Action received great news last week after the Jeffco County Clerk said she’s confident the recall can be part of the November general election ballot. There are a few hurdles remaining, but the news is really good. For the full story, check out Chalkbeat’s analysis here.

Now It’s Your Turn

With only a few weeks until the mail-in ballots arrive, we all need to pitch in and help. You can:

https://www.facebook.com/Amanda-for-Jeffco-Schools-604780212991553/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/Ali-Lasell-for-Jeffco-421746884684406/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/bradforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/susanforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ronforjeffcokids

  • Walk doors with Jeffco United to educate Jeffco voters about why we need to recall Witt, Newkirk and Williams. You can sign up to walk this Saturday during one of the morning, afternoon or evening shifts, or at any of the multiple other days in September and October.
  • Post a yard sign supporting the recall. Information about getting a sign is posted on their Facebook page.

We need to get the word out and that takes all of us. Any little bit helps, so walking just one shift, donating another $5 or $10 to a campaign, and spreading the word. We don’t want another two years without the respect, accountability and transparency that Jeffco deserves. Our students, our schools and all of us deserve better. Let’s make sure everyone knows it and votes to recall WNW on Nov. 3.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

7.20.15 Join us Wednesday, July 22 for “Drive the Blvd. & Sign”

2014 Sept Protests 1

It’s time to get those petitions and some signs to wave ready for the Drive the Blvd. & Sign event: Wednesday, July 22, from 3:30 to 7 pm. Petitions will be available at  intersections along Wadsworth to make it easy for commuters to stop by and sign.

And we need your help. Click HERE to sign up for a corner, or to wave a sign to let drivers know they can pull over and sign a petition. Bring your kids, bring your friends, and remind the community why we support the effort to recall Jeffco School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. If you don’t have petitions, we can get you some. We also really need people waving signs, including students who are too young to carry petitions.

We’ll be gathering at these locations (from south to north):

  • Bowles and Wadsworth
  • Belleview and Wadsworth
  • Hampden and Wadsworth
  • Jewell and Wadsworth
  • Alameda and Wadworth
  • Colfax and Wadsworth
  • 38th and Wadsworth
  • 44th and Wadsworth
  • 52nd and Wadsworth
  • 80th and Wadsworth
  • 100th/Church Ranch and Wadsworth

If you can’t make it the whole time, stop by when you can! We all understand how busy schedules are, but your presence even for an hour or two does make a big difference.

This is our opportunity to remind Jeffco that we support the recall as a community. We’re not “so-called parents” or “riled-up mommies,” but parents, grandparents, community members, business owners, taxpayers, voters and valuable residents of Jeffco who are tired of the lack of transparency, back-room decisions, and poor fiscal management of the district by WNW. Let’s also remind them that we are Jeffco and this is a grassroots movement — unlike Americans for Prosperity who will be knocking on doors this Saturday.

Haven’t had time to sign yet? Stop by! We’ll be there from 3:30 to 7. Can’t make it that day? There are still plenty of drive and sign locations available through July 25, and you can find those HERE.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!