11.18.15 Ready for a New Era

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

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

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

What we know:

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

One More Board Meeting to Stand Guard…And Some Big Decisions

dignityAs much as we want to (and have) celebrated a clean slate thanks to the amazing Jeffco community, we still have work to do.  The new board will not take office until November 19, so we have to put away the confetti and get back to business.  Tomorrow, on Thursday, November 5, WNW will reign over one last board meeting.

There are 3 items to highlight for this meeting.  The first comes in the consent agenda.  The ratings are out and overall McMinimee is PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE.  With 12 goals he was rated Highly Effective in 2 areas, Effective in 3, Partially Effective in 5 and INEFFECTIVE in 2.  Using the simple 4 point elementary grading system that works out to a 2.4  (keeping in mind being Ineffective gives you a 1 from the start).

This brings up a few questions.  Is McMinimee, with no experience leading a large school district, in over his head?  Was he truly the best candidate WNW could find? (That’s rhetorical). Now that we are saddled with his contract, what will the clean slate do?

Bothersome is that PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE will result in $9,500 in bonuses.  That is 4.3%.  In a year when EFFECTIVE teachers will see less than a 1% raise and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE will see just over a 1% raise, McMinimee will be awarded a 4.3% bonus.

Knowing that DR. Stevenson chose to forego bonuses in times when teachers saw no raises, will MR. McMinimee choose to follow her example of leadership?  Or will he take the 4.3% bonus?

Doral Charter Application

The next questions for Thursday night, will WNW continue to ignore the community? Will they go out with the same disrespect they have reigned with?  Or will they make a mature, graceful decision?

Before them is the Doral Academy Charter Application.  Doral presented virtually the same application to Cherry Creek last month and it was unanimously rejected.

Here are our concerns with this application:

This would be the first charter school in Jeffco to be run by a Charter Management Organization (CMO).  And not just any CMO.  This CMO is Academica.  Academica is currently under federal investigation for financial conflict of interests. So it is particularly troublesome that according to the charter “Academica will be responsible for the DAC’s bookkeeping and financial reporting. Academica will also be assigned by the Board to bid out third-party services that the school requires …”

(For more information on who profits from these deals, we recommend you read this article.)

Another concern is the misrepresentation of this school as an arts school.  The curriculum clearly states it is an arts integrated school (meaning kids learn using songs, like children learn the presidents in their neighborhood schools).  However, in an effort to make a case for the school at the last presentation, Newkirk repeatedly tried to draw parallels to the Denver School of the Arts – which the charter panel never denied.

DSA is a wonderfully successful program, but it requires auditions and focuses on the arts.  It is not arts integration.  Would it be great to have an arts option school in Jeffco some day? Yes, but Doral Academy is NOT an arts school.

A third concern raised by the charter review committee was fiscal feasibility.  With 285 students needed to break even and 121 letters of intent, Doral is far from reaching that number.  Even then, the committee pointed out the budget was lean on staffing, infrastructure and food services.

As a parent though, the seating of the board is the most concerning element of the application.  The board terms are FIVE years (and a member can serve 2 terms), which seems lengthy.  The original board is formed from the founding committee with staggered terms (nothing unusual there).  However, as the terms expire the BOARD votes for their OWN replacements.  A self-perpetuating board DENIES any voice from the school’s community in their board.  Furthermore, with a board as large as possibly 9 members, there are only 2 seats allocated to parents.

This is far from the grassroots charters that thrive in Jeffco, and it is very far away from the community/parent voices this election advocated for.  When you add Academica in the mix – where school board members for one of their schools was none other than the President of Academica, the seating of the board becomes a vital issue.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: Our ideal would be that this contentious issue be tabled for the new board to vote on since they will be left with the fallout of the decision either way.  Unfortunately, state statute requires a response within 75 days, which may not be possible given the timing of the application submission.  Barring tabling the vote, our recommendation is that the application should be denied at this time due to: the fiscal jeopardy from lack of interest, the association with the troubled and beleaguered Academica, and the overly self-perpetuating structure of the board.

Public Comment Proposal

We commend Jill Fellman in this last act.  She has proposed that in study sessions that have 2 or more action items requiring a vote, that public comment be allowed.  Thank you, Jill, for being open to ALL voices.

District Accountability Committee (DAC)

Finally on the agenda are the revisions to the DAC.  Our hope is merely that when the Clean Slate takes office they will revisit this committee, returning the voices of PTA, parents, faith leaders, etc.  We also hope that the application for these positions in the future will include more than name and child’s school so that the candidate can be vetted properly.  Our final request is that a new policy would also include appointments from all members, rather than a majority vote that silences the minority.

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THIS IS NOT FAREWELL: A PERSONAL NOTE FROM JEFFCOFACTS, ONE OF OUR WRITERS

A little over a year ago I met the founder of Jeffco School Board Watch for coffee.  I had never been involved in politics and had no desire to be.  But I was appalled at the actions of WNW and had been so for months.  As coffee progressed I heard more about the agenda of Americans For Prosperity and WNW.  At first, I honestly thought – conspiracy theory.  But I agreed to write on occasion for Board Watch.  I chose the moniker JeffcoFacts, because I wanted to present a fair analysis based upon facts, not theories.  With time there were days that my emotions did ride high – when I saw the disrespect to students, teachers and board members.  When I saw the complete disregard for community surveys.  Some days JeffcoFacts and the Jeffco parent in me could not be separated.

Today we celebrate the end of the reign of terror.  And today in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give thanks to the many community leaders that stepped into the fray – too many to name.  And I thank the passionate founder (turns out he wasn’t a crazy conspiracy theorist) that gave me a voice here.

This election is not farewell.  I have learned so much about what makes great schools and what a true reform movement within a community can look like, that I can’t go back to the cocoon of inattention.  For the sake of not just the children of Jeffco, but for the schools fighting this battle in Thompson, DougCo and throughout the country.

What does the future of Board Watch look like?  It is too early to know.  But I can say that even the Clean Slate of candidates knows we are watching and we will always fight for our children, regardless of who is in office.  To do anything less, would be disingenuous.

Finally I want to say thank all of you – our followers.  I never thought I could do this.  And there were days I seemed so unqualified.  But then on occasion a comment would come in on an article and it lifted me up.  Or I would see the number of reads and I knew you were listening and sharing.  You are the reason the recall was successful.  Thank you for that and thank you for supporting us.

10.25.15 One reader responds to the Denver Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

Recall 101

ICMYI and BBPD (Back By Popular Demand)…we have gotten strong reviews on our Recall 101 page from a couple weeks ago, so we are republishing as we head into the weekend and yet more people are sitting down with their ballots.

DSCN0244There’s a tab at the top of our website homepage so you can access it easily and share this concise rationale with your still-unsure family and pals. Thanks to our readers for the suggestion!

We’re also sharing the following well-organized description of the main reasons behind the recall, if you prefer to share this piece instead or as well:

Your Voice: Top Four Reasons to Recall Jeffco School Board Majority

There are four major reasons to vote to recall Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk. For the sake of our children and their educational futures we must restore local control, transparency, fiscal responsibility, and respect for parents, educators, and the community. #4 Restore Local Control Local control exists for a reason.

Story #2 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Expensive “National” Superintendent Search Turns Up One “Finalist”…Someone They Already Knew From Dougco

“I don’t know anything about Dougco.”–Ken Witt

McMinimee

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.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #2:

What Happened: The Jeffco School Board’s Superintendent search in the spring of 2014 started out with a seemingly reasonable step: the hiring of Ray and Associates as a consultant to guide the board through a search for the district’s new Superintendent, the CEO and face of the school district. A $40,000 price tag for Ray and Associates may seem steep, but it is so important to get the right leader for a school district the size of Jeffco, no one complained.

The first problem was that there were already whispers, by the time Ray was hired, that Dan McMinimee from Douglas County would be Jeffco’s next Superintendent, as he had been so loyal in helping to get to the holy grail in Dougco: the complete dismemberment of the teachers’ association, the “reformers” obsessive, main idea for improving education.

The second problem was that Ray and Associates recommends multiple finalists when working with school districts to select superintendents, but WNW strongarmed the situation so that only one “finalist” was presented, over the objections of Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman.

The third problem was that we know that many qualified applicants from around the nation applied for this premier position, yet WNW saw fit to say that Mr. McMinimee was the only one qualified to be a finalist. There is no other explanation for this other than a union-busting political alignment. It is simply impossible to believe that there were no more qualified applicants than Dan McMinimee, or that he was awarded the job for any reason other than that he shares the simplistic view that the way to improve your kid’s education all hinges on getting rid of the teachers’ union.

WNW left no other finalists to compare and contrast with McMinimee; they didn’t want transparent public debate. They went through the motions with Ray and Associates to make it seem like they did a national search. They were called on it. It didn’t matter. In the end, WNW voted 3-2 to make him Superintendent, without even close to adequately defending how he was the most qualified, despite all of the irregularities in the process.

Why It Mattered: Waste. Transparency. If this had been an appointment for a mid-level position, maybe no one would have noticed.

Transparency Problem 1: One of Ken Witt’s earliest public comments was “I don’t know anything about Dougco,” in response to those concerned that WNW would just implement a “Dougco-style” playbook. What a lie. Most people suspected that it was a lie; this move confirmed it.

Transparency Problem 2: The whole “one finalist” move. Ray and Associates is an experienced superintendent search firm that recommends bringing multiple finalists to the community for a reason. Why pay $40,000 for process recommendations that you’re going to ignore?

Transparency Problem 3: While WNW was trying to convince Jeffco that McMinimee is a modern day Aristotle despite his thin experience with anything other than school district administration, those looking into his background were pointing out his thin experience in almost every area other than union-busting. If WNW had campaigned on that platform, then McMinimee would be an appropriate choice. They didn’t, and he wasn’t.

Transparency Problem 4: Those whispers even before the application process started that McMinimee had already reached a backroom deal with WNW. Those smiling faces promising transparency in 2013 were only that…smiling faces promising transparency.

Of course, there’s the waste involved in hiring Ray and Associates to run this process. Spending $40,000 on a national search firm when you already know who you’re going to pick? Is this really the same group that complained about items as small as $100 here and there in the previous administration? They really should have just announced the hiring of McMinimee and saved the taxpayers $40,000. But that wouldn’t have been too transparent.

The biggest problem with this, aside from the huge additional trust deficit with WNW, is that such a wide swath of our community sees McMinimee as an illegitimate puppet, a yes-man only. Whatever his competencies may or may not be, the process left so many of us with the idea that, politics aside, Jeffco could have had a much more qualified leader for our schools, even among very conservative candidates if that’s what WNW wanted.

Of all people, McMinimee should be the angriest that the hiring process was so sloppy as to tarnish his entire tenure from the get-go, with doubts forever about his relative qualifications. When you’re making $280K, though, you can probably just live with that tarnishing and retire early.