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.


 

 

Radio Jeffco: Interview With Beloved Former Arvada West Teacher Shannon MacKenzie

Incredibly strong story by Radio Jeffco.

Click on the link below to actually listen to the voice of a beloved and highly effective Jeffco teacher (Shannon MacKenzie, English teacher at Arvada West) that left because of the board majority. Her stories embody so much of why this recall is necessary. Please share broadly.

Shannon MacKenzie

Podcasts

Our mission is to share the voices of Jeffco residents concerned about outsiders trying to take control of our schools and community.


 

Story #4 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt Presents “Back of Envelope” District Compensation Plan, Rams It Through Ignoring Teacher Input

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 #4:

What Happened: In August 2014, Ken Witt proposed a new district-wide teacher compensation plan. This wasn’t consistent with the usual way district-wide compensation plans are typically proposed, because (as you might gather by now is common) Witt just presented the plan with little explanation or discussion about how it was developed. The Superintendent had little to say about it. Teachers hadn’t heard of it. He appeared to have developed it with his attorney. Chalkbeat, in the article, noted that the proposal “surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.”

The compensation package tied teacher salaries to performance, and when the teachers objected to the proposal, WNW gave a pre-ordained response: “those teachers just don’t want pay for performance.”

Among the problems with the proposal:

  • As explained above, teachers had no forewarning about the proposal;
  • Witt did not explain how he arrived at the proposal;
  • The proposal ignored a costly neutral fact-finder’s strong recommendation against allowing a “pilot” evaluation system to be used in determining teacher raises, especially after teachers were told that the pilot system was not going to be calculated into salaries for the first year;
  • Witt clamped down on public comment about it, and seemed to fully ignore teacher and board minority input.

At the following meeting, WNW passed the proposal 3-2, without an explanation of how it was derived.

The proposal did include raising minimum salaries (thereby allowing WNW to boast about “raising teacher salaries”) and did include raises for most teachers. However, the raises were mostly quite minimal, especially given that the economy was finally in recovery after years of pay freezes.

More complete coverage of “what happened” is here:

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

GOLDEN – Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.” Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

Why It Matters: Transparency. Respect. Good Governance. Working Environment. Politics.

Transparency: Once again, we see WNW parading their “transparency” (look, see, board meetings are being live-streamed!) while coming up with major decisions (compensation for thousands) behind the scenes. Not explaining the rationale or the merits of such a system was about as anti-transparent a decision as we can imagine.

Respect. If you respect your employees, you explain to them why their compensation system is as it is. At the very least, you listen to their complaints. When neither of those things is done, you don’t feel respected.

Good Governance. Once again, we see major decisions being made behind closed doors, without the input of the other board members, and very likely in violation of Sunshine Laws.

Working Environment. Teachers don’t need a whole lot, but they do need two-way communication. It was evident that WNW didn’t read that part (or many others) of the business management textbook. Performance goes down when that communication is shut off. If performance has stayed reasonably high, it’s because teachers have worked hard to overcome the working environment that devalues them so much.

Politics. Remember the idea of a non-partisan school board? It’s hard but we need to try. It’s evident to us that this was the plan all along:

  1. Initiate a pay-for-performance plan without teacher input;
  2. When teachers object to problems with the plan and the lack of opportunity for input, use political jiu-jitsu and say “they just don’t want to have pay for performance” despite that not really being the case with most teachers, or the main concern.
  3. Tie the supposed hostility to pay for performance to union control.

It’s a simple political calculus. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Most teachers are open to pay for performance, and they had already started working on well-thought-out plans to implement such a system. Witt just manipulated it for political ends.

When teachers from two schools walked out the day after the proposal was approved, the predictable response from Witt was just “they don’t want pay for performance.” It was convenient politics.

This incident made it so high on our list with our voters, we think, because it affected so many and contained so many elements of the reasoning behind the recall.  Witt playing politics, acting secretly, being disrespectful, and creating a hostile work environment. And Newkirk and Williams going along with it. And Brad Miller coaching them to toe the line the whole way. This wasn’t leadership, it’s sloppy, dangerous, demoralizing puppetry that has a real impact on many lives in our community.


 

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.

9.21.15 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!