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!


 

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.


 

Teacher Executions Now Recommended on Julie Williams’ FB Page, by Her Long-Time Friend

Troubling pre-publication note: As we publish this article, Julie Williams has still not deleted this person as a friend from her Facebook page, though she is deleting others who are complaining about the situation. Wow.

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The rhetoric around the recall is of course heated. But now, multiple, fresh calls for the execution of people, specifically teachers’ union members, that are pro-recall, especially among Julie Williams’ friends, is frightening on a whole new level. Read on for a brief history of how we’ve gotten to this point. [Please note that we are opting to not publicize this person’s name in this article, though there are plenty of screenshots of these online exchanges in our possession, and others have already posted some of them].

December 2014 — JCSBW reported on the fiasco of Newkirk and McMinimee speaking at an event that was “mistakenly” advertised as being co-sponsored by a white supremacist organization.  Following that report both our Facebook page and blog were inundated with vile, hate-filled messages from this former Republican State House candidate, including this message:

I AM ORGANIZING AGAINST YOU AND I ALSO WILLS TART TRACKING THE NAMES OF ALL TEACHERS AND STUDENTS WHO FALL UNDER YOUR SPELL AND WILL OUT THEM SO THEY WILL NOT GET INTO THE COLLEGES THEY WANT AND THE TEACHERS WILL BE SUBJECTED TO PUBLIC RIDICULE.
YOU ARE NOW MY ENEMY! GO **** YOURSELVES!

At the time we deemed them to be threatening not only to us, but to students and staff that opposed the board majority.  Those messages along with our concern for school safety were reported to Jeffco School Security and to the Jeffco BOE.

The security response?

After reading your email and the attachment it appears that the comments and statements are not intended for Jeffco Schools but are directed towards Jeffco Boardwatch.

Jeffco Public Schools strives to be a safe and welcoming environment free from threats, intimidation and disruption for all students, staff and visitors.  Our ability to provide a quality education begins with mutual respect and safe practices that are consistent throughout the District.  Should you receive information that directly targets or threatens our school, students, staff or District, please forward any information as soon as possible.”

(We do think the threats to track teachers and students were a threat on our schools but we opted to not give this person any more attention, while being watchful of him.)

Now this same person has returned on the scene to spew even more direct threats to those that support the recall, stating that pro-recall people and union members should be executed and our children expelled after swift justice (specifically, he recommends “within 24 hours”) from a “conservative” tribunal.

This time his hate and threats have been reported to the sheriff’s office.

The bigger issue is WHERE he posted these threats — on Julie Williams’ Facebook page!

Because her page is private, only friends can post to the page.  Now, we understand we probably all have a friend that has spouted off something we didn’t agree with and couldn’t control.  But to have a friend that promotes executing those in disagreement? That is something difficult to justify.

We can already hear the excuses: “She can’t control what other people say.  She didn’t know he was like that.”

Maybe — if this were his first offense.

March 2014 — This man runs for a state House seat and makes these same type of hate-filled statements.  He was asked to step down as a candidate and in subsequent interviews stated that he was asked to run originally by none other than Tim Neville, Williams’ brother-in-law.  Neville denied the claim, yet Williams approved this man as her Facebook friend — a man her family knew is a white supremacist who makes threats online.

December 2014 — JCSBW reported his threatening activity to the Jeffco School Board, but Williams still approved this man as her FB friend.

One of Williams’ friends had the courage to stand up to the hate spewed on her page and we commend him.  Unfortunately, his post remained up for hours and Williams didn’t do a thing about it.

We can’t control everything our friends say.  But we ask, would you even be friends with this person after you knew what kinds of things they wrote?

And what if they wrote was an insistence upon the execution of the people you’ve been elected to lead?

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Keep fighting, JeffCo! And VOTE! 

Vote for a clean slate: Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, Mitchell


 

 

Kim Johnson: The Worst Kind of Lies and Why You Really, Really Shouldn’t Vote for Her

distraction“Independent?” Really?! Says who?

There are lies that don’t matter much, but then there are lies that matter a whole lot. This lie matters a whole lot: Kim Johnson has been spinning a web of lies about her “independent” campaign.

Why? She doesn’t want to be associated with WNW — but she’s been working with them for months.

You see, Johnson was mentioned as a potential candidate in a Nov. 4, 2014 meeting of Jeffco Republicans.  On Dec. 13, Johnson met with the Jeffco Republican group and introduced herself “to the team.” The minutes also noted:

Kim expressed her strong desire to be part of this process regardless if she is the candidate or not

You can read the emails containing the two sets of meeting minutes at this link, thanks to our friends at Support Jeffco Kidshttp://www.supportjeffcokids.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Opposition-meeting-minutes-1.pdf

Months later, Denise Mund — who previously co-owned Charter School Solutions with Jeffco board attorney Brad Miller, sent this June 29 email stating that Johnson was selected by the same “team” after an extensive, months-long vetting process:

After months of meetings, about 12 Jeffco conservative education leaders have selected a candidate for the Jeffco school board, to represent District 3 (Arvada).

Five prospective candidates participated in an extensive vetting process that included weekly meetings for five months and mock interviews, speeches, and responses. These people were grilled!

Following this extensive vetting process, the team selected Kim Johnson.

In a recent blog post on her campaign website, Johnson readily admits that she was asked “early on” to be part of a team. She says she “chose not to, because it would undercut my goals in running.” Then she goes on to say that “members of that group decided to support me, but saying anyone selected me is not accurate.”

We don’t buy it. And we especially don’t buy it because Johnson filed her campaign with the Colorado Secretary of State on June 19 — a mere 10 days before Mund sent her email stating that Johnson had been selected after a five-month vetting process. If Johnson knew she wanted to run as an “independent candidate,” why did she wait until she had the approval of the GOP selection committee? She could have announced her candidacy months earlier — but she didn’t.

And Johnson wasn’t picked by just ANY group. According to emails from Jonah Hearne, an officer with the Jeffco Republican Party, a group of “about 12 Jeffco conservative education leaders” convened to “contact the potential candidates for District 3 and 4 to invite them to a potential candidate meeting to discuss ideas and reach a consensus on who will be in it to win it with our support.” Other emails confirm this information. They included:

  • Sheila Atwell – executive director of Jeffco Students First, who publishes the Jeffco Observer, defends WNW at every turn, and who was often seen as the only face opposing the recall on the news over the summer (also the group to which the .com version of our domain name and the Support Jeffco Kids domain name redirects to trick recall supporters)
  • Ben DeGrow – the Independence Institute’s Education chief, who is also a graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies
  • Laura Boggs – former Jeffco School Board member censured twice for her reprehensible behavior
  • Denise Mund – former co-owner of Charter School Solutions with partner Brad Miller, (see above)
  • Preston Branaugh, Brett A. Moore, Rachel Swalley, Dan Green, David Brazzell, Jim Powers and Mary Everson.

The connections among the group involved in selecting Johnson run deep. Several of them ran for open seats on the Board of Education in 2011 or have been appointed to serve on district committees by WNW.

But now, because she says so on her website, we are to believe that Ms. Johnson is running an “independent campaign?”

No, ma’m. At this point, probably the worst lie you could tell when running for school board in Jeffco is to say that you’re independent when in fact you’re collaborating with WNW’s team. Hiding your intentions, again. We fell for it in 2013, but we won’t fall for it this time, Kim Johnson!

This is why JCSBW has been starting to use the term WNW + Johnson + Merritts.

If leaked memos aren’t convincing enough, consider that Johnson and Merritts both recently had ads in Atwell’s WNW/Koch mouthpiece (and newspaper wannabe) The Observer, and both candidates’ yard signs are appearing together. Jeffco Students First is also endorsing both of them.

The email string about Tori Merritts’ selection process just hasn’t been leaked yet.

It’s time for a clean slate — and we have just the ticket. So when you receive your ballot:

  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 for Ron Mitchell as District 5 successor candidate

Jeffco voters will start receiving their ballots this week. When you receive yours, please vote! Every vote counts, and we need yours.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

Story #5 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt and Newkirk Premeditate Abusive Student Privacy Violation

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 #5:

What Happened: The backstory is fairly convoluted, so we’re going to mostly leave it to the Colorado Pols version, which includes a video of Witt and Newkirk conniving:

Investigation Underway Into Alleged Student Bullying By Jefferson County School Board, Staff

We wrote two weeks ago about an ugly and perhaps legally actionable incident that occurred at the May meeting of the conservative-controlled Jefferson County Board of Education.

The summary is that WNW’s continuous battle with Jeffco Students for Change reached a boiling point several times before this episode. When the students requested a meeting with the school board, WNW rejected the students’ request. That’s unfortunate, but not surprising.

What was surprising was that Ken Witt and John Newkirk had obviously pre-planned to “out” one of the student leaders, to everyone’s surprise, by showing personal information and calling her out at the public school board meeting, including an accusation of her being “racist” because she “favorited” a joke on Twitter that was critical of disgraced former Communication Director Lisa Pinto. Again, the backstory is complex and these stories are meant to be summaries, but let’s just say that that the “racist” accusation was a such a stretch that most people were scratching their heads about how such a connection could even be drawn. Furthermore, WNW’s organizer and previously censured Board member Laura Boggs had also “favorited” the same tweet, but of course she wasn’t called out. In a world of politically correct stretching often called out by conservatives, the “racist” stretch was dumbfounding to the extreme, but nonetheless what remained in people’s minds was two board members colluding to smear a student for simply “favoriting” a tweet that other people “favorited” as well, including their own allies.

Why It Matters: In two words, No Boundaries.

You can hear yourself thinking “OK, maybe they lie, cherry-pick, exaggerate, are hypocritical, are controlled by outsiders, and don’t know much about education, but of course they have boundaries when it comes to kids.”

“OK, maybe not on that last one either.”

That’s a big deal.

A chicken-guarding-the-henhouse investigator found no formal wrongdoing, of course, but suggested that the behavior was unprofessional and could have been handled much better. More importantly, according to some observers, the result was easily manipulated by the fact that in requesting the investigation of itself, the board did not include emotional distress as a result of the bullying but limited the inquiry to physical bullying.

Sound familiar? The board asking for an investigation of itself? With a tightly worded question designed to exclude the actual wrongdoing?

On top of the actual fact that a student and student’s family were deeply upset and unsettled, this whole episode was much more than a breaking down of the idea that “they wouldn’t go there with kids, would they?” barrier that some of us may have still had. It was also about their rank amateurism in dealing with conflict, and the way they spend their time. Over the past two years, it always seems as if they’re making hasty, coached decisions when it comes to actual substantive topics, but they’re spending a lot of time on stunt-planning. The fact that this was so obviously pre-planned, amidst a bunch of substantive discussion items that had been given short shrift, was a reminder that WNW’s primary “solutions” to education are about optics, power, and control, and not actual substance…or caring about students as individuals.