Story #9 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Against Policy, Witt Repeatedly Withholds Information and Forces Surprise Votes

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 #9:

What Happened: First, check out the two videos here, courtesy Support Jeffco Kids and Transparency Jeffco:

Support Jeffco Kids | Facebook

One more small clip. What is the rush? Why not thoughtful discussion? Why not follow policy? They already have the votes to do anything they want to do,…

Board of Education 12-12-13

This is video from the December 12th, 2013 board of education meeting and study session. In it, the board discusses hiring an attorney solely to represent the board.

If these were the only two instances of last-minute information sharing, surprise motions, and violations of “Sunshine Laws,” that would be troubling enough. Rest assured, these videos from September 2015 and December 2013 are just the bookends of a long string of such instances. For strategic reasons, maybe not wanting community criticism, Ken Witt hides as much information as possible from Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. Dahlkemper and Fellman protest that they have not had enough time to review the motion at hand or the relevant background information. They have also not had enough time to ask appropriate questions. Sometimes they (correctly) allege that the late information sharing and surprise vote-taking go against stated board policy. Witt goes ahead and holds the vote anyway. John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have obviously been apprised of the background information, go along with Witt and create a 3-2 vote.

Why It Matters: Trust and good governance. The linchpin of our democratic republic is informed decision making, first by voters about candidates, and then by elected officials about the things they’re voting on. Ours is a country, and a community, that is fine with being in the minority of opinion, if we feel like the issues have been thought through and discussed by the officials we’ve elected. Dahlkemper and Fellman, over and over, could not make informed decisions, because Witt consistently didn’t allow them to be informed in a reasonable manner. Voters see through that. It’s as if everyone that voted for Dahlkemper and Fellman was being disenfranchised every time this happened. People expect better from our public officials.

Furthermore, the pubic deserves to hear spirited debate and a critical back-and-forth about the tough issues facing the school district, even if the discussion still results in a 3-2 vote. Short-circuiting such discussion is the purview of despotic leaders. It’s fear-driven. For a “leader” who claims a “mandate” from the voters, to then hide so many discussions about his decisions, there’s a level of hypocrisy that’s obvious to anyone that’s fair-minded.

As was pointed out many times: they had the votes, why did Witt keep doing this? Was it to not allow critical discussion? Was it that their invisible handlers were impatient to keep WNW on a certain timeline according to their playbook, so they didn’t want to have votes spill over or tabled until the next board meeting? Was it just clumsiness and a Nixonian above-the-law arrogance? Perhaps all three of those things? We’ll never know, but we do know that the frequency with which this happened made a lot of people take notice, and that it further eroded whatever trust this board had.

With that, your new daily reminder to vote Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, a decidedly competent and independent-thinking group.

JeffCo Evangelical Christian: Why I Support the Recall

FaithfulFedUpA Special Note to JCSBW Readers: It’s no secret that Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk have been specifically courting the evangelical Christian crowd as a voting bloc.  Many, maybe most of us, that write for JCSBW are Christian too, though we see some issues a little differently than our school board majority. 

We have shared a lot of important information with you the last two years, and at this point we imagine that we’re “preaching to the choir” much of the time. That’s one of the reasons that we have kept asking you to share our stories, whether by email or on Facebook. This is a classic case.

We are very impressed by this letter in response to our “Faithful and Fed Up” request and are guessing that you probably know some good Christian people who need the “permission” that this reader is giving. So with two weeks to go before people get their ballots, please do share.

I’m an evangelical Christian and will be voting to recall Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk.

I attend a conservative Christian church in Jeffco. Probably not the most conservative church in Jeffco, but pretty conservative. I don’t know everyone’s political backgrounds, but it seems like most members are Republican, with some Independents and I think there are a few Democrats too. I’m not the most conservative in my church, but maybe average. I’m a Republican who works in a corporate environment.

My family and I have been hearing people at our church that are discontented with this board but hesitate to vote against them because the board calls themselves conservative and Christian, and so the people tend to believe everything this board says. I think that Christians need to look long and hard at this board majority, and then know that they do have permission to vote against them. I do like that they are Christians, but just because they are Christians does necessarily not make them good public officials.

Here’s  my thinking. My biggest concern is glorifying His Kingdom however I can through my life. I tend to have views consistent with most Republicans, but I am sometimes slow to choose sides, especially on local issues, until I see that one side is clearly working to advance His Kingdom through their values. I do understand that elected officials aren’t appointed to force Christianity on the community, but I do think I can tell when their Christian values are shining through their actions. That is important to me.

I don’t question the faith of Julie Williams, John Newkirk, and Ken Witt. That’s dangerous territory. We are all sinners and we are all made in Christ’s image. We have to take one another’s faith statements at face value. I believe that they are Christians and they are probably good family members.

What I do have a problem with is how they treat others from their public office.

You see, I don’t think God really cares that much about exactly how schools are structured, whether there’s a teachers’ union or not, how compensation packages work, and all the legal stuff we get involved in. My reading of scripture is that Christ says to leave worry about all that stuff behind. Now, there’s a time and a place for those questions, and our public officials have to make tough choices. I get that, but I don’t think that God sides with one side or the other very much on those kinds of issues. God wants us to do our best but God doesn’t take very many hardline policy stances. I’ve heard from enough teachers and other parents that have concerns that I trust that there are two sides to all of these issues, anyway. So I don’t think that God cares that much about the exact decisions, but God does care that these issues get resolved humanely, truthfully, respectfully. That’s not what I see happening.

I do see fault on both sides, or maybe it’s on all sides. Still, here’s what I’d challenge my Christian friends to do. You know those Planned Parenthood videos? Maybe you watched one, and were shocked and disgusted, but if you’re fair-minded, maybe you thought “well this looks bad but maybe this is a little out of context and heavily edited.” But then you watched more of the videos and it’s clear, there’s a pattern of terrible problems.

The same thing happened to me with the school board majority in Jeffco. A friend of mine forwarded a clip from one of their meetings about a year ago. The behavior in the video by Ken Witt was a lot less shocking than what’s in the Planned Parenthood video, but that doesn’t make it right and I couldn’t stop being bothered by it.

I thought maybe he was having a bad night or the clip was taken out of context. I started watching other videos of the school board. The more I watched other videos and live-streamed part of a couple other meetings, the more I saw the same patterns. Ken Witt being rude and dismissive to speakers and to the other board members. John Newkirk and Julie Williams just sitting there and not speaking up. It was totally clear that at times they weren’t being open about their plans. Something is going on there and it seems like they are being guided. They make decisions without input from the other board members, and it seems sometimes it really is in secret. They don’t seem to take seriously those who have worked in the district for a long time, or parents, or teachers, who disagree with them. They can’t agree with everyone, but I just expect them to take them seriously and think it through. I know how I’ve felt when liberal politicians just dismiss more conservative points of view; this is no different. On top of that, I do believe that they are not following their own policies about transparency and notice.

I think about Micah 6:8: “What Does The Lord Require of Thee? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

My ideal public official is a Christian who’s guided by their Christian values. If a Christian seems to be acting for some other purposes, then the “Christian” label doesn’t make that much difference to me in their public role. Some people have accused those that are against the board majority of having poor behavior. I’ve seen some of that too, but I also know that people act that way when they’re not being listened to. That happens in any business environment where employees and clients don’t feel heard. I don’t think that Ken Witt just disagrees; he seems to show no signs of listening. He has to show that he is listening.

It’s Ken Witt’s job, and the job of John Newkirk and Julie Williams, to create that environment. They are not doing that. It doesn’t excuse all the behaviors from their opponents, but the buck has to stop with them. The pattern is clear: they do not seem to be acting humbly or respectfully. I hope that if they survive the recall, they will turn that around, and if they don’t survive the recall, they will figure out ways to prioritize respect and humility a little more in whatever public lives they later have. They may be Christians and I appreciate that, but in my opinion the way they have exercised power has not done honor to Christ’s name.

-Anonymous

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.

10.4.15 WNW Rewrite History Again

Have you seen the latest mailer from Americans for Prosperity?

One side claims that equal funding is working. Their proof? ACT scores (from tests taken before charter schools were equally funded) and graduation rates from 2012-13, before Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams had been elected.

That’s right: the AFP claims that actions taken by the current board majority months after they were elected influenced events that had happened before the election.

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Yep, this is another attempt to rewrite history.

The mailer references a February 2014 Denver Post article about improved graduation rates in Jeffco. The rates are from the 2012-13 academic year, and those students graduated nearly six months before the 2013 election.

The mailer also references ACT scores, but full equalization wasn’t approved until after all of Jeffco’s juniors had taken the 2015 ACT. How would that work? Oh wait, it doesn’t!

We’d also like to remind our readers that as recently as Thursday evening, WNW were citing “poor” ACT scores as the very reason they need to appoint a new membership to the newly-formed District Accountability  Committee and throw out all the work that has been done by volunteers to write bylaws for the new DAC in the past few months. One part of Newkirk’s DAC membership proposal reads as follows: “Whereas, the Board of Education has concluded that the percentage of students meeting the college and career ready standards on the ACT test taken by all students in Colorado is not acceptable…” (emphasis ours). Witt also has argued that the urgency of this issue is why they need to rush ahead with a new DAC membership, even if the application makes it clear the membership application process is a farce.

Don’t forget that WNW also tried to censor AP classes and has suggested that they’d rather see other options like concurrent enrollment instead of Advanced Placement.

Note that a previous AFP mailer claimed that so-called reforms like pay for performance — which Witt didn’t even introduce until August 2014 — also increased the 2012-13 graduation rate. The AFP is clearly delusional.

The reality?

  • Improvements in the number of Jeffco students who are career and college ready is due to the dedication and diligence of their teachers and parents
  • Improvements in Jeffco AP scores is due to students, parents, teachers and community members who fought long and hard last fall to keep those classes untouched by WNW’s partisan agenda
  • Improvements in the 2012-13 Jeffco Schools graduation rate are due to the dedication of teachers, staff, and former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, and those largely took place between 2008 and 2013.
  • All five of the clean slate candidates — Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell — have said they will will keep equalized funding, so our Jeffco charter families can rest easy on that issue.

Our teachers continue to be dedicated and our students continue to succeed, but this is despite the havoc wreaked by Witt, Newkirk and Williams. Meanwhile, more than a thousand teachers have chosen to leave rather than deal with the lack of respect shown to them by WNW, and more are considering it.

It’s time to recall Witt, Newkirk and Williams. Please spread the word. Make sure that your friends, family, and co-workers know that WNW and the AFP are rewriting history again, and set them straight on the facts.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

 

9.28.15 Apply now for the new Jeffco DAC — or miss out

urgentAs we mentioned in our last post, the Jeffco Schools Strategic Planning Advisory Council (SPAC) is splitting into two groups. The new District Accountability Committee (DAC) will focus on the accountability side of things, and the new SPAC will focus solely on strategic planning.

You may also remember Witt, Newkirk, and Williams want to start fresh, and told district staff to solicit applications for review on Oct. 1.

That’s Thursday.  THIS Thursday.

The district posted application information and other important details today, and we hope you will apply.

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Here’s the catch: you need to apply ASAP because the Jeffco School Board will be reviewing applications at this Thursday’s meeting. Witt was extremely cagey about the application process at last week’s meeting, refusing to provide a specific date by which application should be received and generally rushing the process without any details.

Witt said they’d review the applications they receive at the Oct. 1 meeting, but people could still submit applications. We’re not sure how that process will work, but we suspect that they gave advance notice to individuals they want on the new DAC so they’ll have those applications on Thursday.

It would be very easy for Witt, Newkirk and Williams to look through the applications they’ve received, declare that they have more than enough qualified candidates, and appoint DAC members on Thursday. They’ve said the official vote for members will be at the Oct. 15 meeting, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually consider any new applications after Oct. 1–unless one of their people procrastinates past the Oct 1 deadline. We wouldn’t count on that.

If you’re a Jeffco Schools parent, administrator, teacher, or a member of Jeffco’s business community, we encourage you to apply. We especially urge you to apply if you happen to chair or be a member of your child’s school accountability committee.

The application form is here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1y3teI4hpNSTulVH1_S3_o2EyKn8wGi8J964P1ab7Xyo/viewform?c=0&w=1

Don’t delay! Witt won’t wait.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!