Story #1 From 2013-2015 Poll Results: WNW Hire Colorado Springs Attorney Brad Miller to Really Run Jeffco Schools

Even more than crowds of students lining the streets, this might be the defining image of the WNW regime:

Brad miller invoice

Two weeks ago, 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.

This was listed as the top story, selected by more than 60% of our readers. In previous posts in our countdown, we have first stated “What Happened” and then talked about “Why It Matters.” For this final post, we are reversing the order of those entries because we think it’s so important to consider why it matters:

Why It Matters: The questions raised by the WNW’s relationship with Mr. Miller get to the heart of not only the issues that keep getting recited by recall supporters, but to the heart of democratic governance and the nature of education itself.

  1. Should school districts be essentially run by attorneys?
  2. If you believe that it’s OK for attorneys to essentially run a school district, then do you think that it’s OK if that attorney lives an hour and a half away and has almost no connection to the district?
  3. Although attorney-client privilege is an important concept, do you appreciate that almost all of Mr. Miller’s invoices look like that, especially for a public institution?
  4. WNW campaigned on transparency; Brad Miller’s work cannot be described as even remotely transparent. Do you think that Mr. Miller’s work, or live streaming of board meetings, is more important for transparency?
  5. We’re told that Mr. Miller represents “the board” but Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper rarely know what he is doing. Do you think that that’s transparent and good governance?
  6.  School districts need attorneys, but what are the appropriate limitations of their roles?
  7. Traditionally, school districts have been run by people who have deep experience in the day-to-day workings of the educational system. Our school board majority doesn’t have that, our Superintendent was a gym teacher for a brief time before becoming and administrator, and they are led around by an attorney who is working for a number of school districts across the state, coaching them on skating fine lines. Is this all related to an anti-intellectual rebellion against experts in their fields?
  8. Do we want our elected officials to occasionally seek counsel from attorneys about legal questions, or do we want our elected officials to put attorneys in the drivers seat, speeding toward some agenda, redacting all the important steps taken along the way?

 

The work of Brad Miller, and not just his appointment, spark fundamental questions about what we want society to be. It is about who is in charge of our schools, our kids, our community. We believe that if this were the sole issue causing problems, it would be enough to justify a recall. We also believe that if all of the voters fully understood this sole issue and the image above, a recall would pass without any of the other issues in play. The number 1 reason we must recall WNW isn’t to get them out of office, or even McMinimee out of the Superintendent’s chair. It’s ultimately to get Brad Miller away from the controls of our school district.

What Happened: We’ve already covered the hiring of Brad Miller as part of an earlier story on surprise votes, poor governance, and lack of information sharing on the part of Ken Witt. So, the circumstances of his contract approval are bad enough.  See a little more information about that here:

The Board’s Personal Attorney – updated 2/6/14

Mr. Miller now is also the personal attorney to the Thompson School Board in Loveland. This was despite large public protests. The Denver Post has an article here where Miller denies he is a “charter school crusader”.

Mr. Miller and his colleagues have gone on to work for more than a year and a half now with a murky scope. Most worrisome, that redacted legal bill at the top of this post? We didn’t pick out the bill with the most redactions. We picked out a representative bill! This is what the public sees, but it’s also what Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper see. More than a year of billings for Mr. Miller and his colleagues, and what do we see? This, regularly.

It is not a stretch to say that Brad Miller is really in charge of Jeffco Schools. Yes, Ken Witt and Dan McMinimee execute decisions formally, and the PR help contracted by the district works overtime to try to keep giving them all a clean sheen, but anyone watching closely and attending board meetings can tell that the shots are called by Mr. Miller on all of the important matters. Mr. Miller’s vast experience at union-busting and public school busting across Colorado gives him a lot of input into just how WNW should tread the line on ignoring teachers.


 

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 #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.


 

 

Story #3 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Williams Suggests Whitewashing Social Strife from AP U.S. History; Civil Disobedience Ensues

The Mask Came Off. The People Woke Up.

students

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 #3:

What Happened: We trust that our readers are as familiar with this story as any other, as it dominated local news for a full week, captured heavy national attention, and even attracted significant international attention. A quick summary is helpful though, especially as WNW try to distort what really happened. The focal point is the exact language that Julie Williams used in her initial curriculum review proposal:

“Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Note that this language does not say “materials should present a balanced view of U.S. History;” it does not use any terms suggesting a mix of the good news and bad news about the history of our country. Instead, it uses simple terms that can easily be read by anyone as censoring negative aspects of U.S. History. When WNW later said that they were just seeking something more balanced than what was in the books, perhaps that was true, but that’s not the interpretation of the language that many smart people — yes, including students — derived from reading the proposal.

Fueling the fire were Williams’ bizarre follow-up comments. First there was the admission that she actually didn’t read the class framework before putting forth the proposed language. We don’t need to comment on that…

Second was an assertion that important figures in U.S. history were excluded from the course. How she could have understood that without reading the framework is head-scratcher. Worse, it’s simply without merit. The framework didn’t include every name of every important person…because it’s a framework. It’s like looking at a table of contents and objecting that a specific person isn’t listed in the TOC, even though they’re discussed in the book. Anyone teaching AP U.S. History should teach about the Founding Fathers and MLK, and our guess is that every last one does. But that doesn’t mean that those individuals are listed in detail everywhere.

Recently, the College Board, the company behind AP classes like AP U.S. History, added some of the individuals that Williams complained about into the framework. That is not a vindication of Williams or of some other Tea Party activists who made the same claim around the country. It was political appeasement that’s tantamount to adding a few specifics to a Table of Contents.

Of course, everyone knows the rest of the story, with a few teacher sickouts and student walkouts from every corner of Jeffco. More information about that sequence is contained in our Story #10, which was the whole new story created by Witt and Newkirk calling the students “ignorant” “pawns” after the walkouts. [In fact, we’d note that the votes received for these two stories put together would have made it the #1 story, but the split in votes means that they both appear in our Top 10 from our reader poll anyway.]

2013-2015 Poll Results: School Board Story #10: Witt and Newkirk Call Jeffco Students “Ignorant” and “Pawns”

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 presented many that didn’t make the cut; and they were troubling enough.

Why It Mattered: Two reasons: 1) the mask came off; and 2) the people woke up.

Prior to Williams’ proposal, there was still a holding out among many in the community that discontent with the school board was only related to teacher pay, and that teachers were just complaining. Insiders knew differently, but sometimes it takes an event like this for people to see the true colors of their elected officials. This wasn’t just a matter of poor wording on Williams’ part. Do you believe that if there hadn’t been community outrage, that Witt and Newkirk would have had any problem passing the language just as it was? We believe that they were all just fine with that language, and only scrapped it because of the community and national outrage. What this proposal did was give us a glimpse into who this board majority is; they are not just your pleasant locals cheerily looking for ways to be more transparent and determined to give parents a little extra choice. No, they are puppets in a national effort to try to take over school boards, privatize the districts they’re sworn to protect, and in the mean time usher in a new era of extremist indoctrination so that the next generation will align not just with healthy conservative principles like fiscal responsibility and law and order, but also with conservative ideology like a view of American Exceptionalism that somehow sees God’s light as shining solely on our country and justifying any mistakes that we’ve made. This proposal told us a lot about WNW and what they were trying to hide. For that we thank Julie Williams for not being very reflective and a loose cannon.

Second, this incident woke people up. There is a time in this fight to take back Jeffco Schools from outsiders that was pre-AP U.S. History proposal, and then there’s the time since this proposal. The difference has been stark. Before Williams’ proposal, a relatively small but energetic cadre of people were closely following the school board’s shenanigans. Since that proposal, we have a whole lot more sentinels and watchdogs throughout the county. Board meetings have been packed, and traffic on our site and many others has been double or triple what it was before. WNW had been executing the Dougco and Koch Brothers education “reform” playbook to perfection, in their minds. That playbook undoubtedly says to keep things just quiet enough to be able to deflect most criticism. This incident made a whole lot of people think “that’s not who we voted for!” and they’ve been watching much more closely ever since.

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!