Board Study Session (12/17/15) Preview: Starting to Tackle Big Issues

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, December 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Update

Detailed Facilities Analysis. The first two hours will focus on the state of Jeffco’s facilities, with a presentation from Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell and Executive Director of Facilities Tim Reed. Over the next five years, Jeffco will have nearly $800 million in facilities needs based on building condition and/or educational adequacy. In addition, enrollment in parts of the district is expected to increase significantly.

This letter from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee to the Board notes that “at least 7,200 more students are expected to enroll in the Candelas, Leyden Rock, West Woods and Solterra neighborhoods within 10 years.” The committee noted, “if you approve plans now, 1,050 additional seats can be ready for the fall of 2017 to serve the growing wave of new families. If you do not approve moving ahead, triage [use of lease arrangements for modular classrooms] and inefficient use of scarce funds will become the norm, further exacerbating the situation.” Look for Bell and Reed to propose several ideas (slide 48 of the presentation) for accommodating this growth. While the former Board acknowledged the need to look at asking the voters for a bond package to address facilities needs, the needs are pressing and cannot wait for an election.

Our hope is that the Board will consider a combination of Certificates of Participation (COPs) to address immediate needs coupled with asking the voters for a bond to address more long-term facilities needs. Although debt-funding isn’t typically preferred, COPs provide a reasonable alternative given a situation that has been left to go on for too long.

CMAS Results: Information and Looking Ahead. Next up, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Syna Morgan and Executive Director of Instructional Data and Educational Research & Design Dr. Carol Eaton will spend about an hour discussing CMAS results. The new test has five performance levels (rather than four, as in the previous tests): exceeded, met, approached, partially met, and did not yet meet. Met and Exceeded Expectations are considered “college and career ready” performance.

There remains some confusion about the difference between the “approached” and “partially met” levels. They’ll share data from Jeffco students by grade, and break out additional results for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) students, etc.

Overall, Jeffco performed better than the state in all subjects and in all grade levels, except in 8th grade math. The notable exception is a trend across the district of lower grade-level math performance beginning in 8th grade. Some reasoning for that may be that high performing students are not taking grade level math, but are instead taking higher level math courses and doing really well, especially in the 8th and 9th grades.

However, there is also a marked decrease in overall math performance beginning in 10th grade and continuing into 11th grade. This could be due to over-testing, and because students realize by high school that there are no rewards or consequences for test performance, coupled with their shifting focus to the ACT and SAT. They may just not be taking the tests seriously. We hope the Board will note this trend and ask District staff to look especially into this dip in 8th grade (and beyond) math performance and report back with root causes and thoughts moving forward to address this trend.

We also see that our Hispanic students, those on IEPs, those with FRL, and ELLs really struggle, and we hope the Board will look to and direct experienced staff to continue to investigate root causes and opportunities for improvement. Drs. Morgan and Eaton will also discuss results from the fall district assessments using the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) system, which replaced Acuity, and DIBELS, which is used in the primary grades.

Financing a New School in Arvada. Beginning at 8:30pm, the Board will revisit the $15 million underspend that the previous Board directed be used to build a school in the north end of the district. You’ll recall that district staff recommended that the school really needed to be a $25 million K-8 facility, but the previous Board chose instead to approve only enough for a too-small K-6.

Look for the new Board to consider a supplemental budget to amend some previous budgeting decisions. Both senior Staff and the conservative Financial Oversight Committee and the Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommend moving the $15 million back into the general fund, using COPs to fund the new school, and considering a one-time $5M pay increase (not to be added to base ongoing salary) for employees, and holding $10M in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/2017.

We wholeheartedly agree that operational funds should not be used to fund capital construction and that $15M should go back into the General Fund. We think putting some of the money aside into reserves is wise, and considering some kind of bonus for employees is admirable as the district needs to get employee pay back on track to be competitive with surrounding districts.

However, we are hearing across the district of the impacts to smaller schools by student-based budgeting (SBB). We would like to see the Board ask district staff first to seek input from schools as to their needs and pressure points that require immediate relief and support, address those items as much as possible, set aside a portion of the $15M to cover payments on COPs for initial years as much as possible, consider whether some of the funding should be used for the security budget increase requested earlier this fall, and then look at a bonus for staff and a contribution to reserves. The former Board did include a contribution into reserves in their budget, and district staff should be consulted to determine what additional contribution, if any, is recommended.

Community Engagement in the Budget Process. Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson will share community engagement plans for the upcoming budget development process. Due to low turnout in previous years, Ms. Askelson is not recommending community budget forums this round, but is recommending a survey that each school accountability committee (SAC) will be asked to complete and a district-wide survey marketed to all stakeholders. Both surveys would be hosted by an independent third party.

Because this board was elected on a platform of increasing community engagement, we hope that the board will reject the proposal to discontinue budget forums. The budget forums are a great opportunity for the community to engage. Those of us at JCSBW have participated in these budget forums and always see parents and community members at the forums that don’t attend board meetings, so these forums definitely reach the district’s constituents.

A better approach might be to ask that a question or questions pertaining to the usefulness and/or desire for budget forums be incorporated into the community survey so the Board has a clear understanding of the direction to go with regard to future budget forums. Perhaps TeleTown Halls could be implemented as a new way to reach district citizens.

Bradford K-8 Concerns. One thing we didn’t see was an agenda item to address concerns that have arisen over the decision to make Bradford a K-8 school, which the Board voted to approve at last week’s Board meeting. (We will write a separate post about that issue sometime in the next week or two.) We hope the Board will address the community’s concerns, and will commit to engaging the entire Chatfield articulation area when fleshing out the plan for the articulation area as a whole.

Judicious Use of Executive Sessions: When and Why? Lastly, we thought we’d weigh in on the concern expressed by some over the Board members meeting in Executive Session at the end of last week’s Board meeting after receiving a general overview of the Open Records and Open Meetings laws. We agree with many on all sides of the recent school board issues that executive sessions should be rare and judiciously used, and the reasoning behind executive session was explained. The overview was conducted in the public meeting (as we thought might be the case when we last posted), and specific questions for the attorneys was reserved for executive session. Keep in mind that some of the questions board members may have asked are, in fact, confidential. One of the examples of this would include questions about the Claire Davis law, which holds school districts responsible for acts of violence if a court determines that every security issue had not been taken. The answer to those questions would involve confidential information about Jeffco Schools security procedures, and can only be answered in executive session so as not to compromise our students.

We will continue watching any use of executive session over the long haul. And we’ll remind everyone that it is unusual for all five board members to be new to the board. Board members explained that they had personal and privileged matters to discuss with the attorneys that could not be shared with the public. For example, Brad Rupert is an attorney with clients, and had some questions about conflicts of interest.

Could board members have met individually with the lawyers outside of the board meeting? Yes, but meeting together was a more cost-effective and efficient use of everyone’s time and the district’s funds, and meeting individually would still be behind closed doors anyhow. We stand by the Board’s decision to discuss these matters in private with legal counsel. We don’t expect this Board to misuse their ability to meet in executive session, and view this concern to be unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

Again, this meeting is a study session, with no votes planned, and should wrap up by 10pm on Thursday.

Jeffco Proud!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doral Charter Application

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

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

Here are our concerns with this application:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Comment Proposal

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

District Accountability Committee (DAC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffco School Board: Last Two Years in Pictures

A quick chronological summary of the events of the past two years, in pictures and videos, starting with the 2013 election:

 

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The Koch Brothers played a major role in financing a victory for WNW in 2013 and are spending incredible amounts to keep them in office in 2015. They don’t live here, and their financing wildly dwarfs funding from outside sources used to support other candidates or the recall.

 

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.

WNW hire Colorado Springs attorney Brad Miller, in a surprise vote and having discussed it secretly beforehand in violation of Sunshine Laws. Miller represents districts around the state where there’s been Tea Party take over. To this day, only three of our elected board members know what he does.

 

Brad miller invoice

Virtually everything Miller does is redacted, despite WNW’s campaign of transparency. “Brad Legal Services” is not transparent.

 

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After Ken Witt famously says “I don’t know anything about Dougco,” WNW hire an expensive consulting firm to conduct a “national” Superintendent search. WNW, going against the advice of the search firm, only identify one “finalist,” that WNW already knew, from Douglas County. This “finalist,” Dan McMinimee, was clearly not the most qualified applicant in the pool, but had a “proven” history of union busting, WNW’s main answer to education improvement. Parents and teachers join forces to mock this relationship in public protests.

 

McMinimee

The new Superintendent tries to be stealthy most of the time but his political intentions are clear.

 

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The Tea Party gathering McMinimee and Newkirk speak at is co-sponsored by the “American Freedom Party,” a self-affirmed White Supremacist party. Newkirk angrily dismisses the co-sponsorship as a “typo” without ever giving any realistic explanation of how those words somehow appear as the result of a mere “typo.”

 

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In the important day-to-day running of the district, McMinimee only offers token opposition to Witt and company, seemingly there only to play the “good cop” and soothe matters when citizens and teachers call foul on WNW’s agenda.

 

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Parents and teachers are locked out of school board meetings.

 

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Julie Williams proposes the censorship of U.S. History from which there can be no complete backpedaling.

 

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Thousands of knowledgeable students react to Williams’ request to eliminate civil disobedience from A.P. U.S. History by walking out of classes. Newkirk and Witt call the students of the district “ignorant” “pawns.”

 

 

silent-1Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat Colorado, November 6, 2014 9:54 pm - http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/11/06/jeffco-students-interrupt-board-meeting-leave-peacefully/#.VF7eKoXYXqb

Students begin attending board meetings, organize their efforts, and create “Jeffco Students for Change,” — but their input is summarily and repeatedly dismissed by WNW.

 

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Julie Williams posts an officially listed hate group’s admonition and recommendation for civil disobedience: to keep kids home from the “Day of Silence” meant to highlight LGBTQ students’ challenges. She claims she didn’t read it before posting it.

 

Edward James Olmos, the actor who protrayed L.A. Math teacher Jaime Escalante in "Stand And Deliver".

Edward James Olmos, the actor who protrayed L.A. Math teacher Jaime Escalante in “Stand And Deliver”.

 

People who know education all around the country take notice. Despite dreamy, idealistic “Stand and Deliver” references by WNW, the lead actor from that famous movie sends this picture to Jeffco.

 

fiscal conservativesAs time wears on, the more and more it becomes clear that “fiscally conservative” is only a campaigning tagline for WNW. 

 

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 Julie Williams’ brother-in-law, Tim Neville, is among those illegally using the Jeffco Public Schools logo in campaign ads. The ads also used doctored images of the student walk-outs. These violations are so egregious that even McMinimee and Miller have to put out a “Cease and Desist” memo.

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, why do they do this?

Against Board Policy, Ken Witt yet again springs a surprise vote about a crucial matter with late-supplied information.

 

Witt ethics

In a political stunt rivaling the strangest, Ken Witt files an ethics complaint against himself surrounding his closed door meetings: a) in a closed-door press conference in which many were kicked out; b) to a governing body that has no jurisdiction over the case; c) this governing body won’t meet until after the election (even if it did have jurisdiction); and d) Witt’s complaint asks the wrong question about the actual law-breaking activity.

 

marshall

Julie Williams’ long-time friend, Nate Marshall, makes multiple recommendations on her Facebook page that teachers’ union members and pro-recall supporters be “executed” “swiftly” by a conservative tribunal. And their kids should be expelled, post-executions. Williams blocks people complaining about these messages long before she removes Marshall as a friend after public uproar. He continues to call teachers “vile” “ISIS-loving” “filth.” Many pro-recall supporters also report having their decorated cars damaged.

 

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See that “Americans for Prosperity” in he upper right corner? That’s the Koch Brothers. People who don’t live here. Never mind that a pay for performance plan was already being worked out when WNW got elected in 2013. The Koch Brothers wouldn’t know that.

 

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Kim Johnson and Tori Merritts try to run a stealth campaign by not associating with WNW, but the trails are everywhere. Johnson in particular claims to be “a little bit of a bridge builder,” and “not selected by any group,” which is reminiscent of Julie Williams’ campaign promise “to always have an open door.” It’s discovered that Johnson was selected after a rigorous process by a group of WNW’s staunchest “no compromise” allies.

 

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Ron Mitchell, Ali Lasell, Susan Harmon, Brad Miller, and Amanda Stevens, a truly independent “Clean Slate,” join forces to reclaim Jeffco Schools.

Need more information? Check out our Recall 101 page. Thanks to our partners at Jeffco Transparency, Jeffco Data View, and Support Jeffco Kids for originally procuring some of these images and videos.

Keep fighting, Jeffco!


 

Recall 101

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

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

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

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

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

Reminder for Sharing: “Clean Slate” Candidate Summaries

We know that many people are still asking who to vote *for* after voting “YES” to recall WNW, so we are republishing this as a reminder for you to share with your friends.

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Your ballots have arrived! If you haven’t had time to learn more about the five Clean Slate candidates that we are endorsing, here’s a quick summary about Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell. You can also click on their names to read more about them on their websites.

Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens are running for the District 3 and 4 seats that were already up for election this year. The other three — Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell — are successor candidates for the recall seats.

DISTRICT 3

Seat currently held by outgoing board member Jill Fellman

Ali Lasell

Ali Lasell is a parent of two Jeffco students and is active in PTA and School Accountability Committee at Maple Grove Elementary. She also spent 25 years as a teacher and has earned a Principal’s license.

She believes in:

  • Quality education for all students, including the option for full-day kindergarten
  • Strong fiscal accountability, with long range planning and collaboration with parents, community leaders and teachers
  • Everyone deserves to be heard: listening and respecting diverse ideas and beliefs to strengthen Jeffco Schools
  • Reducing the amount of time spent preparing or taking tests rather than engaging students in learning. Tests should be solely for student growth and data collected should provide timely feedback to students, families and educators.
  • Supports school choice and also keeping neighborhood school strong for students who can’t take advantage of school choice

DISTRICT 4

Seat currently held by outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens was a Jeffco Schools student and now is the parent to two Jeffco students. She chairs the School Accountability Committee at her children’s school, and spent several years working as a teacher before become a parent.

– She believes in:

  • Excellence in education, transparency and accountability in decision-making, and cooperation to effectively and efficiently prepare students and manage schools.
  • That each student deserves high academic standards, effective and well-supported teachers and quality curricular and extra-curricular opportunities
  • That each student deserves a safe, positive school climate that treats children as whole people with intellectual, social and emotional needs and gifts
  • That all students deserve an education that develops engagement, strong work habits, teamwork, goal-attainment and problem-solving skills in schools equipped with the technology and tools to build 21st century proficiencies
  • That it’s time for politics to take a back seat to student success.

Successor Candidates

DISTRICT 1

seat currently held by Julie Williams

Brad Rupert

Brad Rupert is a Jeffco parent and step-grandparent, as well as the former president of the Arvada Chamber of Commerce and the current president of the Arvada Kiwanis Club. He has also spent many years working for non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and the Arvada Food Bank.

He’s running for school board because:

  • He’s worried about the district losing quality teachers
  • Political agendas have no place on a school board
  • Jeffco’s focus should be on providing an excellent education to every student every day
  • If elected, he would dispense with the board attorney position created by WNW and would address concerns about the current teacher contract

DISTRICT 2

Seat currently held by John Newkirk

Susan Harmon

Susan Harmon is a parent of two Jeffco students who serves on her children’s PTA board, chairs the school accountability committee and volunteers in multiple ways at the school and in the greater Jeffco community.

She’s running for school board to:

  • Reconcile the district with teachers and the community
  • Restore respect and listen to all voices
  • Address inequities with the current pay-for-performance model instituted by WNW. She supports the idea of pay-for-performance but says issues need to be worked through effectively.

DISTRICT 5

seat currently held by Ken Witt

Ron Mitchell

Ron Mitchell is a Jeffco graduate who returned to the district to work as a teacher. He served as Principal of Alameda High School for ten years and at Columbine for eight, and has continued to support Jeffco in numerous ways since his retirement. He is also a Jeffco parent and grandparent.

He is running for school board because:

  • The ideological behavior and poor leadership of the board has affected each Jeffco Schools
  • Jeffco teachers are leaving due to the board majority’s disrespect, which is negatively impacting our children’s learning experience
  • He is committed to listening to the community, keeping great teachers and putting education ahead of politics
  • He wants to restore common sense, community values, transparency and financial accountability to the Jeffco School Board

Remember to vote!

Please vote as soon as you get your ballot. This election is too important to sit out.

The first item on the ballot is the regular Jeffco School Board election for the District 3 and 4 seats. Vote for Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens!

Then vote YES to recall Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt, and then vote for successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell.

Our children and the future of Jeffco Schools depends on you.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!