Beware!

 

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Witt, Newkirk, Williams, Johnson, and Merritts. How does that school board sound? Trust us, there won’t be much “local control,” “independence,” or “bridge-building.” There will be record numbers of closed-door sessions and backroom decision-making, driven by attorneys and profiteers, with the least transparency possible. We wouldn’t say that the above sets of ads would always correlate to that kind of lock-step alignment, but in this case we have no doubt.


 

Reflections from an Outgoing School Board Member

school-crossingRecently we were able to snag some communication time with outgoing Jeffco School Board member and former board president Lesley Dahlkemper.  We wanted to get a clear view from a current board member about what was working and what was not working on the school board.  Future board members, regardless of their political stripes, can learn valuable insights from a veteran.  As a voter, please consider her wins and losses as you contemplate the types of members you’d like to see on the board in the future.

Ms. Dahlkemper’s top two accomplishments were around budgeting and community engagement.  She came in during a time of very tight budget constraints.  “The board collaborated with community members, parents, district leaders, educators and the employee associations to make decisions that kept difficult budget cuts away from classrooms,” she said. “This work was tied with walking door-to-door and phone banking with other parents and community members to pass a modest bond package that addressed immediate needs to keep students ‘safe, warm and dry’ as well as a mill levy package to maintain Outdoor Lab, band, class sizes, and other services, which were at risk.”  It was a strong, collaborative community effort.  It was also bipartisan, and both and both Democratic and Republican parents worked on the effort.

With respect to community engagement, she said, “As board president, I worked with my board colleagues and the Colorado Association of School Boards to draft the policy. An excerpt from the policy states: ‘The board believes that engaging our community is essential to preserving a strong system of public education. The board’s policies and decisions should reflect community values, good educational practice and available financial resources.’ Jeffco is one of only a handful of school  boards with such a policy.”

Unfortunately, community engagement takes more than just listening.  It takes courage to act according to the wishes of the public.  Ms. Dahlkemper explained “My greatest disappointment [over the last two years] was several failed motions during multiple board meetings to fund full-day kindergarten for schools with students on the cusp of free- and reduced-lunch.”

The board was presented with data, many times, about this critical need and impact it makes on children.  During her first two years, the former board did approve full-day kindergarten funding for more than one dozen at risk schools, but the current board repeatedly turned down her motions on a 3-2 vote in the last two years.

Not only should the board listen and act according to the public wishes to the degree they can with budget constraints, they should also listen to each other. Jeffco Schools has had a rich tradition of board members with diverse views who have worked together in the best interests of all children.

In the past, they listened closely to our community to identify priorities.  They followed board policies that required them to study a proposal and ask questions – with a vote always occurring at the second meeting.  “It’s been disheartening to see surprise after surprise introduced at the board table,” she said. “These surprises range from hiring a school board attorney prior to knowing his hourly rate and scope of work to a recent resolution gutting months of work by parent and district leaders designed to better align the district accountability committee to state law to a new compensation system that was never fully vetted with Ms. Fellman, me or employees – as policy requires.”

The message from this outgoing member could not be more clear:  “Listen to the community – including those with whom you agree and disagree. Study the issues. Ask lots of questions. Find common ground and build from there. Communicate clearly – and in a variety of ways – to the public about the board’s rationale for its decisions. Work closely with other board members to come up with meaningful, innovative solutions to complex challenges. Always remember that your decisions affect 85,000 children and the quality of Jeffco’s schools. These decisions have implications for us all regardless of whether we have children enrolled in a Jeffco school. Great schools and great communities go hand-in-hand. It is a privilege to serve on the Jeffco school board.”

As for staying engaged in education, don’t worry.  Besides her full time job in education, Ms. Dahlkemper is involved in her daughter’s school – both its PTA and school accountability committees. As any parent of a tween knows, being a supportive, present parent is key at this time in her daughter’s life.  She will have much more time to do this effectively.

On the fun side, she’ll spend her Sundays reading the New York Times and Denver Post cover to cover in lieu of Board Docs. Most of all she says, “I’m eager to spend more time with my daughter, Grace, and my husband, Mike. It seems like just yesterday we were taking Grace to Rooney Ranch Elementary School for her first day of kindergarten. In two short years, she will be in high school.  In six years, she will graduate from high school. Time is fleeting. I want to be fully present for her and for Mike.”

 

Recall 101: Your Guide to the Candidates and Issues

DSCN0244You asked and we did it: a Recall 101 page highlighting the top issues that prompted the recall.

There’s a tab at the top of our website homepage so you can access it easily and share it with others. Thanks to our readers for the suggestion!


 

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.

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.