Advice to New School Board Members – From a Veteran, Jill Fellman

Once again Jeffco School Board Watch was able to get time a current school board member, this time Jill Fellman.  When asked about her time on the board and advice to future board members, her advice was to “listen.”

“LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!!  Then, be willing to compromise and work together to improve education for all students.  Remember that every decision must be made while considering the needs of students, teachers, schools, and families.  Take the responsibility of being an elected official seriously.  Advocate for needs of Jefferson County schools with other elected officials in county, state and federal government positions. Be active in the community — even at those events that may have many attendees that may not agree with some of your positions — to demonstrate that you are willing to engage respectfully with all segments of our community to pursue the shared goal of what’s best for Jeffco kids.”

Ms. Fellman truly walked the talk with respect to getting out in the community.  Just a few days ago she was seen at Lakewood High School at a student produced play called “Fractured Light”.  This show about struggles students face outside the classroom was powerful.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “I love reading to students, visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, principals, and parents, hearing about the challenges and the joys of learning.  Attending art nights, athletic events, musical performances, watching our talented students engage in their learning bring me moments of great pride.”  She added that as a school board member you help create a structure and capability in the district to teach “the whole child,” which is not just about core knowledge, but life too.

Ms. Fellman came to the board with an interest in budgeting, and to that end has been treasurer the last two years.  Prior to that she was board secretary.  She has been successful in both roles, and helped guide the priorities at the meetings.  “When I first came to the board, there was a presentation on the budget EVERY meeting.  Don’t get me wrong – the school district budget is extremely important.  However, we only had a half-hour presentation on student achievement in four meetings.  That was changed so that EVERY meeting we had a presentation on student achievement while we got regular budget updates in writing.  The change in meeting structure better reflected our values and focus.”

She takes her role as treasurer seriously, and she is a member of the Audit Committee.  In addition, she attends meetings of the Colorado School Finance Project and learned everything she could about school finance.  Her advice to new members: “In an environment where board members’ goals and interests are respected, those members ought to be willing to encourage each other to serve in some positions where they can offer the most experience as well as others where they have an opportunity to grow.”

Her greatest disappointment is that we do not have a plan to deal with the tremendous amount of growth in NW Arvada or West Lakewood.  Assuming the predictions by expert demographers are even close to accurate, the district is looking at an increase of 5,000 – 8,000 students and we currently do not have seats for these students.  There are many schools that are at full capacity and adding students to these schools does not make sense.

“I understand the argument against using Certificates of Participation (COPs) to fund schools but, I strongly believe we MUST have schools for all students who live in Jefferson County and using COPs to finance schools in this situation is not only appropriate, it is also a smart, responsible business decision.  Taking advantage of COPs to build schools is the best solution to the overcrowding we are experiencing now and the extreme overcrowding we will see going forward, unless the board quickly adopts and implements a plan.”

It is worth repeating that listening to input from staff is critical too, as is acting upon their sage advice.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “We had a large number of community members write us emails offering ideas, and we had our staff experts provide us with multiple alternatives to address the growth issues (supported by our superintendent). Unfortunately, despite the continued efforts of two members to find compromise, the board did not listen to our community or our staff experts.  There are extremely few black and white issues that we face.  In fact, most are shades of gray, and in order to best serve our students we need to engage with all interested parties, and actively look for compromise solutions.”

As her four year term winds down, Ms. Fellman knows she will continue to be an advocate for ALL children, right up until the last day of her term.  She has literally spent a lifetime involved in Jeffco Schools.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in Jeffco schools, teach here, work in the Jeffco Schools administration, and serve as a member of the Board of Education for 4 years. I have been part of Jeffco Schools for over 47 years.  I am sure to find new ways to continue to advocate for teaching and learning.  I cannot stop caring about this district!”

Hopefully our readers are looking at this critical board election with open eyes, and ears, and are seeking candidates for the next board who will “walk the talk” as Ms. Fellman has over her long career, listen to the community and their peers, and stand up for ALL students.

Stand-Up-Be-CountedNeed a quick refresher on the candidates? Check out this post about Ali Lasell (running for the District 3 seat currently occupied by Ms. Fellman), as well as Amanda Stevens (running for the seat occupied by outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper), and recall successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell.

Remember: vote for Lasell and Stevens, vote yes to recall, and then vote for Rupert, Harmon and Mitchell.


 

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.


 

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.


 

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.


 

 

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!