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.


 

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.


 

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!


 

Story #4 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt Presents “Back of Envelope” District Compensation Plan, Rams It Through Ignoring Teacher Input

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 #4:

What Happened: In August 2014, Ken Witt proposed a new district-wide teacher compensation plan. This wasn’t consistent with the usual way district-wide compensation plans are typically proposed, because (as you might gather by now is common) Witt just presented the plan with little explanation or discussion about how it was developed. The Superintendent had little to say about it. Teachers hadn’t heard of it. He appeared to have developed it with his attorney. Chalkbeat, in the article, noted that the proposal “surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.”

The compensation package tied teacher salaries to performance, and when the teachers objected to the proposal, WNW gave a pre-ordained response: “those teachers just don’t want pay for performance.”

Among the problems with the proposal:

  • As explained above, teachers had no forewarning about the proposal;
  • Witt did not explain how he arrived at the proposal;
  • The proposal ignored a costly neutral fact-finder’s strong recommendation against allowing a “pilot” evaluation system to be used in determining teacher raises, especially after teachers were told that the pilot system was not going to be calculated into salaries for the first year;
  • Witt clamped down on public comment about it, and seemed to fully ignore teacher and board minority input.

At the following meeting, WNW passed the proposal 3-2, without an explanation of how it was derived.

The proposal did include raising minimum salaries (thereby allowing WNW to boast about “raising teacher salaries”) and did include raises for most teachers. However, the raises were mostly quite minimal, especially given that the economy was finally in recovery after years of pay freezes.

More complete coverage of “what happened” is here:

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

GOLDEN – Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.” Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

Why It Matters: Transparency. Respect. Good Governance. Working Environment. Politics.

Transparency: Once again, we see WNW parading their “transparency” (look, see, board meetings are being live-streamed!) while coming up with major decisions (compensation for thousands) behind the scenes. Not explaining the rationale or the merits of such a system was about as anti-transparent a decision as we can imagine.

Respect. If you respect your employees, you explain to them why their compensation system is as it is. At the very least, you listen to their complaints. When neither of those things is done, you don’t feel respected.

Good Governance. Once again, we see major decisions being made behind closed doors, without the input of the other board members, and very likely in violation of Sunshine Laws.

Working Environment. Teachers don’t need a whole lot, but they do need two-way communication. It was evident that WNW didn’t read that part (or many others) of the business management textbook. Performance goes down when that communication is shut off. If performance has stayed reasonably high, it’s because teachers have worked hard to overcome the working environment that devalues them so much.

Politics. Remember the idea of a non-partisan school board? It’s hard but we need to try. It’s evident to us that this was the plan all along:

  1. Initiate a pay-for-performance plan without teacher input;
  2. When teachers object to problems with the plan and the lack of opportunity for input, use political jiu-jitsu and say “they just don’t want to have pay for performance” despite that not really being the case with most teachers, or the main concern.
  3. Tie the supposed hostility to pay for performance to union control.

It’s a simple political calculus. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Most teachers are open to pay for performance, and they had already started working on well-thought-out plans to implement such a system. Witt just manipulated it for political ends.

When teachers from two schools walked out the day after the proposal was approved, the predictable response from Witt was just “they don’t want pay for performance.” It was convenient politics.

This incident made it so high on our list with our voters, we think, because it affected so many and contained so many elements of the reasoning behind the recall.  Witt playing politics, acting secretly, being disrespectful, and creating a hostile work environment. And Newkirk and Williams going along with it. And Brad Miller coaching them to toe the line the whole way. This wasn’t leadership, it’s sloppy, dangerous, demoralizing puppetry that has a real impact on many lives in our community.