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!


 

School Board Ballot Day & You: 300 Words, 2 Years, and 2 Million Page Views

Today, the first November 2015 Jeffco ballots are being mailed out.

In two years, we’ve had approximately 2 million views on our website and Facebook pages, which averages out to 6 views for every voter in Jeffco. We are grateful that so many have spent time to research what’s going on, but all of it will be for naught if the election keeps WNW in power.

We know that the differences are stark, but not everyone does:

WNW + Merritts + Johnson are financed almost entirely from sources outside Jeffco, like the Koch Brothers. The “Clean Slate” of Rupert, Lasell, Stevens, Harmon, and Mitchell, is not.

When considering what’s best for Jeffco, WNW + Merritts + Johnson look to those financiers and attorneys like Brad Miller who have been have specially trained to fight public schools. The Clean Slate is an independent group actually listening to Jeffco stakeholders that value public education.

WNW + Merritts + Johnson cynically claim that “kids are first” but are concerned with political posturing, appealing to a narrow ideology, and “who has the microphone.” The Clean Slate is a pragmatic group of skilled professionals that do not march together on all of the issues and do not come with a preordained agenda.

WNW + Merritts + Johnson habitually blame teachers and call themselves “transparent,” and then meet behind closed doors and stake out their next broadside on teachers. The Clean Slate includes two former teachers and a former principal, and they all actively seek input from all Jeffco stakeholders.

If you haven’t yet shared your thoughts with many others, we ask you think about what you might do this upcoming week. Your opinion matters to others more than you think. There are still undecided and even uninformed voters, probably including some of your friends. Many want to know more about what’s going on, but don’t know who to ask. You can make a difference. The future of public education, in Jeffco and possibly across the nation, is at stake.

Clean Slate

Ron Mitchell, Ali Lasell, Susan Harmon, Brad Rupert, and Amanda Stevens

Keep fighting, JeffCo! 

Election day is Nov. 3. Vote!


 

Story #8 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Koch Brothers and Other Major Outside Funding Flood Jeffco for WNW

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.

Note that if we had run the poll this week, we certainly would have included Witt’s bizarre and appalling press conference that even his media allies can’t restrain themselves from criticizing and joking about. Safe to say that his presser will be on everyone’s mind for a while.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #8:

Koch

What Happened: To summarize what we posted a few weeks ago, in 2013, WNW sent approximately 6 mailers out across much of Jefferson County. Jeffco Students First also sent out “The Jeffco Observer.” According to multiple professional estimates, the mailers alone would have cost *at least* $200,000 dollars for design, printing, and postage. The Observer, designed largely to support WNW, cost a lot too.

These communications were paid for by sources outside of their official campaign reporting, by third-party organizations that were nonetheless formed specifically to aid WNW. This is what’s often called “dark money.” WNW’s campaigns also raised some money.

Clear as day on mailers was “Americans for Prosperity”: The Koch Brothers’ political advertising and activism machine. As for other donors? It appears that WNW’s biggest fundraiser took place in Arapahoe County, and the guest list was packed with wealthy donors from outside of Jeffco.

Meanwhile, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne, and Gordon “Spud” van de Water each raised in the $35,000-$60,000 range for their official campaigns. Those numbers were indeed higher than the “official” reporting for WNW’s campaigns, but A LOT LESS than the money that was spent on all of the mailers via the “dark money.” Why is that “dark money?” Because most or all of it came from the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity, or the other wealthy donors from outside Jeffco, and THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT.

It’s like comparing two families’ spending on food for a month, and saying that one spends a lot more after just comparing their grocery bills, neglecting the fact that the other family that’s spending less on groceries is only doing so because someone is paying for them to eat out at restaurants all the time. In the end, which family spent more?

It’s simple: WNW easily outspent their opponents in 2013. In their usual sneaky tactics, WNW’s allies are just looking only at the official campaign contributions in order to convince you that they were outspent, to further the idea that their elections were driven by a “grassroots” effort.  That’s both laughable and sad. As you can see, WNW really weren’t outspent, and that’s a major reason we’re in this mess.

Why It Matters: We think that everyone intuitively understands why this matters. Political research indicates that more than 90% of elections are decided by those who spend more money. Of course, some of that is because the candidates have real grassroots support among the people that know them, but the Kochs and others wouldn’t be doing this unless they knew that it was usually successful. In local elections, although people joke about putting mailers straight in the trash, they do work because they’re often the only exposure many busy voters have to candidates. Send a good mailer, get a vote.

The juxtaposition is shocking. Not that long ago, winning school board candidates in Jeffco commonly raised $10,000 – $20,000 for some yard signs and brochures, and perhaps a mailer to a cross-section of voters. The sudden transformation from the $10,000 range to $1,000,000+ should cause anyone alarm. That kind of jump in spending, especially on a nonpartisan election, should raise huge red flags about the political nature of the fight. It should also raise your hackles.

It is a disturbing trend that anyone can spend unlimited amounts, mostly hidden, wherever there want, on any local race in the country. Somehow it seems even more painful in Jeffco. Maybe that’s because we’re from Jeffco, and we pride ourselves in the rich history of independence and spirited debate among locals here. This is Colorado; this is Jeffco; we are independent and don’t take well to outsiders with an agenda trying to buy elections and supporting candidates that they don’t even know.

It also matters because it looks as if they’re on an even bigger spending spree to support WNW in 2015. Look for “Americans for Prosperity” on that TV ad, door hanger, or mailer…and then vote for Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell, who have vastly more local support in every way.