5.22.2015 Clear your Tuesday calendar

We know that many of you, like us, are deep in the glut of end-of-school concerts and activities, but things are heating up just in time for Tuesday’s board meeting. Here’s a brief summary of what’s been going on the last couple of weeks.

May 7 – The BOE majority votes to move $15 million from the budget “underspend” (dollars that aren’t already allocated) all for a new school in the NW Arvada area. The problem? There are many. Among them: $15 million is still $10 million short of the amount the district estimated for a K-8 school in the area. In addition, the vote puts less into district reserves than originally planned, and crushes all other options for those dollars. District staff had recommended the $13.5 million be distributed to teacher compensation, students, facilities and reserves. For more details about that discussion, check out the Jeffco Schools Examiner story.

Witt also targeted a high school student for the “crime” of clicking the favorite button on a tweet that came from the parody @notlisapinto Twitter account. During the meeting, which went way into the wee hours of May 8, he said he would not meet with Jeffco Students for Change because he claimed that their leader had favorited a Facebook post that contained a racial epithet aimed at a Jeffco staffer. Well, as it turns out, (1) it was Twitter, not Facebook, (2) there were no racial epithets, and (3) it’s a violation of board policy and probably a number of other laws to put the full name of a Jeffco student up on the screen in full view of the board room during the board meeting.

Angry? Us too, though we also wonder whether it was meant to be a distraction for what came next.

May 12 – The district’s new compensation plan was put on hold by a Jeffco judge, who ruled that the district may not pay new hires under that plan–at least if they were hired after May 1. It’s unclear what will happen to those hired between the decision and the May 1 date. For more details, check out Chalkbeat’s fine article.

May 18 – Jeffco refuses to host a bill signing for Governor John Hickenlooper at Lakewood High School, claiming that it would be too inconvenient with students taking finals and would create a security staff shortage (or something along those lines). So, hosting Katy Perry last year (an event early in the morning that the governor also attended, by the way) isn’t a problem, but a bill signing is. Please. We have amazing security experts in Jeffco. They would handle it fine–if only they’d been given the opportunity.

May 20 – Contract negotiations with JCEA took a turn, after the district realized it needs some plan to pay those new hires. Again, check out Chalkbeat for the details.

May 21 – Jeffco’s talks with JCEA stall. We’re sure you’re shocked. Not surprisingly, the district continues to maintain the position that they want to remain competitive for new hires, never mind the salary gap and the fact that our veteran teachers are not being recognized in any way for sticking with the district through the years of pay freezes. The JCEA Twitter feed is one among many that gives a feel for Thursday’s conversation, but you can also watch the video feed here or read the Chalkbeat article.

District officials blame the budget–and this is where your help is needed. The first hearing for the budget is this Tuesday, May 26 (note the date change!). It’s time to help the school board remember what its priorities should be: compensating our teachers fairly and focusing on the classroom. Instead, they’re claiming the budget is too small to give much if anything to veteran teachers, but that apparently isn’t stopping them from awarding a $5,236 raise to Chief Communication Officer Lisa Pinto.

Wait, you say? How is she getting a raise when she clearly has not proven to be a highly effective or even effective employee? Where’s the data that her position has improved student achievement–which is Witt’s usual rallying cry? Instead, she’s increased the amount of negative press that Jeffco has, including the May 19 Denver Post editorial by the criticizing the district’s refusal to allow the bill signing. Pinto didn’t make that call, but her response to the governor’s office was far from professional (as is any communication that begins with the phrase “for your information”). She is not effective and by Witt’s own rules, does not deserve a raise until she becomes effective. We’re still waiting.

If you don’t like what’s going on, it’s time to speak up. Sign up for public comment here (and if you do, plan for public commented to be shortened to 1 minute for individuals). Can’t make it to the meeting? Write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and mark off June 11, which is the date of the second budget hearing.

Finally we’re sorry to report that Lesley Dahlkemper will not run for her seat again this November. She made that announcement on her Facebook page on May 3. But all is not lost, as Jeffco parent Amanda Stevens will run for that seat. Amanda has been a strong voice for our students at board meetings, and we hope you will like her Facebook page and support her in every way possible through the coming months.

Keep fighting, Jeffco!

We cannot give up now.


 

A Matter of Leadership Style: The Jeffco Conflict

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In the December 2013 issue of WIRED magazine, Paul Farmer, the founding director of Partners in Health, an international nonprofit organization that delivers health services to the rural and urban poor throughout the world, talks about the importance of the “human element” in designing global health systems.

In order to not waste money, time, and energy, one needs to address the important questions to those who are directly involved, he explains. Ask, “What do you need? What obstacles are in the way for achieving that need?“ Then his job is to work directly with these same people to help them design and plan to meet their goals and to help them obtain the resources they will need for that accomplishment.

What he does not do is come in and say is, “I think you need this and this is how we are going to do it.” Why? Because he is not the one who is being directly affected. He does not know the issues first hand. What he is good at though is asking the right questions and helping the group look at what resources they have, what they need, and supporting them in developing workable, realistic solutions. What resources they can’t get themselves, he gets for them.

The kind of leadership Paul Farmer provides is what many had hoped for from Jeffco School Board members John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt. Their campaign pamphlets and websites implied that was the kind of leadership they were bringing to Jeffco Schools. However, that intent was almost immediately called into question with the hiring of a school board lawyer without the knowledge of the minority board members.

When the results of a community budget survey on school needs were ignored by the board majority in favor of WNW’s own set of priorities, an additional red flag was raised. When the negotiation process between the BOE and the teachers’ union yielded a mediator’s report that the board majority dismissed, there was more concern. The AP History content issue, not on any goal list, pushed community members even further to question the style of leadership provided by WNW.

The conflict in Jefferson County Schools is not about teacher pay. It is not even about the AP history. It is about leadership that believes that it has the answers without needing to ask the questions. That approach strips staff, students, and other community members of true engagement in the process of meeting the goals of the district.

Board members are not elected to be rulers of a kingdom. Board members serve as one part of a greater school district community that includes its employees, students, parents, and other community members. That is why both Jeffco employee associations worked with former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, the BOE, and community members to navigate the financial crisis in a manner to lose as little staff as possible when the district was in financial difficulties.

The collaborative answer was for the staff to take both a pay cut and a pay freeze. This is an example of the kind of leadership that considers the “human element” Farmer discusses.   Newkirk, Williams, and Witt need to take a look at the leadership style of Paul Farmer and compare it to their own.

Then they should ask themselves the question, “How can I work effectively and in partnership with the Jefferson County school community so that we can reach our common goals for the school district without this turmoil? What do these groups need and how can we help them?” Board majority members can then bring to the table each member’s background and expertise, and like Paul Farmer, work as a facilitator of solutions.

To do otherwise is to call into question the intent and motives of the board majority to further their own personal agenda, one that does not seem to serve the greater Jefferson Schools community.

Don’t let WNW forget that the Jeffco community is paying attention. Keep fighting, JeffCo!