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!


 

One Mom’s Recommendation: ‘Clean Slate’ of Lasell, Rupert, Mitchell, Stevens, and Harmon

This from a Jeffco mom who trusts teachers:

My daughter’s elementary school teachers came and knocked on my door yesterday to give me a brochure for Jeffco United.

I was so grateful.

They gave their all to their students all day, then they dug a little deeper and found more to give back to our community.

Here’s the bottom line:  Our teachers have been so mistreated by our current school board majority that they were considering a strike.  Instead, they’re collectively donating hundreds of hours of their personal time to support the recall and the five “Clean Slate” candidates Jeffco desperately needs.

It is no surprise that our teachers are feeling re-energized by the possibility of the Clean Slate winning.  Each member is a patch in a quilt that pieces together powerfully.  Here’s how it looks:

Clean Slate

Ali Lasell used her 25 years of teaching in Adams 12 to develop a skilled hand in advocating for all students.  She is willing and practiced at listening to community members, parents, and school employees.

Brad Rupert comes to the voters as the jack of many trades.  His legal background in business, real estate, and his many volunteer hours in agencies helping to provide food to families in need make him an essential player in addressing Jeffco’s facilities and funding needs.

Ron Mitchell is a bold, honest, hard-working man who dedicated his career to Jefferson County Public Schools.  He brings one clear mission back to the table:  Get the politics out and the good teachers back in.

Amanda Stevens is amazingly skilled at listening to many ideas and bringing them together into one workable, thoughtful solution.  Her years in the classroom taught her how to look at the district’s data and turn it into schools addressing the needs of the actual teachers, principals, and students who depend on their school board to make good choices.

Susan Harmon will be an experienced voice for collaboration.  These five candidates may be running together, but that doesn’t mean they always agree.  Susan has the necessary skills to keep dignity, respect, and teamwork at the forefront during times of tough decision-making.

We send our children to Jeffco’s teachers hoping they’ll learn.

Now, we have the opportunity to learn from their teachers as well.  If these are the candidates our teachers are knocking on doors to support, then we need to be the voters that elect a school board they can proudly work for.

STORY #7 FROM 2013-2015 POLL RESULTS: NEWKIRK AND WITT DIRECTLY PREVENT JILL FELLMAN FROM ATTENDING MEETING SHE WAS SCHEDULED TO ATTEND

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 #7:

What Happened: This is the most recent story in the list, one based on a message that Jill Fellman sent out just a few weeks ago:

“Many people who support the recall of the school board majority have recognized that it is not just the substance of what this group is doing, but the dismissive and disrespectful way they are doing it. Here’s the latest example. There is an Agenda Setting Meeting with the Superintendent and his Cabinet a week or so before every board meeting. The purposes of these meetings are to determine how much time agenda items might take and to give appropriate direction to Cabinet members to ensure agenda items meet the needs of the Board. According to practice, Mr. Newkirk and I alternate going to these meetings. Today was my day to attend the meeting – so, I drove to the Ed. Ctr. Mr. Witt arrived at the meeting with Mr. Newkirk and informed me (in the presence of several staff members) (1) I was not needed and (2) Mr. Newkirk would be attending the Agenda Setting Meetings until the election. I’m a big girl, and I can deal with the lack of respect that I see every day from this Board majority. At the same time, our District deserves elected officials who treat each other and the public with respect, even when they disagree on policy. It’s up to Jeffco voters to make that change.”

Newkirk, Witt and their allies were trying to “stack” the District Accountability Committee (DAC) with their allies only and no dissenting voices, and that’s just what they did.

Why It Matters: How many ways can we count?

  1. Spiting Transparency: WNW ran on a campaign of transparency and keep boasting that because school board meetings are live-streamed, they are setting new standards in transparency. Then this kind of stuff gets reported all the time. It’s completely disingenuous.
  2. Really, Who Does This? OK, a few weeks before that we saw Mike Huckabee’s crew physically prevent Ted Cruz from joining Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis on her jail-release-celebration stage. Then again, the Davis situation was…unusual. Newkirk and Witt let Fellman drive to the meeting, enter the meeting, and then they told her to leave? What was she going to do if she stayed? Actually speak and maybe disagree?
  3. “Listen, Listen, Listen, Decide” was a mantra of Newkirk’s campaign.  Did he decide to just skip the first 3/4 of that mantra? Or is listening only with people who he agrees with?
  4. People Expect Much Better from Elected Officials. And they should. They are representing the public as a whole. Witt recently held a press conference to “prove” that he’s not the type to make decisions behind closed doors. Does repeatedly having meetings behind closed doors, including when you kick out fellow board members who were slated to be there, sort of erode that trust?
  5. Witt stated that he was “glad to have a discussion” with the public about the accomplishments of the school board. Then why this kind of behavior?

We could carry on, but we’ll leave it at that.

Suffice to say that if they survive the recall, this kind of behavior will be commonplace!

Vote Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, and remember that Merritts and Johnson are aligned with WNW! 

Keep fighting, JeffCo! And remember to VOTE by Nov. 3!


 

Reader’s Thoughts on Being Told that WNW Vote is “Godly” Choice

Another Guest Column for our “Faithful and Fed Up” series, this time from a reader of faith who is beside herself that her vote is being tied to Witt, Williams, and Newkirk’s “Godly” attributes:

FaithfulFedUpSomeone told me today that voting against the recall would keep “Godly” people in their leadership positions.

I felt gutted.

I found the suggestion that I would prove my respect for God if I voted for Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk infuriating.

Let’s start by saying that I disagree with them.

To me, “Godly” people don’t shame and humiliate a student who is bravely standing up to voice her experience as a student in Jeffco to her school board.

To me, “Godly” people don’t comfortably compare the atrocities that Black people in the south suffered through during the 60’s to being in a charter school.

To me, “Godly” people don’t arrogantly run a school board while pompously ignoring the needs and wants of the very community they were elected to serve.

To me, “Godly” people don’t tell students to stay at home during Jeffco’s Day Without Hate. We have a suicide problem directly linked to hateful things like that.

To me, “Godly” people don’t speak at workshops co-hosted by a political group that openly suggests violent acts in order to defend and preserve White power.

However, I will pause and respectfully acknowledge that many people may agree and even feel grateful for some of the changes this board majority suggests. Some voters might like to see our history and health curriculum modified to align more closely with their religious beliefs. So, to them, I say, vote.

As one person who considers herself “Godly,” I retain one strong belief:

Those in public office need to run their office with honesty, transparency, and a willingness to listen to their community members. A quick look into the origins of most religions will guide you to leaders who follow those clear guidelines about respect.

So, this Godly person is going to vote for the Clean Slate. Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon all bring with them a strong commitment to doing what is right. I have no doubt that they will follow the Golden Rule and treat others and they would like to be treated.

They will think of their own children when they make decisions that impact mine, they will consider the needs of the many, and they will let community input guide their decisions.

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.”