Wingnut Jeffco School Board Controversy Escalates

Last night, a marathon public session of the Jefferson County Board of Education illustrated the controversy being stoked by three new conservative board members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, who are forging ahead with a stridently ideological agenda–and perhaps doing major harm to the district's reputation in the process. 9NEWS reported on events last night:

Charter schools have to take money out of the classroom budgets to pay for building expenses. Charter schools have to pay the Jefferson County School District fees for various services taking away from the estimated $7,000 per pupil district schools typically receive to use for classroom expenses…

The school board is considering adding an additional $100 per pupil to charter schools to help make up the difference in funding between charter and district schools.

[Parent Nicole] Dominic says this is an exciting new direction proposed by newly elected school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams.

As this story explains, charter schools are obligated to pay for a variety of services provided by the district. That makes sense given that those services cost the district money, and doesn't mean that a net difference between neighborhood schools and public schools is "unfair." For one thing, charter schools commonly receive lucrative grants to offset their expenses that neighborhood schools can only dream of. But there's a much more basic reason not to divert this estimated $3.5 million from neighborhood schools to charter schools: it breaks the promises the district made in 2012 to persuade voters to raise property taxes.

School Board Member Jill Fellman does not agree with her new counterparts about charter school funding. She wonders where this money will come from.

"Charter school kids represent about eight percent of our population," Fellman said. "I represent 85,000 children."

Fellman says it is not right to take money from the approved mill levy override from 2012 3A vote. [Pols emphasis]

This is actually a very serious question, on which the credibility of the district depends when it comes to any future tax increases that may be proposed for Jefferson County Public Schools. Measure 3A came with a long list of promised line-items the money would be spent on, and writing "equalization" checks to charter schools wasn't among them. Can charter schools make the case that they need more money? Sure, just like every school in Jefferson County, Colorado, and most of the nation. But to take money that voters approved for a specific purpose and divert it to other favored uses is a sure way to convince voters to vote "no" next time.

Above all, there's a growing sense that the new right-wing majority of the Jeffco school board fully intends to ram through their agenda while ifnoring public input. The video at top very plainly shows board president Ken Witt forcing parents on an unrelated issue to stand and speak together, claiming "we can't have 25 different individuals speaking on a single topic." Unless, as you see right after, that topic is more money for charter schools!

As we've said before, the attempt to push a conservative agenda in Jefferson County is proceeding very differently from similar conservative activist takeovers elsewhere, such as Douglas County's now-famous union busting and outright funding of religious schools. Jefferson County is far from an ideological right-wing stomping ground. As the new board takes these unpopular actions, large numbers of public education stakeholders are turning out to oppose them. It's still possible that the board's conservative majority will figure out that they are pushing too hard, too fast, and back off their headlong pursuit of radical "reform."

That, or they're going to teach Jefferson County voters to never ignore school board races again.

22 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Early WormEarly Worm says:

    As a JeffCo parent, what is most nauseating about this current majority is the way that they are creating divisiveness and conflict. The district survived years of financial belt tightening, and while there was (and always will be) disagreements about budget priorities, there was a sense of collaboration and cooperation. Now it is all about "us v. them." They seem to believe that their political power comes from creating division and demonizing the opposition (which they see as the teachers). In the long run, the district will survive (and thrive) regardless of whether the charters get more funding, full day kindergarten is funded, or if the teachers get a small raise.  It will not thrive and the students will suffer if every decision is seen as part of a political agenda.  

  2. n3bn3b says:

    Fools. WE WON THE ELECTION. The Board determines policy. I assure you, the voters who had to be convinced to support 3A will be delighted to see more funding for charters. That will make me more likely to vote yes on a tax increase for schools, not less likely.

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      So a different school board can ignore the will of the voters on anything that happened before they were elected?

      • Miss Jane says:

        If they think they have a new mandate.  I remember the sex ed wars.  I have no idea what they are doing now. 

      • VoyageurVoyageur says:

        Legally, of course they can change policysad.   Morally — well, after all they are fighting to restore Biblical values to your Godless secular system.   Expect a ban on cheeseburgers next, since Leviticus bans having meat and dairy products on the same plate.

      • Ralphie says:

        They are entirely within their rights.  And N3B is right–they won the election.  Let this be a warning to all–you have to win the little ones.  If you win the little ones, the big ones will take care of themselves.

        Nobody to blame this on except for the people who didn't show up to vote.  And the pols who didn't get them out to vote.

        • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

          You're right, and Pols is right:

          To take money that voters approved for a specific purpose and divert it to other favored uses is a sure way to convince voters to vote "no" next time…they're going to teach Jefferson County voters to never ignore school board races again.

          Elections matter. Amendment 66's train wreck brought out the crazies to vote in a teabagger school board, and this is the result. My Jeffco neighbors need to pay attention to what these teabaggers are doing, and above all, realize that it's not business as usual. Jeffco schools are not a hotbed of controversy, and even in tough times it's been led by leaders who were able to come together.

          The difference now is the foxes guarding the henhouse. It's not that voters can't trust the school board, it's that the voters can't trust right-wing ideologue school boards. Throw them out, and we can count on a school board that keeps its promises.

          • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

            Next Jeffco BoE meeting is May 1st. I'll be there.

          • dwyer says:

            I live in Denver and we do take our school board elections seriously.

            The proBoasberg people won, but I suspect that there are now some second thoughts on the part of those who supported the winning ticket.  Old problems are resurfacing.  We shall see what the outcome is when people are engaged and to vote in BOE elections and then don't get what they thought they were voting for.

            At least some Denver voters can say "we told you so."

            Be that as it may, the time to organize  is BEFORE the election, not after.  With Douglas BOE, JeffCo BOE and much earlier the unsuccesful Walker recall, I am reminded of that blue jeans ad…"You're a year too late, Travis."

          • dwyer says:

            Elections do matter.  I argued that JeffCo progressives should have been organized BEFORE the BOE election.  However, the question now is will this energize them to organize and vote in November?

            The other question in my mind not answered, is why didn't the Democratically controlled legislature know that #66 was a "bridge too far" in terms of the tax increas?  Was the model for promoting the amendment the same one that they plan on using this November ?

      • Andrew Carnegie says:

        As a matter of fact, yes.

        Generally a newly elected political body is not bound by the policy decisions of its predecessors.

         If a Dem school board insisted all students wear blue shirts to school and there is a new election and Repbulicans replace the Dems, they can't change the color to Red?

        Even if the old school board says that's the policy, blue shirts, the new board can change the policy.

        That is why they have elections, to keep or change policy.

      • BlueCat says:

        That lack of attention to school board elections all over the country is how the Christian right got so firmly entrenched in the first place. And most people still don't vote in school board elections. Anywhere. Including Denver.

    • itlduso says:

      Fool.  The lack of public support for and rational decision making by the Jeffco Public Schools are the exact reasons why my family chose not to move to Jeffco many years ago.  Consider that when you try to sell your home, moron.

       

    • Craig says:

      Your board should remember that the citizens of Jeffco twice voted against vouchers.  The people have spoken, so if these folks forge forward, there will be a voter backlash.  But of course, they are going to forge forward and always intended to do so despite their lies to the contrary.  Just saying.

  3. Voting "no" next time isn't a bad thing for conservatives who think that public schools should be starved like the rest of government.

  4. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    N3B is right, and has DeTocqueville on this side when it comes to living with the pitfalls of partisan democracy.  However, this is precisely WHY School Boards have historically been NON-Partisan, as it takes a steady hand and consistent policy to educate children from Pre-K to Graduation Day.  

    At the state and federal level, we trust that electoral swings will blunt all but the most popular proposals, resulting in limited government.  With regard to education, however, nothing good can come of 2 years Red, 2 Years Blue policymaking.  Limited government may lead to greater freedoms in a civil society, but limited education policies lead to stupidity and an uneducated electorate. 

    Do we really want the lowest common denominator when it comes to educating our children?  Do we really want our citizenry to be an undereducated mob?

    • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

      The Republicans realize that their children, educated in well funded private schools, will have an exponentially greater chance at success in life if the public schools are decimated by tax cuts and an agenda aimed at marginalizing the opportunites available to those not in the "ruling class".

      Oh, and it's all the teachers' fault, so we should reduce public school teachers' pay to minimum wage to make sure the best and brightest never want to work there.

    • Curmudgeon says:

      If the GOP is going to keep their demographic populated, they do;  how else are people going to believe in trickle-down economics, fealty to "job creators", and a 6,000 year old earth? 

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