Why Is Conservative Jeffco School Board Spending So Much Money?

Dan McMinimee

There’s nothing small about the contact for new Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Parents and educators across Jefferson County have been in an uproar since a conservative takeover of the School Board last fall resulted in an immediate run of questionable decisions and overspending. Board President Ken Witt and conservative members John Newkirk and Julie Williams have been making backroom deals and approving unnecessary expenditures since before their first official meeting in December 2013.

The controversy created by the conservative Board escalated this Spring when Dan McMinimee, an assistant superintendent at Douglas County Schools, inexplicably emerged as the only finalist from a "nationwide" search that cost taxpayers $40,000. The alarming lack of transparency spooked Jeffco parents and teachers, and that questionable decision making by the Board only got worse from their. As the Denver Post reports, the Board approved an unexplainably-high salary for McMinimee last night (on a 3-2 vote) before giving a final stamp of approval for their hand-picked Superintendent:

Jefferson County School board members voted after a contentious debate late Thursday night to approve a contract that, with benefits, makes incoming Superintendent Dan McMinimee one of the highest-paid school leaders in Colorado.

The state's second-largest school district would pay McMinimee an annual base salary of $220,000, offer him up to $40,000 in performance pay and reimburse him up to $20,000 for his personal contributions toward retirement benefits.

A previous draft of the contract would have given McMinimee a $280,000 base salary but not provide performance pay or reimbursements for retirement benefits…

McMinimee, an assistant superintendent in the Douglas County School District, was hired in May by a split board vote. Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against his selection.

On Thursday, community members called for a contract with a salary that more closely resembles that of the district's past leader, Cindy Stevenson, who made $205,500 a year. Others asked the school board to revisit the superintendent search and bring in more finalists.

It is important to understand just how odd McMinimee's contract looks in comparison to that of former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who not only had substantially more experience but also held a PhD in Education (McMinimee has a Masters degree). It's not like the Board was negotiating from a position of weakness, either; if you are going to hire someone with fewer qualifications than the previous Superintendent, shouldn't you at least save a little money in the process?

45 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Early WormEarly Worm says:

    In the board majority's defense, the $280,000 was recommended by the search firm. To the majority's discredit, they are bargaining from a position of (self-inflicted) weakness: they only named one finalist (no competition to drive down prices) and they are refusing to build consensus. There has to be something extra (call it hazard pay) for anyone, including McMinimee, to step into a job where he is hired by a divided 3-2 board. 40% of your bosses give you a vote of no confidence before you even start.  If you are going to ask someone to work in that hostile work environment (and Stevenson wasn't), you are going to have to pay them a little extra.

    • horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

      I don't agree.  If they offered him 150 K I bet he'd still take it.  This is just plain skimming and fleecing the district, and unfortunately it happens all too much now in education on both sides of the aisle.  The people who foot the bill for this kind of nonsense are ultimately the students and teachers.

      We just don't have enough money.  I mean, we don't have enough money for YOU, but we do for ME.

    • Half Glass FullHalf Glass Full says:

      I agree with you that $280,000 might make sense if you were talking about a national-stature candidate such as you'd expect from a national search firm paid $40,000 to conduct a search. And I agree with your "hazard pay" argument. Some people might have refused to take the job without some reasonable assurance.

      But it was the school board, not the national search firm, that decided to make this fellow the sole finalist. If the school board had been more transparent and had the usual number of finalists – say, 3 candidates – there wouldn't have been nearly as much rancor to begin with.

      In fact, the whole concept of "single finalist" is ridiculous. Does the legislature need to mandate to local bodies that there be at least 2 or 3 "finalists" to avoid this type of travesty?

  2. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    H.S. GOP front group wrote: "the people who foot the bill for this kind of nonsense are ultimately the students and teachers….."  So, your position is that the large numbers of JeffCo residents & taxpayers who don't have kids in the system; or aren't teachers; don't count for anything?  You may want to re-think your position. Just sayin'.       C.H.B.

    • Progressicat says:

      While HsGOPFG certainly doesn;t need me to defend, I read that as the fleecers taking money already raised through taxes that otherwise would go into classrooms.

      You may want to rethink you outlook a bit, too.  Gone are the days when schools were funded by local taxes.  Thanks to Gallagher and TABOR, 2/3 of school funding comes from the state (not to mention federal funds).  When school boards are proflgiate, everyone should feel cheated.

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        "You may want to re-think……"  Guess that big chunk of money on my JeffCo property taxes form, that goes to the school district, must be an error. Silly me; looks like I'll have to discuss the matter with the JeffCo assessor.

        Yes, I am fully aware of Gallagher; and Amendment 23, which you forgot to list. HSGOPFG is talking a good line about fleecers. But is he or she really that intimately acquainted with the school district budget so that s/he knows where every dollar goes and whether or not any money is mis-spent? Who decides what is mis-spent and isn't. Sounds like unsubstantiated opinion to me. 

        • Progressicat says:

          Well, you can be an ass about it, but that "big chunk of money" isn't enough to fund your county schools.  More than 1/2 of Jeffco's current budget comes from somewhere else.

          As for Amendment 23, I didn't forget to list it.  Gallagher and some parts of TABOR are what are largely responsible for the county to state shift I noted.  Amendment 23 has largely been rendered impotent through the "negative factor" the legislature uses to circumvent it.

          As for whether or not anyone has enough knowlege of the district budget to judge how money is spent, well, that wasn't the argument I responded to.

        • horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

          Conserv. Head Banger, my opinion comes from friends who have kids in the Jeffco school district right now and from my wife who has taught at CU for over a decade. I also have two kids in BVSD and I see a lot of the silly shit that comes out from the superintendents office and the only thing I can think of is, why are we paying for this ?  Its bloated at the top, its not worth it, and its unfair.  Ditto for CU. 

          You are right about me not knowing the intracacies of the Jeffco school budget – I don't.  At the same time, I do know where some money could be saved.  $ 280 for this guy, and this whole process, does not smell right.

          And I really hate that " recruit top talent" argument as well.  They get away with it because they can.  Can they demonstrate in a real and meaningful way how the money spent on this " top talent" in the past helped improve the district.  No they can't.

          One mans opinion.  Thats all.

          • horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

            And if you want your head to explode, read about Zuckerberg's $ 100 million donation to Newark school district, and the consultant feeding frenzy.  Horrible, awful, waste of money:

            http://www.salon.com/2014/05/12/mark_zuckerbergs_newark_schools_cash_drop_everybody_got_paid_but_raheem_still_cant_read/

            • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

              Here are some truisms about educational reform:

              • Nobody is data-driven. Nobody actually looks at "what works". (see list below)
              • Nobody asks students what they want
              • Nobody asks teachers what they want
              • If the latest greatest magic bullet doesn't bring test scores up, fire the Principal. Rinse, repeat.
              • Everybody says that they are data-driven. The dirty secret is that they are using data which says that this bajillion $$ curriculum should work and
              • they want your district and your kids to be  the guinea pigs.

              What does work:

              •  cheaper fixes like

                • smaller class sizes,
                • hiring paraprofessionals,
                • getting parent and community buy-in, 
                • having adequate resources for a safe, clean, inviting building, and useful technology
                • using curricula tied to student career interests (medical, IT, 2 year voc ed programs – automotive, carpentry, etc).
                • Instead, every school has to be a STEM school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), or at least call themselves a STEM school.
              • Having a consistent discipline system appropriate for the student body you have, not the one which you wish you had
              • Having alternative schools for kids who just have too many behavior, emotional, life problems to cope with a regular school

              Most teachers know all this, but no one wants to hear this message, least of all conservatives like the new Jeffco Board majority and Superintendant,who have an extraneous political agenda to break the teacher's union and change curricula to deny climate change and other science-y, uncomfortable truths.

               

              • The realistThe realist says:

                Precisely.

                 

                • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

                  yup…nailed it…

                  • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

                    Thank you. Since you all are tolerating my preaching, here are more reforms that work:

                    • If kid need basic skill remediation, fricking do basic skill remediation, whether that be basic  artithmetic, multiplication facts, decoding words,  etc. Above 7th grade,  teachers are discouraged from spending time on below-grade-level skills.
                    • End social promotion, or else go to multi-age classrooms, or both. If you don't want to graduate illiterate, unnumerate kids, the time to deal with this is when they're 11, not 17.
                    • Accept the fact that teens are hormonal  creatures who are exploring sexuality. Teach sex ed, in an age-appropriate way which includes LGBTQ etc kids, responsibility and respect, and allow kids to get birth control at school. 
                    • Hire more janitors to clean up all of the exploded brain tissue from conservative critics of my last proposal.
              • notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

                MJ, I totally afree with you about the "every school a 'STEM' school" thing. I went to school in Aurora and we had Vo-Tech for the non-college bound students. They left high school with skills to support themselves. Now, we're told that every kid must be prepared to attend university, because they must have a bachelor's or they'll never get a decent job. One of my nephews did graduate from university with a degree in civil engineering. He works at a hardware store. His brother went to work out of high school. He's a bank teller. Guess who's making more money? Let's bring back career edcation for the kids who can't (because of cost) or won't, due to lack of ability/interest, attend university. The "every school a STEM school" mantra also leaves the right-brained kids with their noses pressed against the glass, wishing there was a place they fit in.

                • notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

                  Can't take a mulligan on mis-typing "education".blush

                • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

                  Cook, you'll hear teachers saying these things in faculty lounges, but not in the endless "professional development" meetings, for which I guess consultants get paid $1000/hr and up.

                  Kids are drawn to arts and music, sports, career programs which allow them to express themselves, be a part of something bigger than themselves, hope for the future, see themselves as valuable people who can support themselves and contribute to the community. We take that away from them when we emphasize a "one size fits all" approach, and that the way to "save their school" is to bring up their test scores.  What 15 year old gives a flying flick about that?

                  /sermon over

              • teachermama says:

                Amen.  I've worked in a variety of schools in both California and Colorado… Title 1, charter, district run, high-performing, GT, low-income, etc. etc.  You've hit the nail on the head.  

                 

    • The taxpayers are already footing the bill for the school system – unless you feel this new board will be asking for a tax increase…. The ones hurt by these decisions are – as HSGFG notes – are the teachers and students and the state as a whole as the students mature and graduate.

  3. CaninesCanines says:

    As someone who graduated from Jefferson County back when it was a top-rated school district, allow me to offer an educated guess: These conservative school board members are a pack of asshats, am I right?

  4. dwyer says:

    Remember back when the first slate of Republican candidates ran for the Douglas School Board and Mike Rosen supported them all the time on his radio show, but the other candidates never appeared because "talk radio" is not the medium to get the message  for progressives.  The medium for progressives are blogs, such as this one, where progressives can be reinforced in their superiority and no one else really listens.  Elections matter.

     

    Parents in Denver Public Schools  are complaining about being "out of the loop" with turn around schools, fired staff, not enough places for "choicing in" the deterioration of neighborhood schools, changes in school boundaries, co-location with charters, etc. etc. etc.  But this is exactely the Board they voted for…..

    • BlueCat says:

      School board elections are very low turn out affairs and easy for a small cohesive group to take over. That's how the religious right got it's foot in the political door way back when. Often, especially in smaller communities, they could run their candidates unopposed. From there they could branch out into state legislatures, another area where most people pay little attention, and on from there.

      Unfortunately most people don't pay attention until after the damage is done. It's not so much that rightie talk radio, which wouldn't give time to progressives anyway, is swaying majorities as that majorities aren't paying any attention at all to these races, leaving the field to small, motivated groups who only need to get a majority of the pathetic percentage who turn out.  

      • ajb says:

        BC, theere's also the fact that it's really, really easy to run as a stealth candidate in school board elections. They're usually "non-partisan" and it's really easy to talk about education in broad platitudes without tipping your hand to the actions you plan to take. "School reform" can mean many things, up to and including abolishing public education. 

        • dwyer says:

          @ajb

          I am talking specifically about Coloroado and Douglas, JeffCo and Denver.  In Douglas County, in 2009, the candidates were not stealth.

          They were proudly and publicly running as a Republican slate, endorsed by the County Republican party and promoted regularly on local talk radio, specifically the Rosen show, who has considered the teachers union the enemy of education for over thirty years.  This slate won again in 2013, defeating the union endorsed candidates.  The union in Douglas county no longer has a contract. There was a great deal of interest in these school board races in Douglas County.

          In JeffCo, i believe that the democratic party was simply not alert to the

          possibility of a conservative take over of the school board.  Perhaps they were preoccupied with the Hudak recall.  Perhaps they simply dismissed the power of the conservative movement.  Perhaps they confined their political reading to ColoradoPols. None the less, the right wing slate won.

          I would urge those of you who are recent newcomers to Colorado and are unfamilar with our history to become acquainted with our history. The most important contemporary book is "The Blue Print" which describes how "progressives" outside the regular party structure, took over the state legislature after over thirty years of Republcan rule, in 2004. Teachers unions were a critical part of that coalition.  If the teachers unions have lost power, then that coalition is tremendously weakened.

          Union backed candidates lost in the most recent Denver School Board election. Denver is a democratic party stronghold, not only in Colorado, but in the Rocky Mountain West, so that failure of the teachers union is significant.  Amendment 66 also lost in Colorado, a amendment  that was backed by some of the same players from 2004.  It failed to garner enough votes in Denver to offset the no votes outside the city.

           

           

    • Diogenesdemar says:

      Dwyer –

      did you notice that you wrote (correctly), ". . . Douglas County . . ."?

      Just how many Democrats do you think have ever been elected, or ever stood any chance in hell of being elected, to anything here???   The power of Rosen and talk-radio my aching ass . . .  

  5. dwyer says:

    Here is the link to the 2009 Elections for School Board in Douglas County -

    http://www.denverpost.com/ci_13707319

    Note the terms "record turnout" and the change from traditionally "non-partisan" 

     

    • BlueCat says:

      Record compared to what?  What percentage did the turn out represent back then?  Besides, as Dio points out, the fact that Douglas County Rs so outnumber Ds is clearly the most important factor in electing conservatives there, not your precious rightie talk radio. If rightie talk radio were as all powerful as you believe it to be we wouldn't have a Dem Governor and two Dem Senators, a recent history including several stretches of  Dem majorities in one or both houses of the state legislature and Obama certainly wouldn't have taken Colorado twice or made it to the WH at all. It isn't a non-factor but it certainly isn't the decisive factor you continually insist that it is.

  6. dwyer says:

    @Diogendr, et. al.

    Thank you so much for correcting me.  Of course, teachers in Douglas County have never had a contract with the Douglas County School Board and there has always been an exodus of teachers and principals from Douglas County.

    Rosen's decandes long attack on teachers unions has been absolutely unsuccessful and the teacher unions in Colorado are as strong as they have ever been….well maybe not in Jefferson County or Denver County…and of course, they never supported winning candidates in Douglas county…but nonetheless, teachers unions are as strong today as they were in 2004 when they were an essential part of the Democratic coalition that took back the Colorado legislature after decades of Republican control.  ….

    You all saw right through my feeble attempt to direct the threads from the all important issue of the Coffmans' marriage/residence.  I presume that even now there are "watchers" monitoring who goes where and when between the two residences and we should get a report on this critical political issue any day now.

     

     

  7. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Latest from Jeffco Board Meeting last night

    (reported by my friend – I'll have to get her permission to post her name here).

    Last school board meeting of the year to pass the budget or next year played to an overflow crowd of concerned citizens.

    The good: the whole board agreed to a placeholder for increasing teacher's salaries by $4.8M so they will get a 2.5% raise (whenever their contract negotiation is completed).
    The bad: the 3 board majority pulled a surprise punch to the minority and insisted on adding an additional $1.85 million more than the previously agreed to $3.7 million for charter schools yet the 3 board majority would not allow $600,000 for poor kids to get free fullday kindergarten

    The ugly: the outcome: the board majority and minority could not all support the budget. Another 3-2 vote although Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Jill Beery Fellman worked so hard to compromise to pass the budget 5-0.

    So close but so far away.

    Another ugly: two speakers during public comment said our new Jeffco Superintendent McMinimee (approved by board 3-2 of course) was named in a lawsuit for knowing about, but not taking action to stop, the sexual assault of a 13 yr old girl by her middle school teacher hundred is times in Douglas County where McMinimee is assistant superintendent.

    Photo of Mcminimee at the School Board meeting:

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