John Newkirk Takes Personal Role In Recall Shenanigans

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

One of the things that we frequently cover as the political water cooler blog for Colorado are the cutesey games that opposing political campaigns often play against one another online. Over the years and often the result of tips from readers, we’ve broken the stories of hilarious errors on candidate websites, candidate photo shoots gone horribly wrong, and the occasional outright spoofing of an opponent’s site.

The main “independent” group opposing the recall of conservative members of the Jefferson County school board is a group known as Jeffco Students First. Jeffco Students First recently pulled off a trick at the expense of the pro-recall group Support Jeffco Kids, who had registered their website’s domain name supportjeffcokids.org, but had neglected to also register supportjeffcokids.COM–the site people are most likely to type in from memory. Jeffco Students First snapped up the .com domain name and repointed it at their own website–which will both confuse voters looking for more information and hurt the real Support Jeffco Kids’ Google ranking.

But this apparently wasn’t the only example of Jeffco Students First playing domain name games. Several other seemingly pro-recall domain names were bought up, apparently some time ago: including recallwitt.org, recallnewkirk.org, and recallwilliams.org. These three domain names were all registered to the same domain registrar, Omnis Network. Recallwitt.org and recallwilliams.org were registered at 10:21PM on June 26 2014, recallnewkirk.org at 10:27PM on June 26 2014. As you can see, someone was thinking ahead.

But here’s the newsworthy part: the latter two are NOT registered in the name of Jeffco Students First. They are registered in the personal name of Jeffco board member John Newkirk. Here are the relevant portions of the identifying WHOIS records for these three domains:

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Jeffco Recall Campaign Turns In Over 111,000 Signatures

UPDATE: The Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland:

The Jefferson County Clerk has 15 business days to review the petitions and deem the signatures sufficient. After that, opponents have 15 days to protest or challenge signatures.

That’s where the cost could go from a low of about $10,000 to more than $500,000. The district will have to cover the costs, whether it’s for the November election or a special election.

According to Jeffco United for Action, which led the petition drive, if even one protest is filed, because of time constraints, there will not be enough time to get the recall onto the November ballot. The recall will instead take place through a special election, resulting in the $500,000 cost.

Gurdikian said she hopes the opponents recognize that there are more than enough signatures to get the issue to the ballot, and not waste taxpayer money by forcing a special election.

Westword’s Melanie Asmar:

Now, the clerks have fifteen days to validate the signatures. Then there’s a fifteen-day window for any protest of the validity of the signatures. McCord hopes that doesn’t happen. “If somebody does protest, they will drag us past the date by which we can get on the November ballot,” she says. “Then we end up in a special election that costs the district a whole lot of money that we don’t want to spend.”

The parents estimate that a special election would cost half a million dollars. “We got lots and lots of extra signatures,” McCord adds. “So there wouldn’t be any valid protest. It would be frivolous.”

—–

Volunteers deliver Jefferson County recall petitions today.

Volunteers deliver Jefferson County recall petitions today.

A press release a short while ago from Jeffco United For Action announces the delivery of over 37,000 petition signatures to recall each of the conservative majority members of the Jefferson County school board: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. This total dwarfs the required 15,000 signatures needed for each recall to proceed, virtually guaranteeing that Jefferson County voters will settle the question once and for all:

Today, Jeffco parents, educators and community members rolled over 111,000 signatures in little red wagons into the Jeffco Clerk’s office to recall Jeffco Schools Board of Education members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. They turned in just over 37,000 signatures for each of the three board members to the Jefferson County Clerk & Recorder.

“We’ve seen such amazing support over the last few weeks. We have had people seeking us out at sporting events, coffee shops, grocery stores and parks all across the district to sign,” began Tina Gurdikian, a mom of two Jeffco Schools students.

“In an unprecedented move, we as a community collected more than double the number of signatures needed to recall school board members Witt, Newkirk and Williams. The message is clear, the people of Jefferson County want to hold this Board Majority accountable and demand a recall vote on November 3rd,” continued Gurdikian.

“We have done our job, and now it’s time to let the people vote on November 3rd whether the School Board Majority deserves to be recalled,” continued Wendy McCord, also a mom of Jeffco students.

Having crushed their original goal on a highly compressed schedule, recall organizers have done all they can to ensure that the recall questions appear on the regular November ballot in Jefferson County–which will both increase turnout and prevent the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold a separate recall election.

The only question? Whether the recall opponents who have complained all along about this possible added expense try to make it happen.

“Because of overlapping timelines for November elections and recall elections, for the Jeffco voters’ will to be honored we need our opponents not to play political games in attempting to protest what are clearly 15,000 valid signatures. Should they choose to play games, opponents to the recall will cost the school district over half a million dollars, dollars that could otherwise be going to benefit our students. It is time for our community to have an honest conversation about the direction of our school district,” concluded Wendy McCord.

By all accounts recall organizers were surprised by the huge response to the recall petition drive, but turning in well over double the number of signatures required also serves an important strategic purpose. Accounting for delivery of mail ballots and the 15-day period for filing protests, the window in which to turn in signatures for the recall timed correctly to appear on the November ballot was quite small–only three days, July 28-30. If opponents choose to challenge the petition signatures line-by-line in an attempt to get enough thrown out to drop below the 15,000 minimum, it will most likely result in the recall being held after the first Tuesday in November. And that would indeed mean a large added expense to the school district.

In short, if opponents engage in an almost-certainly futile challenge of this overwhelming number of signatures, they will be the ones responsible for the additional hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the recall. The huge safety margin in turning in 37,000 signatures per board member when only 15,000 were required makes any such challenge either a fool’s errand or an act of intentional retaliation–with Jeffco students paying the price. And either way, it won’t stop the recall from going forward.

With all of this in mind, it would be better if the board majority just faces the proverbial music.

Jeffco Recall Opponent Channels Baghdad Bob in Response

Baghdad Bob.

Baghdad Bob.

Comical Ali. Baghdad Bob. The former Iraqi Information Minister (real name: Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf) secured his name in Internet infamy when he appeared regularly during the 2003 Iraqi Invasion to confidently deny the American surge into Baghdad and U.S. military success in general — sometimes with American tanks as his backdrop. As The Atlantic wrote in 2013:

Sahaf’s nickname, “Baghdad Bob,” now denotes someone who confidently declares what everyone else can see is false–someone so wrong, it’s funny.

Back here in Colorado, opponents of the campaign to recall three right-wing Jefferson County School Board members are channeling Baghdad Bob in their response to the news that more than 90,000 signatures supporting the recall were gathered in less than three weeks. This would be a massive success for a grassroots group for any issue on any level, which makes it difficult for opponents to tamper enthusiasm.

Enter Sheila Atwell, head of a group called “Jeffco Students First” that supports the right-wing majority school board. Atwell told 9News last weekend that she is surprised that it took 17 days to get the required signatures, saying that they should have been able to do it in a week:

We did the math here. In order to gather more than 90,000 signatures in just one week, organizers would have had to average 9 signatures PER MINUTE, 24 hours a day. That’s completely silly, of course.

Jeffco School Board Recall Petition Drive Wraps Triumphant

UPDATE 5:00PM: Recall organizers announce they will turn in over 30,000 signatures to recall each conservative majority Jeffco school board member, more than double the 15,000 required, to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office Tuesday morning:

Turn-In Tuesday

Join us as we turn in more than 30,000 Signatures For Each Board Majority Member!

We will be turning in more than double the required signatures to the Jeffco Clerk this Tuesday at noon. We would love lots of you to join us as we turn in these signatures. Please arrive by 11:30 am at the Clerk’s Election office (not at the Taj Mahal, but in a separate building).

Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder
3500 Illinois Street, Suite 1100
Golden, Colorado 80401

Once we turn in the signatures, we will turn our focus to the November election!

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Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

9NEWS’ Nelson Garcia reports, the campaign seeking to recall three far-right members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams (collectively known as “WNW”) has reached its goal of 15,000 required signatures to recall each board member with a comfortable margin–a drive that took less than three weeks to complete despite a 60-day deadline.

“We’ve been collecting signatures for 17 days. Our goal was 20,000 to 25,000 signatures and have surpassed that goal already,” [Jeffco United for Action spox Lynea] Hansen said. “I think it also says very loudly and clearly that Jefferson County wants this recall.”

[Volunteer Lorelei] Bratton thought it would take longer to gather enough signatures.

“It’s been incredibly inspiring,” Bratton said.

Hansen says Witt, Newkirk, and Williams have shown a lack of transparency and have abused school board policy.

“Everybody’s really worried about the direction that JeffCo Schools is headed in and this is their answer to helping stop that change that isn’t good change.”

Jeffco recall petitions.

Jeffco recall petitions.

Having easily brought in the number of Jeffco voter signatures required in so little time, it’s basically assured now that the recall question will appear on the regular November ballot in Jefferson County, along with the two seats up for election this year currently held by outgoing progressive minority school board members. Again, this is a key development, since recall opponents’ messaging against the recall has up to now revolved around a huge expense for the district to hold a recall election. Organizers never planned anything but a recall election in November, however, and said so. Today, they can assure anybody who was concerned that the recall election will not cost the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The only thing we can add is that, by all accounts we have heard, the reason the petition drive was quick and easy is that the community in Jefferson County is keenly aware of what is going on in the battle over their school board. Voters who have no idea who, say, their state representative is are paying attention–and needed no convincing to sign the recall petition. The highly visible public protests carried out by Jeffco students last fall over the board majority’s disastrous proposed “review” of AP history curriculum, along with subsequent protests along Jeffco’s highest-traffic arterial street, have succeeded in making this school board a household discussion item–and the sentiment is overwhelmingly against what the right-wing board majority has done. High quality public schools are a major and longstanding point of civic pride for residents of Jefferson County, and they perceive that to be under threat.

As we’ve said before, what’s happening here can’t be manufactured. You couldn’t buy it for a billion dollars. It is an authentically grassroots uprising by a legitimately aggrieved community. In an era when seemingly every political “movement” is the product of some lavishly funded and focus-grouped professionalized action plan delivered from on high, it might even be called an inspiring thing to witness.

Either way, if the petition drive’s swift success is any indicator, God help “WNW.”

No matter who Julie Williams is comparing to Nazis, it’s gross

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams hopped on her Facebook page July 14 and shared a link titled, “How did the Nazis control education?”

“Controlling education was a way of taking over the minds of children from kindergarten to university,” reads the article, published by Yad Vesham The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. “Education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were promoted and implemented. “In Nazi Germany, no one was allowed to think for themselves,” states the piece.

The post is shocking and confusing, which is in keeping with Williams behavior generally.

So I tried calling Williams so she could explain why she posted it, and to confirm, but I haven’t heard back yet.

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Conservative Jeffco education group has notorious anti-gay lawyer

(Birds of a feather and so forth – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

GOP state senate candidate Tony Sanchez and Jeffco board member Julie Williams.

GOP state senate candidate Tony Sanchez and Jeffco board member Julie Williams.

Failed state senate candidate Tony Sanchez, who lost the SD-22 Jeffco race last year to Democrat Andy Kerr, is now directing an organization whose registered agent, Barry Arrington, has a history of making anti-LGBT comments and working for extremist groups.

Sanchez’s organization, Freedom for Education, was formed in May to “strive for greater transparency in the policy process and empower local parents/communities.”

Since then, according to its Facebook page, Sanchez has been representing the organization at Tea Party and Republican events, offering conservative perspectives on Jeffco education issues.

Arrington, the registered agent for Sanchez’s organization, surfaced earlier this year after Twin Peaks Charter Academy blocked its valedictorian from giving his graduation speech, in which the valedictorian planned to announce he was gay.

During the ensuing controversy, the school hired Arrington, who heads the Arrington Law Firm, to represent them in the matter, and Rep. Jared Polis asked that Arrington be fired because, “…some political agenda that I don’t understand might be clouding the quality of your advice to the Twin Peaks board.”

The “political agenda” was presumably Arrington’s history of anti-LGBT comments, such as his blog post last year in which he wrote:

“A man’s body is designed to be complementary with a woman’s body and vice versa. All of the confusion about whether same-sex relations are licit would be swept away in an instant if everyone acknowledged this obvious truth.”

Sanchez did not return a call seeking comment on whether his organization would be promoting Arrington’s views, given that the group’s name, Freedom for Education, is a bit of a head scratcher.

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Jeffco Recall Petition Drive Nears Completion Weeks Early

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

As the Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela reports today, organizers of the petition drive to recall three right-wing members of the Jefferson County Board of Education are running way ahead of schedule, bringing in the 15,000 required Jeffco voter signatures to recall each school board member in a matter of a couple weeks instead of their nominal September 8th deadline:

Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for Jeffco United for Action, the group behind the recall effort, said Tuesday that the group is “over half way” to their signatures goal.

And, Hansen said, there are more than 1,000 petitions still being circulated. Petition circulators are being asked to turn in their signatures soon so organizers can start verifying names.

As part of a push for signatures this week, petition gatherers will line Wadsworth Boulevard at nine intersections from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Hansen said organized petition circulation is expected to wrap up by Saturday.

Successful completion of the petition drive so early guarantees that the recall of board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams will appear on the regular November ballot, along with the two candidates running to replace progressive minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. One of the principal talking points in use by opponents of the recall is that the election could cost Jeffco Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars–but that’s only if the petition drive wasn’t wrapped up in time to hold the recall election in November.

Judging from what appears to be an overwhelming response from Jeffco voters in only two weeks’ time, that’s not going to be a problem. This recall is moving forward at a best-case-scenario pace, exceeding even internal expectations by all accounts, and that means it’s time for the opposition to come up with new talking points.

While they can.

Cory Gardner Helps Vote Down Anti-Bullying Bill


Sen. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Cory Gardner.

The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports on the defeat yesterday of an amendment from Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to protect K-12 LGBT students from bullying and discrimination:

In its first vote affecting gay people since the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, the Senate Tuesday rejected a federal prohibition against discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fifty-two Senators voted for such a provision, while 45 opposed it. But Senate rules required 60 votes, and the measure fell short.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the sponsor of the amendment, had made an impassioned argument that gay and transgender students needed the same federal protections as other historically persecuted groups.

“If a black child was referred to by a racial slur at school, would we say kids will be kids?” Franken said on the Senate floor as debate began Monday. “If a Jewish student got beat up because he wore a yarmulke to school, would we wave it off and say boys will be boys? If a shop teacher told a female student she didn’t belong in his class, would we be fine if the school just looked the other way? No, we would not. In fact, there are federal civil rights laws that are specifically designed to stop this kind of conduct.”

As Buzzfeed’s Dominick Holden reports, there was bipartisan support for Sen. Franken’s amendment:

Introduced by Sen. Franken of Minnesota, the amendment before lawmakers on Tuesday had 42 sponsors, including one Republican — Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. At least five more senators from the GOP — Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman — joined Kirk in voting for the amendment.

Missing from the list above of moderate Republican Senators who joined with Democrats to vote to stop LGBT student bullying is Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. We haven’t seen a statement from Gardner yet explaining his vote, but the general excuse offered by Republican “no” votes seems to be that “the matter” of LGBT students being bullied is best “left to local school districts.”

Assuming that was Gardner’s reasoning as well, we can’t help but recall the recent controversy in Jefferson County, in which majority school board member Julie Williams posted materials on Facebook directing followers to join a protest against LGBT students on campus, and against teaching “children to support and embrace the unnatural and unhealthy homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better argument to refute Gardner’s vote for “local control” of LGBT student bullying policies than Julie Williams. We’ll be very interested to see if local reporters ask Gardner to reconcile his vote with her behavior.

As Jeffco Recall Heats Up, So Does The BS

The recall campaign against conservative majority members of the Jefferson County school board is almost certain to be one of the biggest political stories of the year in Colorado politics, and subject to tremendous amounts of money and energy from both sides of the aisle–think of it as a “proxy war” for much larger opposing factions in American politics, like Vietnam was to the Cold War.

The application of big-ticket political tactics in a school board race means usual suspects involved in state legislative and federal races in Colorado are now bringing their operations to the Jeffco school board. We noted back in April a fundraising letter from the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, in which Caldara promised to bring the full resources of his organization to bear on Jeffco Public Schools. Since then, the Independence Institute’s closely-related news site Complete Colorado has been heavily focused on Jeffco, with a series of stories by Independence Institute “education reporter” Sherrie Peif. Yesterday, Peif published a lengthy story claiming that petition language for the recalls is incorrect on the matter of superintendent Dan McMinimee’s salary:

If you listen to those backing the recall effort, McMinimee is the highest paid superintendent in the state making $280,000 a year in base salary, “$80,000 more each year” than his predecessor. But that is a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges comparison…

Once McMinimee was selected, his base salary was finalized at $220,000. Additionally, McMinimee was given fringe benefits similar to many if not most superintendents across the state. Those include a performance bonus of up to $40,000 per year – not guaranteed and not awarded to date – Public Employee Retirement Account (PERA) reimbursements; sick, personal and vacation time; insurance; and other reimbursements for professional organization fees.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

In short, Peif argues that the petition language is falsely stating McMinimee’s compensation. Now, we could revisit glaring inaccuracies in the petition language used in 2013 to recall Democratic Senators over the gun safety bills, like claiming that Evie Hudak “voted for legislation to raise taxes” (we’re a TABOR state, you can’t do that) or that Angela Giron didn’t “respect” the “fundamental right to the private ownership of firearms” (which doesn’t exist, sorry Dudley Brown).

But none of that really matters, because Peif isn’t telling you the whole story. The Denver Post’s Zahira Torres reported in June of 2014 on the finalizing of McMinimee’s contract:

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…

The board’s minority argued that the pay was too high for McMinimee, who has never been a superintendent and does not have the doctorate degree like his predecessor.

“Nice shell game with taxpayer money,” said Lesley Dahlkemper as she argued that the majority on the board reduced the base salary but added other benefits, leaving the district spending the same amount. [Pols emphasis]

The original compensation figure quoted by the Denver Post and other media outlets for McMinimee was indeed $280,000. In response to objections over this sum, the board majority changed the terms of McMinimee’s contract to a smaller base salary–plus $40,000 in performance pay, and $20,000 in benefits and reimbursements.

Which totals up to–wait for it–$280,000! This is why Lesley Dahlkemper called the revised contract a “shell game,” and it looks like the board majority’s defenders are utilizing said “shell game” exactly as intended: to confuse the real issue. The actual petition language makes no distinction regarding “base salary” versus other compensation, which is what Peif relies on to make the case that the 280,000 figure is incorrect. As for the claim that McMinimee made “$80,000 more” than his predecessor, the much more experienced and educated Cindy Stevenson, it apparently depends on the year cited–but for 2012-13, the district budgeted $201,000 for her compensation. Given the exaggeration and sleight of hand that so routinely factors into talking points of this kind (see above), that’s certainly good enough to pass muster.

Bottom line: McMinimee’s salary is not the reason this recall election has momentum, and everybody knows that. What you have here is the first of what we expect will be many attempts to distract voters from the real issue at hand: a school board that is out of touch–even outright hostile–to the community it serves, working to “fix” a school district that isn’t broken, and driving teachers and staff away due to their mismanagement and ideological obsessions trumping the district’s core mission of educating students.

So, as the saying goes, keep your eyes on the prize.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (July 9)

MoreSmarterLogo-300x218This is not turning out to be a very good month for makers of the Confederate Flag. Let’s Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► As expected, State Senator Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) will become the new Senate Minority Leader when Democrats meet next week to vote for a replacement for Sen. Morgan Carroll, who is giving up her leadership post because of the rigors associated with her campaign for Congress in CD-6.

► Thousands of people ignored drenching rains on Wednesday to attend the kickoff rally for the recall effort of three right-wing members of the Jefferson County Board of Education. The petition drive for the recall of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk was officially launched at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Information about signing and carrying petitions is available at Jeffco United for Action

► Former Colorado Solicitor General Dan Domenico is being courted by Republicans to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Domenico is not the GOP’s top choice — we’ve stopped counting how far down the list we’ve gotten at this point — but he might be the best option left available to mount a serious challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

 

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Huge Rally Kicks Off Jeffco School Board Recall

jeffcorecallpan1
Photo via Twitter

Multiple local news outlets covered last night’s kickoff of the petition drive to recall the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, following almost two years of controversy as they plunged headlong into an ideological campaign to “reform” one of the state’s highest-performing school districts. A quick roundup starting with 9NEWS:

JeffCo United for Action says the recall has to do with the lack of transparency and wasting taxpayer money.

One of the stated reasons for the recall is the board majority’s consideration of reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum, which prompted waves of student protests in the suburban Denver district last year.

Board President Ken Witt told 9NEWS in June he welcomes the challenge to all five seats, calling it a chance to have an open dialogue about the future of JeffCo schools. [Pols emphasis]

Jeffco students at recall kickoff rally yesterday.

Jeffco students at recall kickoff rally yesterday.

7NEWS estimates the crowd in attendance last night at “more than 1,200,” and organizers report that hundreds more were turned away after parking lots at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds filled to capacity. And Jeffco school board President Ken Witt sounds much less enthusiastic about the “open dialogue” of a recall election than he did last month:

It’s estimated more than 1,200 people showed up for the launch of the recall effort at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds complex.

“It is an effort to recall all three of those board majority members,” said one of the three recall petitioners, Michael Blanton.

“It sounded to me like (this board) was looking to unite the community and take the schools in a really positive direction. I think they’ve done just the opposite,” said Julie Callahan, who has two children in JeffCo public schools.

Among those targeted in the recall effort, Ken Witt, the current president of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

“You know, I’m disappointed with how easy recalls have become in Colorado,” said Witt. [Pols emphasis]

petitionrulesChalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia estimated the crowd at around 2,000 people:

If Wednesday night’s event was any indication, they are likely to find traction.

The crowd of approximately 2,000 included plenty of teachers and parents familiar with the ongoing dustup in Jefferson County, as well as fresh faces and political figures.

It also included many students, who have been a powerful force in lobbying against the board members. Before recall organizers took the stage, students from Jeffco Students for Change led the crowd in chants of “Recall! Recall!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

After a huge rally in May in Littleton’s Clement Park, not to mention the massive protests that filled the streets of suburban Jeffco last fall over the right-wing majority’s ill-fated “review” of AP History curriculum, expectations were very high for last night’s event to formally kick off the recall petition campaign–and the turnout once again exceeded those expectations despite terrible weather and a large traffic jam outside the event. After the brief rally, attendees lined up at tables organized by geography to obtain petitions and sign up for canvassing.

As we’ve explained previously, organizers are looking to complete the petition phase of the recall campaign well ahead of the 60-day deadline for turning in signatures, in order to make sure the recall election appears on the regular ballot this November along with the two open seats being vacated by progressive minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman

If the energy of the crowd and sheer numbers witnessed last night are any indicator, they’re going to hit that goal comfortably–and the three majority board members, known collectively as “WNW,” are looking at the strong possibility of very short tenures on the Jeffco school board.

Jeffco Recall Petition Drive Kicks Off Wednesday

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

That’s the word from Jefferson County school board recall organizers Jeffco United For Action:

YOUR 1ST CHANCE TO SIGN THE PETITIONS!

Petition Kick-Off Event

Wednesday, July 8th
Doors Open: 5:30 pm
Program Starts: 6:00 pm

Jeffco Fairgrounds, Rodeo Arena
15200 W. 6th Ave Frontage Rd
Golden, CO 80401

Come join us on Wednesday, July 8th, as we rally to recall the Jeffco School Board Majority!

After the huge protest rally against the Jefferson County school board’s right-wing majority at the end of May at Littleton’s Clement Park, attended by some 2,500 Jeffco residents, the biggest challenge for organizers was reportedly booking a venue large enough to handle the expected demand for recall petitions and instructions. Recall organizers will have 60 days from approval of the petition language, expected Monday or Tuesday, to gather the required 15,000 signatures for each of the three Jeffco board members being recalled: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. However, there’s a more practical need to get the required signatures in much sooner, to ensure the recall appears on the regular November election ballot along with the two open seats held by outgoing progressive minority members.

To that end, look for innovative signature gathering tactics like “sign and drive” events at high visibility locations around Jefferson County, and friendly door-knockers fanning out across Jeffco neighborhoods in the next few weeks. One thing we know about recall petition campaigns from recent experience is that they are high drama affairs–and right-wing supporters of the Jeffco school board majority, which includes large and well-funded media and field operative capabilities, will be out in Jeffco neighborhoods too with the goal of making mischief. This should motivate petition gatherers both paid and volunteer to be on their very best behavior at all times: to include ignoring hecklers and trackers no matter how much of an ignorant asshole they are, no smoking including weed, and probably get that haircut you were considering before you hit the pavement.

thursdayprotestsOn the upside, it’s possible we’ve never seen anything quite like the community’s anger–not to mention simple awareness–over this school board, as indicated by polling that looked at the viability of recalling the board majority after two rather shocking years of basically continuous bad earned media. In at least one case, last year’s ill-fated “review” proposal of AP history curriculum for various Glenn Beck-style political aims, we’re talking about one of the biggest media events in Colorado politics since Gary Hart set sail on the Monkey Business–covered by news outlets literally across the globe. This is not the manufactured outrage campaign of some political press shop, but the legitimate anger of ordinary Jefferson County citizens over what’s happened to this school board since far right candidates rode the Amendment 66 backlash to victory in 2013. You couldn’t buy that for a billion dollars, and this recall campaign wouldn’t have a prayer of succeeding if it wasn’t real.

With that in mind, there’s a plausible scenario in which getting these signatures in time for November’s ballot will not be a problem.

SCOCO Strikes Down DougCo’s Vouchers For Religious Schools Program

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

POLS UPDATE: Statement from the ACLU of Colorado:

“Parents are free to send their children to private religious schools if they wish, but the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed today that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for it,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.

Counsel for Petitioners, Matt Douglas, said that: “The court made clear that this type of program violates the plain language of the Colorado Constitution, and rejected the argument that temporarily passing the money through the hands of parents could avoid this specific prohibition.”

The program provided 500 students with vouchers worth about $4,600, which could be spent on tuition at religious and other private schools. In order to obtain per-pupil educational funds from the state, Douglas County classified these children as “public school students” who attended a charter school that did not actually exist.

In reality, the voucher money was spent at district-approved “Private School Partners,” a collection of private schools. According to the Court, 16 of the 23 approved Private School Partners were sectarian. The court found that this violated the “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

“The Colorado Constitution provides very strong safeguards for the separation of church and state, and today’s decision preserves and honors those protections,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

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The Colorado Supreme Court has determined that a Douglas County School District program that provided vouchers for district students to attend religious schools violates the State Constitution in a manner that is not pre-empted by federal law or the United States Constitution.  The trial court had come to the same conclusion, but was overruled by the Colorado Court of Appeals.  This decision reinstates the trial court’s permanent injunction of the practice.

Article IX (Education), Section 7 of Colorado’s state constitution, which has been effective since August 1, 1876, states:

Aid to private schools, churches, sectarian purpose, forbidden

Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

The Douglas County School Board adopted the program after a partisan Republican takeover of the non-partisan school board, as part of a group of controversial reforms in the district.

BREAKING: Recall Campaign Initiated Against Jeffco School Board Conservative Majority

UPDATE: More information at the recall campaign’s new website, Jeffco United For Action.

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Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).

As announced in a press release sent out moments ago–Jefferson County residents have begun the process of gathering signatures to recall all three right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County Board of Education this fall:

Today, Wendy McCord a stay-at-home mother of three Jeffco students, along with Michael Blanton a Jeffco father and attorney, and Tina Gurdikian a Jeffco mother of two students and an environmental compliance specialist submitted language to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office to recall the three Jeffco School Board Majority Members – Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams.

“We can no longer wait! The Board Majority Members are taking away the opportunity for our Jeffco students to succeed by failing to do what we elected them to do, represent the voice of the entire community and not just those who voted for them. The Board Majority Members regularly disregard input from the community and district staff, including their solo pick for superintendent, Dan McMinimee. The Board Majority Members have gone so far as to limit public comment, and take up to a year to respond with shallow form letters to emails submitted to the Board by their constituents. In the case of facility needs to address increasing enrollment in the north, Board Majority Members have left families in a state of stressful limbo wondering where their children will attend school,” stated Tina Gurdikian.

“The language we submitted as the grounds for recall today clearly outlines why the Board Majority Members are not suited to continue in their elected roles. For over a year, the Board Majority Members have made decisions behind closed doors and violated their own rules as well as state and federal laws. All of this secrecy and lack of transparency has resulted in over 700 educators and countless families leaving Jeffco Schools – this is unacceptable,” continued Wendy McCord.

“Between the broken promises to voters, violating open meeting laws and privacy laws and wasting taxpayer money, I as a Jeffco voter felt it was time to stand up and put an end to the chaos that has overtaken our school board. The board majority members have consistently exhibited a fundamental disrespect for Jeffco parents and students, and their attitude and actions will only cause our students to fall behind their peers, locally, nationally and globally,” concluded Michael Blanton.

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

The first step in the process is to submit the recall petition to the Jefferson County Clerk for approval, which was done today. Once that’s done, there’s a 60-day timetable for gathering 15,000 recall petition signatures per seat. That timetable should put the recall election on the ballot this November–the same time as the two minority seats on the board will be up as well.

Meaning the best-case scenario is a clean sweep of the Jefferson County Board of Education–needless to say, a game-changing reversal of fortunes.

In today’s press release, organizers cite the hiring of a “novice superintendent,” Douglas County’s Dan McMinimee, at a much higher salary than his more qualified predecessor–as well as a general lack of transparency by the board majority, and the disastrous attempt by the board last year to “review” the district’s AP History curriculum to ensure it conforms with board members’ right-wing political views. These actions along with other ugly incidents that generated negative press for the board in recent months, say organizers, have directly contributed to the massive spike in teacher turnover at Jeffco schools in the last year.

As of now, “WNW” are on notice: the students, teachers, and parents of Jeffco have had enough.

New Report: Massive Teacher Exodus From Jeffco Schools

While they can.

While they can.

A disturbing story from 9NEWS’ Nelson Garcia last night about a parent group in Jefferson County tracking the departure of teachers and staff from Jeffco Public Schools–according to Jeffco Exodus and new data from the Colorado Department of Education, a mass departure of teachers from what was once one of the state’s highest-performing school districts is now underway:

As both the teachers union and school district expect the teacher turnover numbers to increase this summer, a website run by parents is chronicling the stories of why teachers are leaving.

“What we’d like to do with JeffCo Exodus is to give them a chance to voice their opinions to get their feelings out in the open so that they feel people are listening to them,” Tina Gurdikian, JeffCo Exodus co-founder, said…

She says many teachers say they are leaving because they don’t feel respected. Gurdikian blames the actions of Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams who were elected to the school board in 2013. She says the actions of this conservative board majority are driving teachers away from the district.

Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk

Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk

The last two years in Jeffco have been fraught with battles between the new conservative board majority and the community they were elected to serve. In addition to annual fights over teacher and staff contracts, Jeffco schools have been beset by controversies that have nothing to do with the much-maligned “teacher’s union”–the questionable hiring of Dan McMinimee from the far-right Douglas County school district, McMinimee’s hiring of controversial now-ex communications director Lisa Pinto, the literal global news coverage of Julie Williams’ politically-tainted “review” of AP History curriculum–and recently, highly troubling incidents of bullying by board members against underage Jeffco students.

But in all of those incidents, as embarrassing as they were to the board and district as a whole, one could at least make the argument that for most students, nothing had really changed. Jeffco kids still went to the same schools every morning, to learn the same subjects from the same teachers.

As of yesterday, you can’t say that anymore:

The Colorado Department of Education tracks turnover numbers and says in the 2014-2015 school year, 710 teachers left the district, which signifies an increase in the turnover rate of about 50 percent compared to the previous year. [Pols emphasis]

Superintendent Dan McMinimee says he expects the turnover numbers to top 800 for the 2015-2016 school year.

The story quotes a conservative Jefferson County parent in support of the board majority downplaying this tremendous spike in teacher turnover, but for parents who send their kids to Jeffco schools every day, these numbers are nothing short of disastrous. This throws staffing decisions for next year into chaos, potentially resulting in larger class sizes. For students, this means the loss of trusted mentors and advisors. For some, the loss of a favored teacher could mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out.

And there’s nothing the board majority can point to as a positive effect. Right-wing public education opponents will assert for boilerplate reasons that these teachers “deserve to go,” but there’s nothing we’ve seen to indicate the teachers leaving are poor performers. There’s just no positive way to spin an attrition rate that’s up 50% from the previous year, with another big spike anticipated this year.

Bottom line: you can make the case that nearly two years of controversy in Jefferson County under the new school board majority have been foreshadowing this moment. This massive departure of teachers from a school district previously held up as a high-performing model is immutable proof of the harm being done by the conservative board majority. Real harm, affecting real people on a large scale. It’s the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back, except more of a sledgehammer.

And if this isn’t enough to push Jeffco parents to take action, we don’t know what is.