Jeffco School Board’s Attack On Its Own Teachers Halted

Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk

Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk

More bad press for the controversial Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority, as the Denver Post’s Anthony Cotton reports:

Jefferson County District Court issued a temporary injunction Tuesday preventing Jefferson County Public Schools from implementing a pay plan the union complained was being imposed without required negotiations.

The plan would have provided higher base salaries for newly hired teachers. The temporary injunction granted Tuesday prevents the school district from using the new pay scale on any new teachers hired on or after May 1.

“Today is a victory for hard working Jeffco teachers who have sacrificed our own pay through pay freezes and reductions to help the school district weather the recession,” Jefferson County Education Association president John Ford said in a statement. “To offer thousands of dollars more to new teachers while neglecting to honor your promises to your current teaching staff is inexcusable.”

The board majority’s proposal to pay newly hired teachers more than some current teachers was broadly seen as a gratuitous attack on current Jeffco educators who don’t like the new direction of the district. This injunction, while it’s determined whether the new pay plan was implemented without required negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association, is a setback for what conservative activists have admitted is a deliberate strategy to “break” the teacher’s union–as was done in neighboring Douglas County after a similar conservative takeover of the school board with dubious results.

This will make it a little harder for the board’s many surrogates to demonize the teachers going forward. Teacher pay negotiations are perhaps the one arena where conservatives have a natural advantage with the low-information public–and this kind of bad faith is how you blow that.

Who Is Lisa Pinto? Jeffco Parents Might Not Like The Answer

nopinto3Lisa Pinto’s resume, marked “NO” by a Jeffco employee involved in the search process.

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Since being hired last January, Republican media consultant Lisa Pinto has been the point person for the unenviable task of messaging the controversial actions of the Jefferson County Board of Education’s conservative majority. Pinto, a former official with ousted GOP state chairman Ryan Call’s much-balleyhooed “SuperPAC” along with another GOP media type who pled guilty to campaign finance violations earlier this year, has worked to smooth over ongoing embarrassments from far-right board member Julie Williams, and brought in conservative media relations firm Novitas Communications to help improve the district’s rapidly deteriorating image.

Last January, local blogger Paula Reed wrote in detail about Pinto’s hiring, including the conclusion by members of the interview committee that Pinto was unqualified for the job of communications director for Jefferson County Public Schools. Yesterday, some of the correspondence related to this hiring process appeared on our desk–and while we’re protecting identities involved with redactions, it’s clear that Pinto had some serious issues going into her interview.

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These handwritten notes from a Jeffco Schools employee describe Pinto as “lacking deeper experience in PR,” “guarded” and “political” and given to “lawyer speak,” with “no current experience,” “not great media contacts,” no recent on-camera experience, and (critically for this job) “no K-12 experience.” Another email strongly recommends against hiring and possibly even conducting further interviews with her, based on discrepancies in her resume:

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Not a very auspicious review. Here’s a little more detail:

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We’ve done some Googling as well, and we haven’t found anything close to 200 media appearances by Lisa Pinto in any capacity. Now, that’s not to say that Pinto has no on-camera experience. One of the few media appearances we were able to find with her was an episode of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher from 2002–certainly a high-profile appearance, albeit nearly fifteen years old. But there’s a problem: appearing as a Republican-leaning pundit, this clip of Pinto being smacked down by Maher and William Shatner isn’t one that would encourage us to hire her to speak for a school district:

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Ken Witt: Not Very Nice (or Smart)

A new story out of the scandal-plagued Jefferson County school board late last night, following an ugly exchange between the chairman of the new conservative majority Ken Witt and a Jeffco student representing the group Jefferson County Students for Change. A complaint filed by Jeffco parent Wendy McCord today recounts what happened:

Bullying is defined as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student.”

Witt made a defamatory statement regarding a District student, who is a minor, at the Meeting. He not only accused her of using racial epithets, he also directed district staff to post social media screenshots that identified the student by name. In addition, Witt said he refused to have anything to do with the organization that this student represents.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy that Witt won’t associate with students who essentially “liked” a Tweet but continues to sit next to (and serve on the Board with) a woman who posted material from an identified hate group encouraging parents to keep their children out of schools to protest a day designed to prevent bullying of LGBT students and staff, Witt’s statements were completely unacceptable.

Since the moment Witt, Newkirk and Williams took office, they have repeatedly embarrassed this District. They continue to degrade and demean not only our staff but, as evidenced in this circumstance, our students. These are the very stakeholders the Board and all district staff are supposed to protect.

In the video above, you can see minority board member Jill Fellman responding to the student, suggesting that the board use available time in a future meeting to have a conversation with the student group Jeffco Students for Change. Witt interrupts Fellman to accuse the leader of this group, who was one of the handful of people still in attendance at this meeting after midnight, of “favoriting…on Facebook er social media” (Witt is a little unclear about what kind of social media he is referring to) “racial epithets about district staff.” On the basis of this, Witt announces that he “will not have any association with this group.” It’s not seen in the video, but Witt directed to have a Tweet identifying the student in question projected on the large screen at the front of the room.

Readers will recall that the communications director for Jeffco schools, Lisa Pinto, has claimed she was racially insulted via Twitter over a post from an anonymous spoof account about “burritos” being served–in fact a reference to the meeting we helped publicize earlier this year between Witt and the conservative board chairs of several other Colorado school districts at Lakewood’s Jose O’Shea’s Mexican restaurant. This case of silly misplaced outrage formed the basis of a notably unsuccessful countermessage campaign from the Independence Institute, hoping to garner sympathy for Pinto–and shift attention away the ongoing PR disaster that is board member Julie Williams, or the district’s increasingly bad-faith contract negotiations.

It’s necessary to explain all of that in order to understand just how off-base Witt was in attacking this student and the student group represented. Once you understand this, Witt’s ridiculous bullying of a student he is charged with representing over merely “starring” something entirely inoffensive, projecting the student’s name for all to see in the board room and disparaging an entire group of Jeffco students over it…well folks, it’s pretty outrageous conduct. Not to mention, given the recent controversy over Williams’ sharing of a hate group’s call to defend discrimination, hypocritical in the extreme.

Which seems to be the rule these days on the Jeffco school board.

Martyred: Lesley Dahlkemper Will Not Run Again

Jefferson County Board of Education member Lesley Dahlkemper.

Jefferson County Board of Education member Lesley Dahlkemper.

Important news from Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat Colorado late SundayLesley Dahlkemper, one of the two members of the Jefferson County Board of Education’s embattled minority of non-conservative ideologues, will not run for re-election this year:

Lesley Dalhkemper, who makes up half of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education minority bloc, announced Sunday she won’t seek re-election in November…

“This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. [My husband] and I want to be fully present for her,” she said.

Dahlkemper also cited her work at the Colorado Education Initiative, an education nonprofit that works with schools and districts, as another reason why she won’t seek re-election.

Since the 2013 reconfiguration of the Jefferson County school board, Dahlkemper and her colleague Jill Fellman have become heroes to the teachers and parents who vocally oppose the board’s new conservative majority. Both women have been greeted with applause upon arriving at school board meetings.

It’s not been reported whether fellow minority board member Jill Fellman will run again for her seat, but Dahlkemper’s public policy experience made her the natural lead in the battles with the conservative board majority that have raged since their election in 2013. Dahlkemper’s stated reasons of wanting to help her child through middle school and work for the Colorado Education Initiative are above reproach, but we have to think that the stress of the new board majority running roughshod over other stakeholders in endless 3-2 votes–not to mention the numerous high-profile instances of major embarrassments committed by the board’s majority but attributed to the board as a whole–factored into her decision to not run again.

What does this mean for this year’s school board elections in Jefferson County, already shaping up to eclipse 2013 as the most contentious ever? That remains to be seen, but as the public’s understanding of the sorry state of affairs under the conservative board majority grows, there’s a scenario in which Dahlkemper’s decision to not run again becomes a rallying cry: to put a stop to these right-wing ideological flights of fancy in one of Colorado’s largest and best public school districts.

Because just like Lesley Dahlkemper deserved better, so do the kids.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 5)

Cinco-LogoIt’s Cinco de Mayo, which translates in Denver to “Election Day.” It’s time to 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…

► It’s Election Day in Denver. If you still have a mail ballot at home, you’re going to need to truck that sucker to a drop-off location before 7:00 p.m. Visit the website of the Denver Clerk and Recorder for drop-off information.

 ► Republican-led efforts to pass a fetal homicide Personhood bill in the legislature came to a predictable end yesterday when a House Committee axed SB-268 on a party-line vote.

 ► The U.S. Supreme Court seems a little hazy about what to do with legal marijuana, so they are asking the advice of the U.S. Solicitor General. As it turns out, we still have a Solicitor General.


Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Jeffco PTA Calls for Censure of Board Member Julie Williams

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Republican Julie Williams, Member of the Jefferson County School Board.

A few weeks ago, controversial Jefferson County School Board member Julie Williams upped her own ante on inappropriate behavior when she used social media accounts to promote efforts to oppose what she called “perverse indoctrination.” As we wrote on April 19:

The problem here is obvious to anyone who knows anything about Julie Williams, a close family member of the “Neville Nutters” clan of far-right Republican political figures. The reason Williams posted a fringe anti-LGBT hate group’s information about a walkout to counter the Day of Silence protests against bullying is simple: that’s where she gets her information from as a member of the far-right fringe. Although some of the worst examples have reportedly been purged along with this latest post, Williams’ Facebook page has lots of examples of the kind of fringy “wisdom” that we have every reason to assume informs her votes on the school board.

As for not having read the link she posted, that would have to be so literally true–the very first sentence contains the words “perverse indoctrination”–that it’s difficult to believe. It’s a much more likely scenario to us that one of the aforementioned press flacks had to explain to Ms. Williams how “perverse indoctrination” is not an acceptable way for a board member to refer to a district-sanctioned event against bullying LGBT students.

This did not go over well, obviously. In a letter sent today to the Jefferson County School Board, Michelle Patterson, President of the Jefferson County Council PTA, asks the school board to take the step of a formal censure of Williams:

If this were the first time we had seen this sort of careless thought and behavior from Ms. Williams, this community might be more forgiving, but it is not. In light of this, Jeffco PTA’s Board of Directors requests the topic of a formal censure of Julie Williams be added to the May 7 meeting agenda. [Pols emphasis] With a vote to censure Ms. Williams, this school board can send Jefferson County a strong message. The message must be that you stand with EVERY student, regardless of race, religion, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation and against intolerance of any kind.

You can read the full letter here (PDF: PTA-JulieWilliams-Censure) or check the full text after the jump.

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Are Colorado PERA Negotiations Being Influenced by Federal Politics?

(clockwise from top): U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

(clockwise from top):
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post reported late yesterday on a troubling political strategy from Republicans that intertwines state and federal politics:

Intense negotiations are underway at the state Capitol to try to revive a Denver Public Schools pension bill that critics claim was killed by Republicans because of former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet’s Senate re-election bid.

House Bill 1251 is important for DPS because it would allow the district to quit paying around $23 million more a year into the state pension fund than other school districts…

Three people with knowledge of the bill told The Denver Post that they talked about it with Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, who said national Republicans didn’t want to see a bill passed that potentially could help Bennet. Hill briefly ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014. [Pols emphasis]

Hill responded Thursday that his chief concern is that PERA is a “real ticking time bomb,” but he acknowledged people told him they had concerns about “some bad deals that were cut” when Bennet oversaw Denver schools.

Bennet’s financial dealings at DPS were an issue in his 2010 Senate primary. “Exotic Deals Put Denver Schools Deeper in Debt,” read a headline in The New York Times. Republicans have said they plan to revisit the issue on the campaign trail next year.

For his part, State Senate “PresidentBill Cadman says that he has “never” talked to the Republican Party or “anyone in Washington” about HB-1251, although it’s difficult to say how much people are really listening to Cadman anyway.

We won’t get into the policy discussion of the relative merits of HB-1251 and PERA reforms here (Colorado Pols is a political blog, after all), but the idea that Colorado legislation might be torpedoed because of how it might harm the re-election chances of a U.S. Senator is more than a little troubling. It also speaks, again, to the leadership structure surrounding Colorado Republicans. If this story proves true, it seriously calls into question how much Senate Republicans are even making their own decisions locally.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 28)

Hey, there it is! Welcome back, Sun. It’s time to 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…

► Prosecutors are scheduled to call their first witness today in the Aurora Theater Shooting trial. The Aurora Sentinel provides a handy update for Day Two.

► As the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments over same-sex marriage, experts on both sides of the argument seem to think equality is a foregone conclusion. Or…maybe not?

► So-called fetal homicide Personhood legislation limped out of the State Senate yesterday. Senate Bill 268 is unlikely to make it through the State House, especially after running into all manner of political problems in the Senate. 

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Get More Smarter on Thursday (April 23)

By the end of the week, the black market for carnitas will be booming. It’s time to 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…

► After five months of waiting, the U.S. Senate is finally on the cusp of confirming President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner announced this morning that he planned to vote NO on Lynch’s confirmation. Seriously.

► There is a concerted effort underway in Jefferson County to “destroy” the teacher’s union, as Colorado Pols reported late yesterday. Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute may need to work fast — Julie Williams and the right-wing Jeffco School Board might just “destroy” the entire school district first.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Jon Caldara Pitches “Dougco-Style” Jeffco Schools Takeover

UPDATE: Jon Caldara responds via Twitter:

And there you have it, folks…

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Jon Caldara.

Jon Caldara.

We were forwarded scanned copies today of a lengthy letter from the right-wing Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, soliciting funds from members to wage war against “the teachers unions and their Leftist allies in Jefferson County.” We’ve posted all eight pages of Caldara’s letter below (click to pull up high resolution scans)–safe to say that this letter was not intended for consumption outside a very conservative audience, as the stated goals of Caldara’s campaign are distantly out of the mainstream.

For one thing, the “libertarian” Caldara launches into a defense of last year’s controversial AP History curriculum review proposal that would make Julie Williams blush:

caldarajeffcoaphis

That “the union” staged last year’s enormous student protests will come as a surprise to the students who actually organized them, and who explained to everyone who would listen that they were outraged by Williams’ AP History “review” proposal without anyone’s help. It’s worth noting that Caldara is aligned with Republican politicians who sent out mailers last year using doctored photos of student protesters to imply their support–even though the students were protesting against the GOP-dominated school board’s actions. Republican politicians who benefited from those mailers include Tim Neville, the brother-in-law of board member Julie Williams.

And again, isn’t Caldara supposed to be a “libertarian?” Don’t libertarians respect questioning authority in the classroom? We can only assume that Caldara wasn’t writing for a libertarian audience.

Here’s another tidbit that won’t sit well in swing Jefferson County. Ever since taking control of the school board in 2013, the new conservative majority has insisted that they were not modeling their agenda on Douglas County, the arch-conservative stronghold presently mired in a lawsuit over religious school vouchers, and which has seen considerable turnover of teachers and staff since a right-wing activist school board started enacting sweeping changes. Well folks, don’t tell that to Jon Caldara:

caldaradougco

caldaradougco2

We’d say their cover is pretty well blown at this point, but in case you needed more proof, here you go.

You can read Caldara’s angry screed in its entirety after the jump–click on the images to pull up full-resolution versions. And next time somebody tells you that there isn’t a right-wing ideological plot afoot to radically alter one of Colorado’s best-performing public school districts, show them this letter.

Because apparently there is.

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Jeffco School Board’s Julie Williams Promotes Student Walk Out Against “Perverse Indoctrination”

SUNDAY UPDATE #2: Embattled Jeffco school board member Julie Williams does have someone in her corner–Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt:

chapswilliams2

Something tells us this is not the kind of backup Williams’ press handlers are looking for…

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SUNDAY UPDATE: It’s possible that not even the army of Republican media flacks now working for the Jefferson County Board of Education’s conservative majority can save board member Julie Williams now, as her preposterous excuses for posting a link to an anti-LGBT hate group help drive the expanding story–9NEWS’ Jonathan Gonzales reports:

After 9NEWS received numerous complaints from some students, parents and teachers, board member Julie Williams said she was simply trying to inform parents who had been asking her for more information about the protest, which is known as the “Day of Silence.”

“I posted it as information because I believe parents have the right to know what’s happening in our schools, and then it’s up to a parent whether they want to opt in or out,” [Pols emphasis] Williams told 9NEWS. “Should’ve read it before I posted it. I mean I did make a serious mistake there with that.”

And FOX31’s Kent Erdahl:

The “Day of Silence” is a silent protest conducted by students across the country each year, designed to raise awareness of bullying, especially involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

“Seven out of 10 gay and lesbian students experience harassment just because of who they are,” said Dave Montez, with One Colorado. [Pols emphasis]

Jeffco board member Julie Williams says when several parents asked her about the Day of Silence last week, she didn’t know what to tell them…

The problem here is obvious to anyone who knows anything about Julie Williams, a close family member of the “Neville Nutters” clan of far-right Republican political figures. The reason Williams posted a fringe anti-LGBT hate group’s information about a walkout to counter the Day of Silence protests against bullying is simple: that’s where she gets her information from as a member of the far-right fringe. Although some of the worst examples have reportedly been purged along with this latest post, Williams’ Facebook page has lots of examples of the kind of fringy “wisdom” that we have every reason to assume informs her votes on the school board.

As for not having read the link she posted, that would have to be so literally true–the very first sentence contains the words “perverse indoctrination”–that it’s difficult to believe. It’s a much more likely scenario to us that one of the aforementioned press flacks had to explain to Ms. Williams how “perverse indoctrination” is not an acceptable way for a board member to refer to a district-sanctioned event against bullying LGBT students.

And we’d say that speaks for itself. Original post follows.

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UPDATE: Via Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia, full retreat:

Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams said late Friday that she was “sincerely sorry” and that she would remove a link on her personal Facebook page that she shared that encouraged families to keep their students home Friday and “away from perverse indoctrination” of the“homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t read the article,” Williams said. “I just saw it and thought I was sharing information with parents.” [Pols emphasis]

…SaveCalifornia.com describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.

…Williams’ post, first revealed Friday afternoon by the political blog ColoradoPols.com, will likely provide grist for her critics. [Pols emphasis]

Yes, that seems likely. Original post follows…

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doswalkout

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

A Facebook post from Jefferson County School Board member Julie Williams, who gained infamy last year as the main proponent of a politically biased “review” of AP U.S. History that led to massive protests by students, is promoting…well, a walk out by students–but not for the same reasons that Jeffco students had last fall. From the link she shared:

If you have children in K-12 government schools, in California or another state, please keep them home and away from perverse indoctrination on Friday, April 17.

That’s the day of the so-called “Day of Silence,” where sexually confused students and teachers refuse to speak during the entire academic day. They’ll indoctrinate everybody else through handouts and chalkboard writings and videos and other propaganda tools. They’ll teach children to support and embrace the unnatural and unhealthy homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda and will label anyone who’s against it a “bigot,” a “hater,” or worse…

[N]o matter what, please keep your children home on April 17, to express your strong disapproval of the pro-perversity state school bureaucracy. Your children’s hearts and minds matter!

Today marks the annual Day of Silence, a protest originally organized by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and carried out autonomously by students and faculty nationwide to raise awareness about bullying and violence against LGBT students. The event is opposed by the organization that sent out the above action alert, the Campaign for Children and Families, which has been heavily involved in the battle against marriage equality in California and elsewhere.

Now, given the umbrage Williams took with students who walked out in protest against reviewing the district’s history curriculum to ensure it “promotes patriotism,” isn’t it hypocritical to encourage students to stay out of school to protest the LGBT Day of Silence? That’s the question we ask before the real question, which is how Williams can conscionably promote this hateful vitriol against “perverse” students she is charged with representing as a member of the school board.

Unfortunately, we already know the answer to the second question. She got elected.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 14)

Forgot to do your taxes? You’ve got a good 36 hours left. It’s time to 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…

► The Obama Administration says it has a plan to fund construction of the troubled VA Hospital in Aurora. Congressman Mike Coffman, the Republican Chair of the Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight, continues to bluster without taking time to suggest an actual solution.

► The State House is finished debating several more attempts to overturn gun safety laws passed in 2013. There was much debate, talking, and blustering, but in the end, nothing changed…though divisions within the Republican Party are growing, as the Colorado Springs-Gazette editorial board writes:

Forget Michael Bloomberg, Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative Democrats for now. The bigger threat to gun rights in Colorado is Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, headed by political operative Dudley Brown.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

GOP Chairman Withdraws From Jeffco Schools Event

Colorado GOP chairman Steve House.

Colorado GOP chairman Steve House.

A mini-uprising from Jefferson County parents appears to have scuttled another attempt by the conservative Jeffco school board majority to inject partisan politics into the work of Colorado’s biggest public school district. Here’s the text of a letter we were forwarded from a Jeffco parent to the board, questioning an upcoming appearance by new Colorado GOP chairman Steve House at an upcoming board retreat:

Dear John, Julie and Ken,

I just received the email from Helen Neal with the link to the agenda for the Board Retreat next Thursday. I am disheartened and disappointed that Steve House remains on your Retreat Guest Panel on Innovative/Creative Practices in Public Education. On the agenda, Mr. House is listed as the Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. I see nothing that would even remotely connect him to education in his professional role. I even looked over his profile on LinkedIn…nowhere in his “experience” does his list anything even remotely connected to education. Nor does education appear in the 50 skills he has listed.

Could you please explain to me (and the myriad other taxpayers who are concerned at this line-up of “innovation experts”) what Steve House has to do with education innovation? Why are you wasting taxpayer time and money on this farce? Consider the district staff who must attend your meetings. Why are you wasting their time? From what I can tell, I have more education expertise than Mr. House. What I don’t have, however, is a “certificate” from the Leadership Program of the Rockies. It seems that’s all it takes to make it in Jeffco these days. From our communications director to a guest panel on education innovation – educational expertise is no longer required to guide our school district, just participating in a right-wing organization one of whose main goals is to destroy public education.

We live in an amazing county, state and country – surely there are ACTUAL experts on education innovation that could provide useful information to the Board of Ed and the district. Mr. House has no credentials to be participating in the panel, and the three of you, in supporting his participation, are an embarrassment to public education. For people who rely so heavily on data, I can see none to support his role on the panel.

I strongly urge you to remove him from the panel on education innovation – his participation makes a mockery of the Board of Ed of Jeffco.

We’re not privy to whatever discussion that took place between the receipt of this letter by the conservative Jeffco board and now, but the board’s agenda for the upcoming retreat in question has changed as of today:

Subject: Retreat: Guest Panel on Innovative/Creative Practices in Public Education (EL-11)
Type: Discussion

estimated time: 7:30 p.m. (estimated duration: 2 hours)

PRESENTING STAFF:
Tony Lewis, executive director, Donnell-Kay Foundation
Scott Fast, parent, Columbine High School, retired executive director, Accenture Foundation
Steve House, chairman, Colorado Republican Party withdrew [Pols emphasis]

So much for that! The only thing that remains is for an intrepid reporter to ask two questions: why House withdrew, and for what reasons the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party was picked for this “retreat” to begin with.

You know, beyond the obvious reasons that have nothing to do with education.

Something Stinks On The State Board of Education

Val Flores, Colorado Board of Education.

Val Flores, Colorado Board of Education.

Several local organizations including Planned Parenthood and One Colorado, the state’s major LGBT advocacy group, sent out action alerts to their members yesterday warning about an upcoming vote by the Colorado Board of Education that could do major harm to a program known as the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. From Planned Parenthood’s alert yesterday afternoon:

Every two years, Colorado middle and high schoolers take an important, anonymous, voluntary survey that provides our state with vital information about their health and well-being. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) determines the prevalence of health-risk behaviors and trends related to this behavior, including: physical activity & nutrition, school & family, injury & violence, mental health, alcohol & drug use, and sexual health. And the data is used for creating important policies and programs to better serve Colorado’s youth.

This year access to that survey is being obstructed. Our opposition is trying to change the survey by creating a difficult process for youth. This process could significantly decrease Colorado youth’s access to the survey, and lower response rates by up to 30%.

Meanwhile, the current process already has several opportunities for parents and students to opt out of the survey. Changing this process will only reduce the data that helps the state allocate resources, and most damagingly, could result in negative impacts for our vulnerable youth.

Conservatives on the state board of education, led by GOP lobbyist and appointed board member Steve “Prince of Darkness” Durham (actually his nickname under the Gold Dome, we didn’t make it up) of Colorado Springs, want to substantially reduce student participation in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. This anonymous survey asks a range of questions about behavior and lifestyle that Durham claims could be “self-incriminating,” and therefore wants parents to affirmatively opt in students to the survey instead of the current opt-out system. That seemingly small change would have the effect of greatly reducing response to what advocates say is crucial to understanding and providing the right services for at-risk students of all kinds. With their bills dying in the split state legislature, supporters of the “Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights” legislation and other similar proposals are now looking to this vote on the state board of education for a victory.

What we’ve heard about the dynamics of the current board suggests that this vote is very much in doubt, with at least one member of the conservative majority not on board with hobbling the HKCS. Attention appears to be focused on the would-be “safe” Democratic representative on the board for Denver, Val Flores–and there’s a problem. Since winning the CD-1 seat on the state board of education last November, Flores has apparently manifested as a tool of Durham and the far-right wing of the board: voting repeatedly following Durham’s explicit lead, and severely straining her relationship with her former supporters. In the case of the Healthy Kids Survey, the “opposition” consists almost completely of manufactured controversy from the same Tim Neville conspiracy theory types that backed the attacks in the legislature this year against immunizations. To say that these actors do not have the best interests of a diverse urban population like Denver at heart is a considerable understatement.

So why the hell is Denver’s voice on the state board of education wavering? We haven’t heard a good answer for this, but we’re told that a vote to gut the Healthy Kids Survey could be the last straw for Flores politically. She may be voting like a Colorado Springs Republican, but that’s not who she answers to at the ballot box.

Stay tuned, we’ll update this story after the vote tomorrow.

Jeffco School Board Media Flacks Doth Protest Too Much

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

Michelle Balch Lyng, Lisa Pinto.

We talked last month about a GOP-aligned media relations shop, Novitas Communications, that was hired by the Jefferson County Board of Education’s new communications director Lisa Pinto–herself a longtime Republican political operative. Novitas’ contract to “shift” coverage of the controversial board majority to positive from the more or less unbroken string of disastrous press the district’s conservative majority has earned since taking office is a tall order, but we’ve been watching since this announcement for signs of Novitas and their conservative usual suspect friends swinging into action.

This week, we began to see the conservative media counterstrategy on behalf of the Jeffco school board take shape. Conservative blog Complete Colorado teamed up with the Independence Institute to hit back against the army of critics of the Jeffco school board majority on social media:

Parents, students, and teachers upset with the Jefferson County Public School District Board of Education majority members and select district staff continue to use social media to get their frustrations out.

However, some of those targeted by anonymous Twitter handles call their messages rude, intimidating, unflattering, and just plain mean at times.

And it appears the @notlisapinto, @notjohnnewkirk, @notdanmcminimee, @notkenwitt and @notjuliejeffco accounts are being operated with the blessing of the Colorado teachers union top official and the two top officials for the Jefferson County Parent Teacher Association – despite those organizations touting their goals as student-based and continually denouncing bullying through the #standup4kids Twitter hash tag.

Lisa Pinto, chief communications officer for Jeffco, said the Tweets about her are hurtful and judgmental. Because Pinto is not an elected official, those posting to her site could be held liable for the remarks…

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

First of all, there’s no question that Twitter has not been very good for the conservative Jefferson County school board majority. Last fall, the board’s proposal to “review” the district’s AP history curriculum to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority” became a worldwide news story largely because of the Twitter hashtag #jeffcoschoolboardhistory–which went viral with literally thousands of satirical Tweets lampooning Julie Williams and the proposal generally. Another Twitter hashtag, #standup4kids, is a major communications hub for opponents attending Jeffco board meetings.

So yeah, the Jeffco school board majority probably aren’t big fans of Twitter.

Hoping to garner sympathy for the board majority and discredit intense criticism on Twitter, the Independence Institute put up a low-quality website aggregating Tweets from some of these pseudonymous accounts. In the Complete Colorado post, there are allegations of racially charged Tweets against Pinto, who is Hispanic, but we haven’t seen that proven–or even clearly alleged which of the many Twitter accounts involved in discussion of the Jeffco school board might be responsible. The examples of “mean Tweets” posted to the Independence Institute’s Mean Girlz site aren’t anything close to that level of offense, and we assume if bonafide examples of racial harassment existed they would be front and center. Certainly anonymous Tweets can be meanspirited, but attempting to discredit real people simply because they “Re-Tweeted” something is asinine. And as for the notion that these accounts are operating “with the blessing” of the PTA or anyone else? Based on the Complete Colorado blog post, that appears to be totally baseless conjecture at best, and possibly downright libelous.

Bottom line: whining about treatment on social media doesn’t make the conservative Jeffco school board majority or their army of paid media flacks look good. Twitter is just one venue in which damaging information about the board majority’s actions flows freely to the public, and overwhelmingly, the content speaks for itself. If the board’s media flacks want to respond, the way to do that is factually–not by complaining about meanie anonymous Twitter trolls and playing silly guilt-by-association games.