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.

—–

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.

Witt, McMinimee Defend Bullying Of Minor Jeffco Student


Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

The controversy over an ugly incident at the May meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education, in which a minor Jeffco student’s name was projected on a large screen while board member Ken Witt accused the student of “favoriting” “racial epithets about district staff,” came to a head at last night’s board meeting. The allegation wasn’t true, but even if it was, it was highly inappropriate for Witt, assisted by fellow board member John Newkirk and now-outgoing communications director Lisa Pinto, to call out a 17-year-old student by name in this manner. That the allegation was bogus in addition arguably makes the incident even worse.

In the video clip above, recorded at last night’s board meeting, minority board member Lesley Dahlkemper calls out Witt during a discussion of district confidentiality policies. The response she gets, both from Witt and Jeffco Schools superintendent Dan McMinimee, can only be described as deeply unsettling. Transcript:

WITT: Ms. Dahlkemper.

DAHLKEMPER: And, uh, I have a question about #6, failure to protect confidential information. We had an incident at one of our recent board meetings where, uh, the board had requested that a Facebook posting be placed on the screen that involved a minor. Can you talk to us about how we prevent those kinds of incidents from happening in the future, or just awareness in terms of the board about how we handle those kinds of issues?

MCMINIMEE: Well for me, I think that’s something that you probably need to discuss…

(Laughter from audience)

MCMINIMEE: In terms of what happened in the district, um, I think you’ll recall we had some confidential postings on Facebook or somewhere around some of the hiring procedures that we had here, so we are looking at how we can tighten that up and have people that are being hired into our system have the reasonable assurance that those are confidential discussions that are happening, and that documents from that will not be released through the addition of a signoff during those conversations. So we’re having those about how we gather what happens within the organization. I think the piece you’re referencing is a conversation amongst you all.

DAHLKEMPER: And I think, I think that’s, I think that’s a point well taken, I think that’s good advice for this board moving forward in terms of ensuring that we keep confidential, uh, minors, which is part of our work in terms of protecting kids.

WITT: I think it’s particularly important that we not, uh, consider a Facebook post confidential information, when we choose to make them public.

DAHLKEMPER: Uh, Mr. Witt, we’re talking about a 17-year-old minor, uh, thank you.

WITT: And a Facebook post. (unintelligible)

DAHLKEMPER: A 17-year-old minor. As board members we are elected officials, and we’re here to serve and protect children. Just a reminder. [Pols emphasis]

(Audience breaks into loud sustained applause)

WITT: Thank you.

As you can see, McMinimee is asked about the public shaming of a minor student at the May board meeting. But McMinimee doesn’t respond to Dahlkemper’s question directly, saying only that her question was “a conversation amongst you all.” Instead, McMinimee launches into a discussion of keeping “hiring procedures” confidential–an obvious reference to the material we published about the questionable process that resulted in the hiring of Lisa Pinto. The plain inference here is that the leaking of material about Pinto justified the actions taken by Witt against this minor student–or at least were considered to be linked enough to serve as a retort when asked about that incident.

Folks, this is totally unacceptable.

The information we published about Pinto, which included resume discrepancies and the judgment that she was less qualified than other applicants for the job, in no way justifies how this minor student was treated by the board majority. We haven’t seen the results of the outside investigation reportedly underway after last month’s incident, but to attempt even obliquely to justify what happened at the May board meeting with anything related to Lisa Pinto’s hiring (or departure) is just fundamentally wrong. Is it possible that the “bunker mentality” among the board majority has become so pervasive that everyone–students, teachers, this blog–is lumped together into some kind of catch-all group of “enemies?”

If this is really the state of things in Jefferson County, this board needs to go. McMinimee needs to go.

Now, not later.

Duggars Withdraw From Colorado Homeschool Conference

We took note a couple of weeks ago of an upcoming conference at the Denver Merchandise Mart organized by the Christian Home Educators of Colorado, ambitiously titled the Rocky Mountain Super Conference on the Family–and featuring as their special speaking guests and musical entertainment the entire family of religious right superstars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar:

slider_duggar_family-1900x450_c

Including, at least as of then, their son Josh Duggar, who recently resigned from his position at the far-right Family Research Council after incidents of child molestation in his past resurfaced in media reports. Given that these allegations had been freshly in the news for some weeks, we were surprised to see the Duggars given such prominent billing for this conference. As recently as a couple of days ago, the image you see above still dominated the homepage for the event’s website.

But as Salon’s Jenny Kutner reports today, the Duggars won’t be coming to Colorado after all:

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar announced on Wednesday that they would no longer appear as special guests at a major homeschooling conference in Colorado next week, which would seem understandable given that the “19 Kids & Counting” stars are currently under intense scrutiny for their handling of sexual molestation in their family. But, despite ongoing controversy, the Duggars still planned to speak at the Rocky Mountain Super Conference on the Family — until reports surfaced that the family is once again under investigation by Arkansas officials.

Within hours of an In Touch magazine report indicating that Jim Bob and Michelle failed to cooperate last month with Arkansas Department of Health and Safety officials — who reportedly made a 9-1-1 call after the Duggars refused to let them evaluate a child — the pair withdrew from the homeschooling conference, which is put on by the Christian Home Educators of Colorado. According to Homeschoolers Anonymous, the group was founded by Kevin Lundberg — the now-Colorado legislator who recently worried that an IUD might prevent “a small child from implanting” inside a woman’s uterus — and later run by conservative radio host Kevin Swanson, who is convinced Girl Scout cookies are going to turn everyone gay (or something).

On Wednesday, as Kutner reports, organizers of the Rocky Mountain Super Conference on the Family announced that only Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar would be attending the conference in Denver next weekend, and that their only appearance would be to speak on Friday–no musical performance by the Duggar Family Orchestra. Yesterday, that was changed to a full cancellation of their appearance, presumably in response to these fresh reports of them failing to cooperate with Arkansas Department of Human Services investigators looking in on the well-being of their children.

It appears that even the Christian Home Educators of Colorado have realized the Duggars are not very good role models for homeschooling. Or, for that matter, parenting.

Talk-radio Host Sees “Leftists” Tainting Jeffco School Board

(As they say, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

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

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

During a radio broadcast last month (See below.), KOA radio host Ross Kaminsky goes on and on passionately about how most everyone is against the conservatives on the Jeffco School Board.

In fact, the only folks Kaminsky left out of the alleged cabal attacking the Jeffco-school-board conservatives were the students, parents, and community that has organized to hold the school board accountable.

On the radio, Kaminsky mentioned that the Jeffco-school-board conservatives, specifically John Newkirk, are under attack by Democrats, “union-pawn liberals on school boards everywhere,” other liberals, leftists, “stupid reporters,” more unions, 9News anchor Kyle Clark, and others.

Kaminsky, who was subbing for KOA’s Mike Rosen, said these types of people are supporting board members like Jill Fellman, whom Kaminsky calls a “leftist.”

Kaminsky: “And by the way, I say [Fellman] is a leftist because the teachers union loves her, and because I went and looked online at her political contributions, and 100% of them are to Democratic candidates in the Colorado Democratic Party.”

As a leftist, I know that donations to the Democratic Party and its candidates are not a good measure of one’s leftyness. The Democratic Party itself would not be called lefty. Would you call Hick a lefty? Bennet? Obama? No. More like centrists. Also, the teacher’s union gives to centrist Democrats as well as progressives.

I asked Kaminsky for a response to this criticism, and he replied:

Kaminsky: I don’t know Jill Fellman is as far left as you or others might be, but between her political contributions and — more importantly — her utter fealty to the teachers union at the expense of children, as well as her opposition to public negotiation of contracts between school districts and teachers unions, she meets my definition of leftist. I realize that to a self-described leftist such as yourself, Ms. Fellman may not quality for that same adjective, though I also think you don’t know exactly where her politics lie. Therefore, I think your criticism is more petty than your usual disagreements with me.

(more…)

Colorado BOE Chair Marcia Neal Resigns

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

POLS UPDATE: Chalkbeat Colorado:

Neal’s departure comes at the same time as education Commissioner Robert Hammond is preparing to leave the department. He announced his retirement, effective later this month, in late April.

The composition of the seven-member board and the tone of its meetings changed after new members elected last November took their seats in January.

The new members were Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Democrat Val Flores of Denver. Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, was re-elected to a second six-year term last November.

Neal was elected chair in January. Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder was elected vice chair, something that didn’t sit well with the board’s three other Republicans, Durham, Pam Mazanec of Larkspur and Deb Scheffel of Parker. The vote for vice chair was by secret ballot. Because there are only three Democrats on the panel, one Republican – presumably Neal – voted for Schroeder.

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The Paper That Shall Not Be Named reports that Marcia Neal, chair of the state Board of Education, has announced her resignation effective July 31. In her resignation she calls the current board “dysfunctional” and their recent decisions “baffling”. She also cites health concerns that are making it harder for her to fully participate.

From her resignation letter:

Past protocols were very effective with regard to communicating and the sharing of information. Those protocols are now largely ignored by several board members.

She also writes that the Board is spending little if any time discussing how to improve our schools, and is being held hostage to “both the far right and far left who share the same goals of no standards, no accountability, and no teacher quality efforts”.

The scariest part IMHO: a Republican vacancy committee (CO-03 BOE) gets to choose her replacement. My guess is they’ll choose one of those far right types, like freshman board member Steve Durham, who would rather pick 100 people out of a phone book than have a selected group of subject matter experts determining what is important in our social studies testing.

Longmont Public Charter School Has A Hater Side

Attorney Barry Arrington.

Attorney Barry Arrington.

The Colorado Independent’s Tessa Cheek reports on a growing controversy in Longmont surrounding a charter school, Twin Peaks Charter Academy, and the decision by the school’s principal to prevent the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class from delivering an address that included a statement he is gay. The story has received a great deal of press coverage both in Colorado and nationally, and attracted the scrutiny of Rep. Jared Polis, himself openly gay.

In the Independent’s latest story yesterday, we see that the more Polis looks into this charter school, the less there is to appreciate about their politics:

Embattled Twin Peaks Charter Academy will keep its lawyer, Barry Arrington, despite a request from Congressman Jared Polis that Arrington, who has an anti-gay track record, be fired.

“Mr. Arrington is a highly qualified attorney and is not being removed as counsel from Twin Peaks Charter Academy,” the school’s spokeswoman Tracy Weise told The Colorado Independent in an email. “Mr. Polis has no jurisdiction, and is completely overstepping his bounds to even suggest that he has the right, to make recommendations on how Twin Peaks Charter Academy is managed.”

Arrington raised eyebrows this week in a back-and-forth with Polis, who has been critical of the school’s decision not to let valedictorian Evan Young give a graduation speech in which he came out as gay. Polis has asked for a third-party investigation of the school’s decision and overall inclusiveness, ideally conducted by a LGBTQ-rights group.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

As it turns out, Twin Peaks’ attorney Barry Arrington is himself rather…opinionated when it comes to gay people–which makes a lot of sense in light of the way the school treated its gay valedictorian:

For his part, Arrington has written publicly about the necessity of heterosexuality as a function of intelligent design. [Pols emphasis] He also represented defendants, including Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, charged with using a gay couple’s engagement photo for a political attack ad without their knowledge or permission. Arrington is also the former president of the Rocky Mountain Family Council, the mission of which is, “to promote God’s design for parents and children by supporting families…”

“Mr. Arrington has a long history of working for anti-LGBT organizations and using his blog to condemn same-sex relationships. Because Twin Peaks Charter Academy is keeping him on as counsel, they seem to have no problem with his public views concerning LGBT people,” said Dave Montez, director of LGBTQ-rights group One Colorado. “Every school in Colorado should be safe for all students and we are concerned that having an attorney on staff with clear ties to anti-LGBT organizations is preventing the school from being welcoming of all students.”

Bottom line: Twin Peaks Charter Academy does not advertise itself as a religious school, but it does claim to offer a curriculum of “the foundations of virtue and character,” in order to “achieve the highest standards in academics and ethics.” Charter schools must be non-religious like any other public school by law, but if the discriminatory actions of the school’s principal and statements by the school’s high-profile attorney are any guide–not to mention said attorney’s long history of overtly religious advocacy–it’s reasonable to question just what kind of education Twin Peaks Charter Academy is providing to its students with taxpayer dollars.

Because as of now, that’s looking a bit, well, questionable.

Jeffco Schools PR Staff: From Bad To Worse

crean1We wrote just over a week ago about the sudden departure from the Jefferson County Public Schools communications department of Lisa Pinto, the highly controversial GOP operative-turned district chief communications officer whose brief tenure was marked by disastrous press for the school district and conservative board majority, rapidly escalating tensions with district staff and teachers, and most recently several ugly incidents of alleged bullying of minor students by board members that also involved Pinto.

Since last week’s resignation announcement, there’s been total radio silence from the normally talkative Jeffco school board regarding Pinto and the state of relations between the conservative board majority and district employees, parents, and students. The exact reasons for Pinto’s sudden departure have not been revealed by the district, leaving observers to speculate. It hasn’t been revealed even whether a replacement for Pinto is being sought.

One of the major points of contention from Pinto’s time as chief communications officer was the hiring of outside paid public relations consultants from Republican comms shop Novitas Communications. And based on a memo on administrative staff hires from late last month, it appears that Novitas employees may be moving in to stay:

5. CENTRAL BASED ADMINISTRATIVE POSITION

A. Specialist, Marketing and Communication Crean, Devan 05/18/2015

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Devan Crean will lead the development and implementation of marketing strategy and execution for all Jeffco Public Schools increasing awareness of available school options. Education Information: 2012, M.P.A., University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming. 2013-present, Revealing Politics, Denver, Colorado.

crean2That’s right–Devan Crean, former employee of Republican-aligned advocacy group Revealing Politics and subsequently with Novitas Communications, is taking a full-time communications position with Jeffco Schools. Our readers will recall a scandal that erupted last February during the GOP state chairman race, after Crean came to the defense of a fellow Revealing Politics staffer with fellow Republicans by insisting that her organization “ONLY tracks politicians and policy makers who are left-leaning. We DO NOT track fellow Republicans.” This was a rather large problem for Crean’s employers since Revealing Politics is technically a nonpartisan organization–and soon after this incident, Crean’s name quietly vanished from Revealing Politics’ staff page.

A short time after that, Crean appeared in Novitas’ staff directory–just as that firm received a contract from Jefferson County Public Schools to run PR for the board majority. It’s therefore quite curious that Novitas, with its big contract to supply communications services to the district, is not listed in the memo above as Crean’s past employer. Maybe because this arrangement would have raised eyebrows?

Obviously, school district employees are allowed to have political opinions. But Crean is not just opinionated, she is a full-time conservative political operative much like Lisa Pinto was. Crean’s hiring by the district, given everything we can find about her, seems even more questionable than the hiring of Pinto, which ended in disgrace for everyone concerned–especially Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who by most accounts selected Pinto over a number of more qualified candidates for the job of chief communications officer.

Perhaps the only silver lining to be found here for longsuffering opponents of the Jeffco school board’s right wing majority is that Crean, like Pinto, is probably not going to be very good at her new job. That may in turn reflect poorly on higher-value targets like McMinimee and the board in the end, but not until after Crean draws her taxpayer-funded salary for at least a few months. Regardless, it is a curious decision for McMinimee to hire someone whose resume would indicate the same general problems that he had with Pinto.

Call it a lesson unlearned.

Huge Rally Protests Jeffco School Board Majority Friday

UPDATE: Courtesy the Jeffco PTA:

—–

With the exception of the 9NEWS video clip you can watch above (no online story unfortunately), another very large turnout of Jefferson County residents, teachers, and students for a protest against the conservative school board majority appears to have slipped under the local media’s radar yet again. Here are some photos from Friday evening’s rally in Littleton’s Clement Park, featuring a big crowd undeterred by heavy rain and hail that fell during the event. All photos via Facebook:

jeffcoclementrally3

jeffcoclementrally4

jeffcoclementrally2

We haven’t seen an official estimate of crowd size, but the event was by all accounts very large despite the weather, and caused traffic jams around the Southwest Plaza area as attendees crowded into Clement Park.

The escalating battle between the conservative Jefferson County school board majority and the district’s teachers, parents, and students has consistently been marked by enormous crowds turning out to protest against the board’s actions–a phenomenon we saw several times in 2014, culminating in the mass walkouts of thousands of students protesting the majority’s politically-stilted “review” of AP history curriculum. Other events like the “Boots on the Boulevard” protest along Wadsworth witnessed thousands of protesters lined up along Jefferson County’s busiest thoroughfare at rush hour: an event that no one who lives in suburban Jefferson County was able to ignore.

As for these renewed protests, which 9NEWS actually kind of disses in the process of being the only local news outlet to cover them? This is reportedly just the first, and they’ll be continuing all summer long.  Given the undeniably large turnout this one received even in terrible weather, we’d say ignore them at your peril.

Even More Ugly Jeffco School Board Footage


Ken Witt.

Ken Witt.

Amid fresh negative press coverage for the conservative Jefferson County school board majority, we were forwarded another clip of video from this month’s regular board meeting–in which the subject of board member Julie Williams’ Facebook posting of a hate group’s protest against the LGBT Day of Silence event the previous month loomed large, but was never acknowledged by the conservative members of the board.

Sources who have regularly attended Jefferson County school board meetings since the takeover of the board by right-wing candidates two years ago stress that they have never seen such a toxic environment as currently exists in these meetings. It’s often the case that school board politics become rather contentious, but not like this we’re told. Perhaps the best evidence of how far out of control the situation has gotten was the highly questionable public disparagement of a 17-year-old student by board chairman Ken Witt during this month’s board meeting, an incident now the subject of an outside investigation to determine whether laws or district policies prohibiting bullying were violated.

In the five-minute video clip you see above, a Jeffco student who earlier participated in a silent protest against Williams attempted to speak as the representative of a group of students. It’s the policy for Jeffco school board meetings that groups of speakers during the public comment periods are allotted extra time to speak. Witt apparently found a discrepancy in the list of students who had signed up as a member of this particular group, and ruled that the student in question could only speak for two minutes. Outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper immediately objects to Witt’s limiting of the student’s time to speak, and the room erupts in boos. The student gives an abbreviated version of his speech, only to be very rudely cut off by Witt once again as his already-chopped time expired.

All told, this probably isn’t as serious an incident as Witt’s later name-naming attack on a minor student who merely “favorited” a few Tweets. But having watched it along with all the rest of the Jeffco school board’s history since 2013, it’s illustrative of the kind of openly belligerent treatment that parents, teachers, and even students routinely experience at the hands of this board majority.

And folks, it is really not okay.

Jeffco Conservative School Board Insults Parents by Omission on Talk Radio

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

POLS UPDATE: The hits keep coming for conservative Jeffco school board member John Newkirk, 9NEWS reporting this afternoon:

During a public hearing Tuesday evening to discuss the proposed budget for next year, Jefferson County School Board member John Newkirk made a comparison that some are calling offensive…

Newkirk wants the district to increase funding to charter schools to make funding more equal compared to district schools.

Scott Kwasny with the Jefferson County Education Association shot video of the meeting Tuesday night and provided a clip to 9News with Newkirk’s comments.

“We had a diversity day at Evergreen High School that I attended last month, and one of the people we heard from was a lady from the Deep South,” Newkirk said during the hearing. “She is African-American, and she spoke of growing up there in the 60s and how certain people would be treated differently from others just because of their skin color, and that thought was so foreign to me. It just made me just shake my head and go ‘what were they thinking?’ And, I think we almost have a metaphor here at this moment. Why would the district discriminate and say that certain students would be worth less than others just based on where they choose to go school? So, this is a quintessential what were we thinking moment here. This district has the opportunity here to validate that inequity by not working upon it.”

Got that? Being a charter school student is like being black in the 1960s Deep South.

Backpedal time, Mr. Newkirk.

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Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Jeffco school board member John Newkirk.

Activist parents of Jefferson County Public Schools students don’t rate a mention with conservative school board members and radio talk show hosts, when discussing the future of district schools, teachers, students and programming. 

In fact, if you take the words of Krista Kafer and Jeffco board member John Newkirk at face value– from their interview on the Dan Caplis show on 710 KNUS, on Monday, May 25– the only players with any stake or voice in the debate are “childish” teachers, “useful idiot” students, paternalistic board members, and self-righteous radio hosts.

Smells like desperation, to me – a desperate attempt to minimalize the force and action of dedicated and commited parents’ organizing and sacrifice, to bring accountability to board members who do not represent their interests. 

Kafer and Newkirk disingenuously call for an “adult debate”, while chiding teachers and mischaracterizing their alleged participation as “disgusting”, “mean”,  “vicious” and “bad examples” for students.  And they try to demonize activist unity as blind allegiance to the teachers union and more incredulously, to a universal rejection of performance pay. Even if this were true, which it’s not, it’s based on the false premise that Jeffco rejected performance incentives in previous negotiations.

I’d be insulted, too, were I a concerned parent in Jeffco.  Conflating the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum review protests as an extension of contract negotiations, trying to blame teachers for the collective irreverence of Twitter and social media, and portraying a massive rally of first amendment expression as, in Newkirk’s quip below, “Occupy Wadsworth” only serves to further marginalize and stir the hive of Jeffco parents and voters. 

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The Duggars Are Coming To Denver!

slider_duggar_family-1900x450_c

That’s the word from organizers of the Rocky Mountain Super Conference on the Family, coming to the Denver Merchandise Mart on the weekend of June 19th via the Christian Home Educators of Colorado:

Jesus set aside His kingly glory to come and to SERVE hell-deserving sinners. He showed us the perfect example of how to LEAD by serving others. This year’s conference will explore ways to build stronger families, churches, and governments through SERVANT LEADERSHIP…

Join us on Friday, June 19th, at 7:00 pm for a special evening with the Duggar Family. Come and hear the Duggar kids perform a special musical program, followed by a presentation with Jim Bob and Michelle.

As you can see above, the website for the Rocky Mountain Super Conference on the Family proudly proclaims “we’ve got the whole Duggar family!” And yes, the accompanying photo of what looks like all 19 Duggar children–or is it 20 now? We haven’t been watching–does include Josh Duggar (just right of center, gray shirt), at the moment the most famous of all the Duggar brood after admitting to having molested “several” underage girls as a teenager. In the wake of those allegations, Josh Duggar resigned from his job as executive director of the hard-right Family Research Council Action, one of the nation’s leading anti-gay and anti-abortion advocacy groups. The Duggar family’s reality TV program, 19 Kids and Counting, has been suspended from broadcast as advertisers line up to pull their advertising from the show.

All of which leaves the Christian Home Educators of Colorado in, you know, a bit of a lurch! As of this writing, the Duggar family–the WHOLE Duggar family, mind you–is still headlining their event. GOP presidential hopeful and fellow Arkansan Mike Huckabee continues to stand by the Duggars, and he’s not alone. Will Josh be part of the Duggar family musical ensemble playing in Denver next month?

If so, maybe consider keeping your kids home that day.

Investigation Underway Into Alleged Student Bullying By Jefferson County School Board, Staff

We wrote two weeks ago about an ugly and perhaps legally actionable incident that occurred at the May meeting of the conservative-controlled Jefferson County Board of Education. A complaint from Jeffco parent Wendy McCord the following day asked for an investigation of the displaying of a Jeffco student’s name on the overhead projector at this public board meeting, and board President Ken Witt accusing the 17-year-old student in question of “favoriting racial epithets at district leaders”–an apparent reference to an anonymous Tweet that is it turns out isn’t “racist” at all. From McCord’s complaint:

All administrators, teachers, and classified staff who witness student bullying in any such circumstance shall immediately take appropriate action to stop the bullying, as prescribed by the district and building principal, and shall promptly report the bullying to the principal or principal’s designee for appropriate action. (Policy JBC)

That it is the Board members who continue to endanger our students and staff is of no relevance. You are OBLIGATED to act to ensure the safe learning environment required by CRS 22-32.109.1(1.5). The Colorado legislature enacted this statute because of their commitment to “a learning environment that is safe, conducive to the learning process, and free from unnecessary disruption.” I am quite certain that the legislators never truly considered that it would be the Board Members themselves from whom students needed to be kept safe. But that doesn’t change the spirit and letter of the law. Nor does it change your obligation to protect our students.

I demand that a formal investigation be undertaken in connection with Witt’s behavior and comments, and that prompt and equitable remedial action be taken to deter future bullying and harassment and to remedy the effects on the victim(s) of Witt’s bullying behavior. Such actions should include “[h]olding training and inservices to assist [the board] in being alert to student bullying, taking appropriate action when bullying occurs, and helping to engender an atmosphere where bullying is not tolerated at school or school-related activities.”

Here’s the bottom line: social media has become a central communications hub for opposition to the conservative Jeffco board majority, and on several occasions, social media organizing and communication has resulted in extremely embarrassing situations for the school board–from the #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory hashtag that went viral globally after Julie Williams’ disastrous AP History “review” proposal to Williams more recent linking to a hate group’s protest of the LGBT Day of Silence endorsed by the district. In response to these incidents, the team of paid communications consultants hired by Jeffco Communications Office Lisa Pinto has vigorously responded with a proxy campaign through local conservative blogs and social media–like the recent “Mean Girls” website from the right-wing Independence Institute, seeking to turn the anger on social media at the Jeffco school board into a sympathy ploy.

It appears that in the interest of “defending” the board majority from such criticism, Pinto and even elected members of the school board went on the hunt to identify persons to blame, discovering this minor student who had “favorited”–not even “Retweeted,” mind you, just “favorited”–a few Tweets critical of Pinto and the board majority. Emails forwarded to us from a recent Colorado Open Records Act request appear to be a “smoking gun,” setting up the incident that transpired later that evening between board chairman Ken Witt and the minor student in question:

pintosmokinggun

In the end, it doesn’t matter if this minor student “favorited” a Tweet. It wouldn’t matter if he or she was the original author of the Tweet that offended the board majority. That minor student is still entitled to protection from intimidation and bullying–and that includes bullying by a board member during a public board meeting.

Elected school board members have no business intimidating children. Period.

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