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.

(more…)

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.

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.

Pinto resigns then whines

(Nice work if you can get it – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

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 she left her job as communications director for the Jefferson County Schools, Lisa Pinto took the highly unusual step, for a low-level public relations professional (alleged), of actually whining about her tenure at Jeffco and drawing media attention to herself.

In a June 19 op-ed in the Colorado Statesman, and another earlier interview on KNUS 710-AM’s Kelley and Company (below), Pinto slammed the community activists, the teachers’ union, and other villains for making her job miserable and undermining public education in Jeffco. She’s relieved, as she told KNUS below, to now be playing golf and not thinking about politics. (And, she adds, she’s a good golfer!)

Of course, one of the worst aspects of conservative talk radio is its one-sided nature, so I thought it would be worth spotlighting a counter op-ed that appeared in the Colorado Statesman yesterday, by Jim Earley, a Jeffco community activist.

Earley: There is no question that Lisa Pinto’s short tenure as chief communications officer for Jeffco Public Schools was troubled from the start. From the flawed interview process and dubious qualifications, her connections to school board member Ken Witt and others through the Leadership of the Rockies program, her subsequent decision to hire known conservative media consultancy Novitas Communications for $50,000 to assist in what should be her core job duties, to a series of mind-boggling social media debacles, and culminating in a PR disaster when the district refused to host the governor for a bill signing, there’s little doubt that Pinto was not a good fit for the job.

Pinto’s resignation should have been the end of it. Yet, in a guest column published by The Colorado Statesman last week, Pinto combines what can only be considered as sour grapes about her time in Jeffco, with the standard, party line, union-as-thug rhetoric. It stands to reason that with so much controversy surrounding Pinto’s tenure that a little self-reflection ought to be the order of the day; perhaps, as Pinto herself noted, “a CT scan” would do to introspect on what really went wrong.

“… a billion-dollar professional services corporation is going through a necessary turnaround while under attack by a guerrilla group …” Pinto fails to recognize that many Jeffco residents do understand what is happening. Using terms like “guerrilla group” as a connotation for the JCEA is debasing, and serves no purpose other than to vilify teachers, and many Jeffco residents aren’t buying into the petty name-calling.

“This was a lesson for me, not having an ego, trying to do the right thing,” says Pinto at the end of her radio interview. “And I realize there are some things that can’t be fixed.”

Not by her. She’s right there.

(more…)

BREAKING: Recall Campaign Initiated Against Jeffco School Board Conservative Majority

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

—–

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.

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…)

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:

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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.

BREAKING: Lisa Pinto Resigns From Jeffco Schools

FRIDAY UPDATE #3: Still no statement from Jeffco Schools, but here’s Lisa Pinto’s four-sentence resignation letter to Superintendent Dan McMinimee:

pintoresignation

Doesn’t illuminate much, and it would be worth knowing why she is staying on three additional weeks–presumably continuing to pull down her hefty salary. We firmly expect the full story behind Pinto’s resignation will be known soon enough, and we’ll update when we hear it.

—–

FRIDAY UPDATE #2: Porter’s story now updated:

“We’re considering what our options are moving forward,” [Jeffco Schools superintendent Dan McMinimee] said…

Pinto oversaw the contract of public relations firm Novitas Communications to replace several staff positions left vacant in a department traditionally filled with district employees. The move drew criticism in the politically charged district, particularly from supporters of the Jefferson County Education Association.

—–

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

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

FRIDAY UPDATE: Gabrielle Porter at the High Timber Times confirms today, but still no official statement as of 10:00AM Friday morning:

Jeffco Public Schools chief communications officer Lisa Pinto has submitted a letter of resignation and will be stepping down from her position effective June 19, according to a district staff member.

Pinto was hired on at a salary of $126,678 in January by schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

We’ll update as soon as we receive more information. We assume a statement is being drafted and spell-checked now.

——

That’s the word from multiple sources Thursday afternoon–embattled Jefferson County Schools Chief Communications Officer Lisa Pinto is resigning from her position, following months of disastrous press for the conservative board majority, revelations about alleged discrepancies in her resume that emerged during the candidate search for her position, and most recently an investigation into alleged bullying of a minor student during a public board meeting.

We’ll update with details once available, stand by.

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.