Total Recall

Jeffco school board members, in ballot statements, explain why they shouldn’t be recalled

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jefferson County school board president Ken Witt, left, listens to former school board member Paula Noonan at the first school board candidate forum of the 2015 Election. Noonan is running to replace Witt, who is subject to a recall election in November

Three Jefferson County school board members up for recall this fall have provided statements to the county clerk explaining why they should not be booted from office.

The statements by board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk will appear on the ballot alongside language from recall supporters that accuse the board of misusing tax dollars, disrespecting teachers and violating the state’s open meeting laws.

The release of the statements by the clerk’s office follow an announcement that the Secretary of State has approved the clerk’s plan to align the recall with the regular Nov. 3 election.

The secretary of state’s office and others have questioned whether the recall could be part of the regular election, which saves Jeffco Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The “justification statements” echo many of the board members statements since the recall effort was launched in June.

Board President Witt highlighted the board majority’s resolve for a leaner and more nimble teacher contract, as well as a new way to pay teachers.

“Because our majority stood strong, we were able to reach a leaner, more flexible union agreement that gives educators the flexibility to better provide our children with a world-class education” Witt’s statement reads. “Our new pay model is built on accountability and fairness, allowing us to recognize and reward great teachers while moving us closer to the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom.”

Full statements
You can read the board majority’s full statements by clicking here:

Williams, the board’s vice president, renewed her vow to improve opportunities for students, like her own children, who live with special needs and are designated as gifted.

“I promised during my campaign to ensure the needs of every child were being met,” Williams’s statement reads. “My work on the Jeffco school board has been guided by that promise. During my time on the school board, I voted to support academic opportunities for every child by allocating additional resources to both special needs kids like Randy and gifted kids like Ryan.”

Meanwhile, Newkirk’s statement emphasizes the board’s work to improve opportunities for the district’s families living in poverty.

“We’ve also taken bold steps to tackle long-neglected issues, such as the community-led educational initiatives in the struggling Jefferson and Alameda areas,” his statement reads. “We have made free full-day kindergarten available to all low-income families.”

The statements represent the latest development on a long road to the November election.

Both the Jefferson and Broomfield county clerks will mail regular ballots to overseas voters later this month. Broomfield officials will mail recall ballot language at the same time.

About 2,000 voters in Broomfield live in the Jeffco Public Schools attendance boundary.

Jefferson County officials, however, will mail separate recall ballots to military and overseas voters after candidates running to replace the recall targets are certified.

If more candidates enter the recall between the time Broomfield and Jeffco officials mail their ballots, Broomfield will reissue ballots to eligible military and overseas voters — of which there are nine.

All Jefferson County voters living in the state will receive one package with both the regular and recall election ballot inside. The clerk’s office will begin mailing those the week of Oct. 12.

Both counties also will open additional polling centers for individuals to vote in person between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3.

If there is a last-minute lawsuit regarding the recall, a judge likely will decide how and when to hold that election, the Broomfield clerk’s office said.

So far three candidates running to replace the school board members have been certified for the ballot: Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon.

Two other Jeffco residents, Paula Noonan and Matthew Dhieux, have pulled petitions to be placed on the ballot.

Residents who want to run as replacements should the recall be successful have until Sept. 28 to turn in petitions.

Decision day

Unity prevails: Jeffco incumbents easily beat back challengers

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Meredith Van Deman signs the back of her 2014 mail-in ballot outside the Columbine Library in Littleton before turning it in.

The status quo has held in Jeffco Public Schools.

Two incumbents facing opposition easily defeated two challengers, ensuring that the governing board of the state’s second largest school district will remain united 5-0.

In District 1, incumbent Brad Rupert won by 20 percentage points over against Matt Van Gieson, a parent and former president of the parent teacher organization at a Jeffco charter school, Golden View Classical Academy.

In District 2, incumbent Susan Harmon claimed a similar margin over Erica Shields, a conservative Jeffco parent.

Current board president Ron Mitchell ran unopposed. The other two seats are not up for a vote this election.

The current board, supported in large part by the teachers union, was elected in 2015. That election, voters recalled three conservative board members and voted in five new members who have since hired a new superintendent, signed an extended contract with the teachers union, given some pay raises and voted to close an elementary school.

The school board incumbents raised considerably more money than the challengers, including thousands of dollars from the teachers union.

 

Keeping the peace

Jeffco voters to decide whether school board will remain united or include dissenting voices

Students at Edgewater Elementary School in Jefferson County work on iPads during class.

With little controversy, no national media attention and control of the school board not at stake, this fall’s school board race in Jefferson County has centered on whether a board that is consistently united could use a dissenting voice.

Three of the five board of education seats are up for grabs, but only two of the incumbents have challengers — a single one in each race.

A win by the two challengers, both conservatives who oppose much of what the current board has done, would not change many of the votes or direction of the school district, but it could change the conversations. Some voters now say they are weighing whether to vote to keep the stability of the current board, which often vote unanimously, or whether more diversity of thought is needed. One question is whether different voices would repeat the drama of the previous, split, school board that saw conservative members ousted in a recall election.

“Everyone in Jeffco wants us to commit to maintaining civility,” said Ron Mitchell, the board president, who is the member running unopposed. “I don’t see that changing.”

Some who support the current board say even one dissenting voice could slow down progress, distract from the current work or create doubt in voters if the district asks for a tax increase soon.

“I believe that even one or two detractors on the board will stagnate progress,” said Jeffco parent Kelly Johnson, who helped recall previous board members. “Our district has already paid too much in lost opportunities with the chaos of the past.”

Erica Shields and Matt Van Gieson, the two challengers, say they want to work with the current board.

“We are not there to disrupt,” Shields said. “We are not about that. We don’t want to return to the old type of board mentality. We want to make things better.”

The incumbents have a huge money advantage.

Those current members running for re-election — Mitchell, Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert — supported by the teachers union, have raised large amounts of money as of the last finance reports filed two weeks ago. The two in the contested race each had more than $40,000 raised, compared to about $3,200 raised by Shields and $2,300 raised by Van Gieson.

Mailers and yard signs for the incumbents advocate for all three together.

Since their election two years ago, the current board members have hired a new superintendent in Jason Glass, approved an extended contract with teachers union, given teachers a pay raise and advocated for better school funding.

Opponents Shields and Van Gieson say, recent events pushed them to consider running for school board independently, but now both also are running together, asking for voters to support them as a team.

Shields said she is running after realizing the work she does as a volunteer helping homeless people doesn’t address the root causes of the problem, which she now sees as a lack of good education opportunities for everyone.

Van Gieson, said that he hears too often from people who feel they no longer have a voice on the current school board. He said he official decided he wanted to run after a spring board meeting in which several community members asked the board not to close their schools.

School closures have not been a major issue for voters, most say, because Glass has said he would pause any school closure recommendations until district officials can create a better system for evaluating if a school should close.

Instead, campaign messages and questions at forums have centered on typical political divisions such the sources of campaign contributions, the support of teachers and positions on charter schools or private school vouchers.

“Sometimes I think there are issues created by others that are really just divisive wedges,” Mitchell said. “For example, charter schools. Every year we seem to try to drive the charter school wedge into the election.”

Mitchell said the current board is not against charters schools. In previous board discussions, Jeffco board members have expressed a desire for more authority to decide if a charter application is good enough for Jeffco, instead of just legally meeting its requirements to open.

Van Gieson, who is on the parent-teacher organization of a charter school in Jeffco, said he thinks charter schools are treated differently in Jeffco, and if elected, wants to help all schools have similar accountability.

“Where a charter school has to come in front of the board and answer for lower achievement, it would be beneficial to do the same things for neighborhood schools,” Van Gieson said.

The campaign also has included an increased focused on equity.

Joel Newton, founder of the local nonprofit Edgewater Collective, joined Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children to hosted, for the first time, a forum just for discussions on the needs of diverse learners. In previous years, the Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children has hosted a similar forum alone.

“I don’t think that was part of the conversation in the past,” Newton said. “The interesting thing now is both sides have a piece of the puzzle. One side talks about school choice…the other side makes the argument that poverty is the real issue.”

Glass, the superintendent, has emphasized the importance of the school district working with community partners to tackle poverty and other out-of-school factors that impact learning.

Tony Leffert, a Jeffco parent who lives in Golden and supports the new superintendent, said the issue on his mind is keeping the current board on track. He said adding a dissenting voice to the board, could set up a possibility for the minority opinion to take control of the board in two years.

“Given the last school board election that we had, every school board election is important in Jeffco going forward,” Leffert said. “We do not want a repeat of that again.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that a forum on the needs of diverse learners, which was hosted for the first time with the Edgewater Collective, has been hosted in the past by Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children.