Colorado Teacher Union-Backed Activists Seek to Oust Conservative School Board Majority

Jefferson County School Board protest
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Teacher union-backed activists in one Colorado school district work furiously against a September deadline to oust a conservative, three-member majority in a fiercely politicized recall effort to regain control of the school board.

In Jefferson County, the contentious campaign spearheaded by Jeffco United for Action intends to boot out three of the five school board members – the conservative president Ken Witt, and members Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Jeffco United for Action is the brainchild of two lawyers, Wendy McCord and Michael Blanton, and environmentalist, Tina Gurdikian. Their purpose is to signal that the recall is not entirely bankrolled by the teachers’ union.

However, Colorado Peak Politics calls Jeffco United for Action a front group for the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA). The left-wing Jeffco community organizers seek paid signature gatherers for their petition drive. They must submit 15,000 bona fide county signatures per petition by September 4 to force a November recall. After that, it could cost taxpayers upwards of $600,000 to hold a special election.

The petition alleges the conservative board members censored U.S. history classes, violated open-meeting laws, and “wasted millions of taxpayer dollars,” including on a high salary for the new superintendent and legal expenses, according to the Denver Post.

Colorado Peak Politics called them “bogus claims” while the Denver Post said the whole campaign is “nakedly political.” Fox 31 Denver reported the Colorado Democrat party was integrally involved in a smear campaign.

It started last year when Jeffco teachers and unions staged sick outs and student protests ostensibly over the new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum. Colorado Education Association (CEA) rep Kerri Dallman applauded the planned chaos. She even noted that the affiliated National Education Association (NEA) assisted in CEA’s efforts against the Jeffco conservative board majority.

Education and policy experts Jane Robbins, Larry Krieger, Stanley Kurtz, and Dr. Sandra Stotsky blasted the College Board redo of the college-level history course for its relentless revisionism and assault on American and Western cultural values.

Even the NY Times acknowledged APUSH’s pervasively progressive DNA. When board member Williams suggested a closer community review of APUSH, she was accused of censorship.

The petition blames the three conservatives for the protests and sickouts. KMGH-7 reported that rejecting APUSH was Blanton’s biggest beef with the conservative majority. It also alleges secrecy among those three board members.

The Complete Colorado reported the opposite, that the conservative majority increased transparency. The “previous Board’s Superintendent’s consent agenda required a majority vote to pull off any item for review, making it more difficult to have public discussion and transparency.”

Witt told Breitbart Texas, “There have been no secret meetings of the three members of the board majority violating sunshine law, and no decisions made behind closed doors. In contrast, for the first time in Jeffco, we have streamed all board meetings, as well as union negotiation meetings. We insisted that negotiations be public for the first time before the law was passed in Colorado requiring it.”

Another allegation was over wasteful spending. Witt told Breitbart Texas, “The converse is true. We have allocated $18M to build a new school without increasing debt, all the while adding to reserves. We have required the district to identify savings in existing budget areas each year, and have applied those savings to new initiatives and compensation.”

They did more than that. Witt told KMGH-7, “We’ve focused on equalizing funding for all students. We’ve allocated significant raises to our teachers over the past two years, in fact allocated 80 percent of all new state funds to teacher compensation increases in the past year.”

The petition presents the conservative majority’s hiring of an attorney as a breach of public process; however, former school board member Paula Noonan defended them in an op-ed where she highlighted that the school board has long had an attorney who “typically has not been retained in a public session.”

Noonan wrote: “No laws were broken in this process and a decision which was previously made without public discussion was made at the board table.”

The conservative-led board also doled out $21 million in teacher raises. They instituted open teacher salary negotiations which the public could attend. Witt also told Breitbart News: “In the past, both the board of education and the unions have always agreed on closed negotiations.”

The union was not happy with this or the board’s plan to factor teacher performance into raises, meaning they did not want to reward “less than effective” teachers with added compensation. Less than 3 percent of Jeffco teachers fell into that category. The union disagreed and demanded raises even for ineffective teachers.

Previously, Witt outlined the conservative board’s accomplishments in a statement. He said he was proud of the work they have done on a variety of issues including bringing greater equality to education funding, giving teachers the raises, opening meetings to the public, bringing free full day kindergarten to every child eligible for free and reduced lunch, and giving the community and principals greater control in their schools, among other achievements.

I recognize that change is difficult, but our students deserve a great education. In the last election, our community loudly demanded a focus on improving academic achievement, fairly funding all public students, and expanding choice. We continue to be committed to those goals and to helping every Jeffco student realize their full academic and personal potential.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of advocacy nonprofit Jeffco Students First and a supporter of the board majority, worries that with 4,500 teachers in the district all pushing an agenda with this petition that “it  depends if people are convinced by the false statements, which would be disappointing,” she told High Timber Times.

The Denver Post called the attacks “over policy disagreements” against the three board members “wrongheaded,” saying, “It’s important to remember the context of the education disputes in Jeffco. The union and its supporters, including two board members, were rattled by the unexpected victories of three conservatives in 2013 and the departure of longtime superintendent Cindy Stevenson. They deplore the board’s initiatives on funding for teacher pay and charter schools, among other things.”

The Post says this is the activists’ prerogative, however, they underscore that “Jeffco United for Action has taken the opposition a step too far.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.