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Nov
2015
5

Charter Favoritism, Anti-Unionism Result in Ouster of Conservative School Board Members in CO

Jeffco recall

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A recall election in Jefferson County, Colorado saw three conservatives ousted in a school board race where spending topped $1 million.  Julie Williams, Ken Witt, and John Newkirk were all elected to the Jefferson County school board in 2013 and immediately made several unpopular changes that lead to their political demise. 

Chief among those decisions were attempting to weaken the teachers’ union, boosting funding for charter schools, and pushing a generally pro-corporate education agenda that pegged teacher pay to a controversial evaluation system.  Much of the more-than-$1 million spent in the election came from Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian think-tank with a questionable workers rights record. 

The semi-complicated election had voters first decide if the board members should be recalled, and then vote separately on who should replace them.  In the end, voters decided Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, and Ron Mitchell would represent the school board in Colorado’s second largest school district.  40 percent of registered voters in the school district went to the polls on Tuesday.  

Speaking to 9 News, Wendy McCord of Jeffco United for Action said: “We had the people, we had the heart, we had the truth, and we all came together, and made a huge change.”

Another recall supporter, Shawna Fritzler, explained why the recall was necessary: “Unfortunately a school board is only accountable to the community so this was our only option because after two years they wouldn’t listen to us.”

The recall election made national news because of its relatively high cost for a school board race and because the Washington Post labeled it a “de facto proxy war” between teachers’ unions and the Koch brothers.  The ousted board members became increasingly unpopular when they attempted to change the district’s AP History curriculum to make it “more patriotic.”  

Their tenure began with the resignation of a longtime superintendent who claimed she could not work with them.  After the resignation, the board hired a less experienced superintendent at a salary higher than their predecessor.  The actions of the group led to a series of teacher “sick outs” which closed two schools, walkouts by thousands of students, and massive community protests.  

Following the announcement of the election results, middle school teacher and Jefferson County Education Association president John Ford said:

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the election results tonight because it means a return to a culture of working together to improve teaching and learning for all kids. Quite honestly, the old board lost their seats because they didn’t respect the community’s voice and rammed through an unpopular agenda.”

The future is now wide open for Jefferson County. One of the newly elected board members, Amanda Stevens, said she believes the board will make many immediate changes including firing an attorney who had been hired to advise the former board at an above-market rate. Addressing compensation, generally speaking, is job one according to Stevens:

“We need to revisit (teacher) compensation soon because that was also something that we know was done unilaterally, without working together with our teachers. I don’t think we’ll return to a traditional salary schedule, but we need to arrive at some compromises, so that we’re working in partnership with our teachers. We all have to work together now, toward reconciliation with deep respect for our community.”

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