Letter to 9News and Public Comment at Board Meeting

May 3, 2014

 

Via email to Nelson.Garcia@9news.com

 

Dear Mr. Garcia:

 

I am sending you a copy of the public comment that I delivered, together with a group of other concerned parents, at the Jeffco Board of Education meeting that took place on Thursday evening at Bear Creek High School. I have watched the report that you put together, and I have to ask: were you actually at the meeting? Your report (and sadly the reports of many media outlets) is completely lacking in content or veracity.

 

I was there on Thursday night – til the bitter end (which was actually Friday morning). This is not a conflict of a liberal union against a conservative, but responsible, school board. It is about doing what is best for all 85,000 Jeffco students, as opposed to what is the best way to filter our taxpayer dollars to private corporations for their profit. It is about a board majority that does WHATEVER THEY WANT without regard to the community they serve or the rules by which they are bound. It is disgraceful. It is politics at its worst.

 

I am not generally in favor of unions, but I have read the collective bargaining agreement between JCEA & the district. It doesn’t look like a typical CBA (and as an attorney and recipient of the University of Virginia’s Earle K. Shawe outstanding labor and employment law student award, I have read other CBAs) – it has many, many protections that are in place to ensure that our teachers can teach our children – things like limits on class size, professional development, etc. These are things that the teachers association has determined are critical to ensuring that our children are in an environment where they can learn!

 

Teachers are not trying to get rich off the system.  They are not trying to take advantage of the public. These teachers took pay cuts to try to keep steep budget cuts out of the classrooms for the last few years. These dedicated women and men teach because they genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of our children. They make shockingly low salaries for the amount of education and commitment that are required to fulfill their responsibilities.

 

Of the approximately 1,000 people at the Jeffco School Board meeting Thursday night, I am sure there were hundreds of teachers. But there were hundreds of other members of the community: students (ranging from Kindergarten to high school), parents, retired teachers and school staff, principals, and other community members. Teachers aren’t the only ones who want full-day Kindergarten for our most at-risk youngsters – parents and community members, high school students and younger students all spoke about the importance and value of providing full-day Kindergarten.

 

Shame on the media for trying to turn this into a labor dispute. This is about ensuring a strong future of public education for our children! Please read my comment below carefully – in it you will find a myriad of reasons why the community (not just teachers and union supporters) are up in arms over the behavior of the three newly elected members of Jeffco’s Board of Education.

 

I sincerely hope that you will get involved in sharing with the public the true nature of what is going on in Jefferson County with the Board of Education – it has happened in Douglas County, and it is now happening in Jefferson County. I strongly urge you to watch the Reformers documentary, as you clearly believe this is all about teachers unions. You will see that the real losers in DougCo have been the students.

 

Whether or not you have children; whether or not they are in public schools (in or outside of Jeffco), this should be important to all citizens.  This “movement” will continue to spread throughout Colorado and the rest of the country, until segregation (of classes, races, ethnicities, religions) is rampant and our public schools have been decimated. The hundreds of billions of dollars that currently go into public education systems throughout the country will instead be going to corporations, and eventually lining the pockets of America’s already rich.

 

Please get educated on the very real threat facing our public education system. Then, please let your viewers know what is REALLY going on.

 

Sincerely,

Wendy McCord, J.D., M.O.M.

Resident of Jefferson County

 

 

Public Comment to Jeffco Board of Education, May 1, 2014

 

My name is Wendy McCord, and I have two children in Jeffco public schools.

 

We want to talk tonight about the two resolutions that appear on the agenda under item 7.01 “Legislative Update.” The common theme of these resolutions is to increase local control over public education.  We’ve heard a lot of reasons tonight why that may not be a good idea in Jeffco.

 

Local control is beneficial to the community only with a Board of Education that is truly focused on making decisions that are in the best interest of ALL district students. Rather, Mr. Witt, Ms. Williams and Mr. Newkirk seem to have a very distinct subset of children in mind for whose benefit they are acting, and they do NOT include the children who most need our efforts and attention.  

 

Local control is only meaningful when there is broad-based community participation, coming from elected representatives who are well-informed and who act in accordance with the values of their constituents; and when it is exercised by a Board that is governed by the policies, procedures and legislation that have been developed by citizens over the years to limit Board powers and protect the interests of children.

 

This Board of Education seemingly acknowledges its constituents in one of the resolutions, where they specifically say that they are “accountable to our community.”  But a closer look at their actions over the last six months shows that the majority of the Board conducts themselves with a complete lack of respect for the citizens they are supposed to serve. These actions include:

  • Failure by the Board to live up to its promises to appropriately compensate teachers – the most valuable human resource to public education and the single-most important factor to the success of our schools
  • Soliciting then disregarding more than 13,000 community budget survey responses and the hundreds of people who participated in budget forums
  • Soliciting then disregarding more than 3,000 community superintendent survey responses and the hundreds of people who participated in stakeholder meetings
  • Finally, the Board completely fails to respond in any meaningful way to public inquiries
    • Responses to community correspondence are frequently weeks, and sometimes months, past the two week reply time the Board promises on the website and in its reply emails.
    • When he does reply, Mr. Newkirk’s responses lack any substance and provide no answers to constituents’ questions
    • Having someone reply to board correspondence who has stated that he lacks the authority to speak for the board, and clearly lacks the information to respond to inquiries, is a complete waste of everyone’s time
    • E.g. the Jeffco Administrator’s Association sent the Board clear and specific questions; Mr. Newkirk’s reply did not give the JCAA any answers; rather, he said he was “tacking it up” over his desk for “reference and guidance”
    • This is completely unacceptable.

 

In addition to having no interest in the will of the people, these Board members remain uneducated regarding their role and issues facing our school district, and they seem particularly uninterested in learning more on these subjects, especially when the information they are presented with differs from their personal and political beliefs. Examples include:

  • Repeated and complete dismissal of comments and suggestions by the veteran Board members, Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper, about the manner in which the Board has historically and should conduct itself
    • E.g. putting topics on the agenda twice before taking action, utilizing fair procedures to appoint committee members, both rejected out of hand by Mr. Witt
    • Seeming rejection that full-day kindergarten helps the most at-risk children by giving them a strong foundation on which to build.
    • Funding of different types of public schools – Ms. Gillis said that it would take several hours to provide the board with a meaningful presentation on the intricacies of school funding and she was willing to do it – but Mr. Witt decided to have her cover the entire topic in less than 30 minutes.

[SKIP: From the small bit of knowledge I have on the subject, there was much more information that the Board and the public needs in order to really understand the many variables in comparing the apples of charter school funding to the oranges of district-managed school funding that the Board keeps wanting to make “equal.” They are two entirely different systems that simply cannot be compared as simplistically as Mr. Witt, Ms. Williams and Mr. Newkirk insist on doing.

  • For example, of the appx $6,500 per pupil revenue mentioned by Ms. Gillis that goes to the district-managed schools, more than 95% of those funds are retained by the District and put in pooled funds that cover expenses for ALL district-managed schools, including transportation, instructional support, salaries, etc. So, in reality, a district-managed schools gets less than $300 per pupil, and out of those funds must come the salaries for the clinic aide and the paraprofessionals that help meet the varied needs of the school’s student population. When you take out those expenses, district-managed schools are often left with less than $100 per pupil.]

 

Finally, in one of Mr. Newkirk’s letters to me, he stated that all Board members, and I quote, “remain diligent to follow [Board] policies and Colorado law in every respect.” But it is clear that the majority of this Board has absolutely no regard for the policies and state laws that govern it.

  • In just six months in office, the three new members of the Board have repeatedly violated AT LEAST: 11 12 Board and District Policies (I had to add a new one tonight!) and 2 state laws
    • [SKIP: District Policy:
      • BBBA (non-partisanship of board members)
      • BDG (hiring and use of attorneys)
      • BE (special meetings; notice)
      • BEDH (public comment at meetings)
      • KDB (public meetings; public servant)
      • BSL-01 (Board and its members can’t give instructions to staff)
      • Board Policy:
        • GP-02 (action on agenda items only after two appearances)
        • GP-04 (Board as link between district and community)
        • GP-05 (President’s role)
        • GP-07 (Board member code of conduct)
        • GP-08 (Board members’ covenants)
        • GP-17 (community engagement)
        • Colorado Revised Statute
          • 22-32-108 (special meetings)
          • 24-6-401 (open meetings)]

 

  • We’ve heard about a number of policy violations already here tonight.
  • One example of blatant policy violations was the fact that Mr. Witt permitted more than 30 people to speak on charter school funding equalization at the April regular Board meeting – each one getting their three minutes – in clear violation of Policy BEDH.  That policy requires the Board President to put large numbers of people speaking on a single subject into one group. Yet just three months earlier, Mr. Witt strictly enforced the same policy and told citizens that he couldn’t have 25 people speaking on a STEM program expansion, so they had to come together as a group, and they were allotted 10 minutes total. It isn’t a coincidence that Mr. Witt voted in favor of the charter school funding issue and against the STEM program expansion.
  • And another violation was intended tonight: the approval date of these two resolutions was clearly drafted as being tonight, May 1, even though these items are appearing on the agenda for the first time.
    • Clear violation of Policy GP-02, that says that the Board will not take any action on items the first time they are placed on the agenda for consideration
    • Ms. Dahlkemper pointed this out at the March meeting; and Mr. Witt dismissed her comment out of hand
    • In fact, the Board reviewed Policy GP-02 last Thursday.
    • When I sent a letter to the Board pointing out these issues, Mr. Newkirk’s excuse was that GP-02 doesn’t “necessarily pertain to non-policy matters.” But the policy doesn’t limit its application, and he didn’t bring up this issue during last week’s policy discussion.
    • And this isn’t the first violation of GP-02. We have to go back to December, just weeks after the new members took their oaths of office, when they hired Brad Miller in clear violation of this policy.

 “The job of the board is to represent and lead Jeffco by determining and demanding appropriate and excellent organizational performance” – GP-04. A Board of Education that is capable of such leadership should have more local control over public education. However, the new members of our Jeffco Board have made it clear that they are not concerned with fulfilling the promises they made to the public either during their campaigns or the continued covenants that bind them as members of the Board.

 

This failure starts at the top with the newly-elected President, Mr. Witt.  According to Board policy, the number one responsibility of the President is to “lead the Board so that the Board’s performance is CONSISTENT WITH ITS OWN RULES AND POLICIES.” [Policy GP-05] Mr. Witt has shown us time and again that he is incapable of such leadership. In fact, he is frequently the initiator of policy violations, such as with the hiring of Brad Miller.  His willingness to follow Board policies and state laws goes only as far as will advance his personal and political views.  Beyond that, he has shown that he is willing to bully members of the Board (and public) who do not share his opinions.

 

As citizens of Jefferson County, we will not sit idly by and watch you dismantle our school system piece by piece. We are committed to providing all 85,000 students in Jeffco with the best public education possible. We expect real transparency from all five Board members. We demand that all Board members act with integrity and treat each other and the constituents they serve with respect. This begins with real accountability to the community – actual answers to our questions rather than meaningless drivel. It includes being open to the possibility that you don’t already know everything. And it requires that you follow policies and state law in every respect.