Synopsis of the Jefferson County School Board Reform Discussion

The following is a synopsis of the Jefferson County School Board Reform Discussion hosted by the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, held July 23, 2014.  The Church noted that this was an opportunity for all in the community to share information, ask questions and discuss issues. 


The panel included:

Nora Flood, President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools

Dan McMinimee, New Superintendent of Jeffco Schools

Paula Reed, Columbine High School Teacher and JCEA Member

Rev. Wendy Williams served as Moderator. 


The Rev. Williams asked several questions of each of the panelists and followed with questions received from the audience.  Mr. McMinimee received a large number of questions specifically just for the new Superintendent.


When panelists were asked what actions may have occurred that had caused such divisiveness within our community, they each responded with comments about the Board being rude to each other, interruptions, not allowing others to speak, too much use of a gavel, lack of openness and transparency with the public and each other, and disrespect.  Ms. Flood noted that she had been booed at a Board Meeting after speaking and she didn’t understand why.


Paula Reed noted that she believed some actions of the Board had been deliberately devisive, with the district offering a 2 hour informational session on charter and neighborhood school funding, two board members asking for that in-depth discussion and a President who responded with “nope, I don’t need to hear that discussion.”   SJK believes this discussion would have been an opportunity for the public to learn as well.  Having been to numerous district committee meetings, the conversation of “equal funding” is a complicated equation.   The same amount of money for each child doesn’t equal the same education.  There are so many factors – special education, English Language Learners, poverty, state and federal mandates, some schools opting out of mandates resulting in savings, economy of scale savings, some schools having their own buildings, some schools with opportunities to have their own grants and a variety of opportunities to seek grants and bond depending upon what type of school the child is in.


Mr. McMinimee did mention his experience with his teenage daughter and not growing up with a sister, concluding that when they’re so mad, there’s no point of having a conversation at that time.  There was a groan from some members in the audience at that point, but hopefully it was simply a poorly worded statement that hadn’t been thought through appropriately.  They were speaking without scripts, after all!


Mr. McMinimee also noted that some of the problems with teachers in Douglas County was more of what they perceived as what was happening to them, but he knew of many teachers who were happy with changes made in that district.   


A quick correction on Douglas County Board Attorney that was made by Ms. Reed according to parents from Dougco – Douglas County did not have a Board Attorney Hire.  In fact, prior to the controversial Board of Education that we all keep hearing about, the Dougco Board did have their own attorney.  One of the items within the scope of work was to advise the Board of Education during Executive Sessions and when the discussion was no longer appropriate within Executive Session.  The Board Attorney in Douglas County was released from work advising the Board.


Ms. Reed noted some of her concerns about teacher association negotiations.  Mr. McMinimee noted that he was the lead negotiator with the Teacher Association in Douglas County.    He noted that the Board makes the decisions, the negotiating team doesn’t.  There were two items that were non-negotiable, one being the language in the contract as to whether the school district would work with THE Association versus AN Association.   Mr. McMinimee compared this to negotiating a car for someone and getting all items that the “friend” wanted with the exception of the color.  Ms. Reed noted that the difference in this regard was more closely aligned with negotiating that car with an engine or without an engine.


Mr. McMinimee noted that it really didn’t matter whether he agreed with the negotiations or not, he was required to perform his job.  We do agree with him on this as we also believe that the Jeffco School negotiations team were/are also required to do the same.  The other matter not agreed upon was a lump sum retirement benefit that was taken away.


Mr. McMinimee then spoke about SB191 requirements and the development of CITE in Dougco, mentioning that the state requires the evaluation to be as rigorous or more.  (This was another controversial topic in Dougco that led to the state evaluating the system following a complaint.  The State determined that the evaluation was acceptable.)  Contrary to what individuals in Douglas County are stating, he said that teachers were allowed input and continue to have a lot of input on a variety of topics.  Mr. McMinimee stated that he “wants to create an environment in Jeffco where people want to stay.”  


Ms. Reed mentioned that she has spoken to Dougco teachers.  She stated that they talked about the myriad of hoops to jump through, numerous forms to be completed, and the time it took away from students to be allowed a Highly Effective designation.   Mr. McMinimee stated that the implement may have been too fast, there probably was too much paperwork, and the bell curve was not a good model.   We appreciate Mr. McMinimee noting the immense amount of time and paperwork that the evaluations are taking and also note that some of this happens in Jeffco as well.  


Ms. Reed brought up the topic of vouchers and our Board of Education members who won’t take position on vouchers.  This occurred throughout the candidate forums in Jeffco.


Ms. Flood spoke about disparity in funding.  As we (SJK) stated earlier, the conversation of “equal funding” is a complicated equation.  This is a topic that should be discussed much more thoroughly, for ALL Jeffco students at ALL Jeffco schools.  We would love to see the CFO, Ms. Gillis, provide that two hour informational session that she offered to the Board.


Ms. Flood asked that the community develop an open mind about charters.  Ms. Reed asked that when public demands transparency, the Board and the Distict should provide it.


Mr. McMinimee noted that he doesn’t yet have information on his executive limitations.  He noted that the website information and what’s currently happening do not match.  He is waiting for the first Board of Education Meeting and noted that he can not take direction from anything less than the entire five board members.   That statement is to be commended.  We do hope that this sentiment is reflected going forward.


There was agreement from all panelists that testing our students is over the top.  The audience began to applaud.  We can only hope that our legislators and the Colorado Department of Education are listening as well.   Ms. Flood noted that small, rural districts do not even have the bandwidth to use technology for the upcoming testing.


Every principal should decide how to use their school funds to obtain the best possible results for all students.  Mr. McMinimee noted that the schools may need additional resources and training from district to attain this goal.  Our concerns in this regard are the number of new principals we’ve had over the past many years needing support and the many administrators who have left the administrative office in the past few months.  We do not want to see our Jeffco principals handicapped in this way; they deserve solid, experienced, professional support with knowledge of Jeffco Schools.


Ms. Flood noted that she wanted to assume all Board of Education members have the right intent.   There was some laughter from the audience and Rev. Williams reminded everyone of the Covenant to be open minded in discussion. 


Mr. McMinimee stated that he is not a proponent of vouchers and doesn’t believe that this will be a topic for some time due to the lawsuit, but that he will do as he’s required to from his position.


When Mr. McMinimee was asked “how will he support and earn the trust of principals?,”  his response was “Say it and do it.”


As we were very much involved in the 3A3B Campaign, the next question was of huge interest.  Mr. McMinimee was asked how 3A funds (Mill Levy) will be spent and whether they’ll be spent as voters were promised in 2012.  He noted that this was a question he couldn’t answer.  We sincerely hope that this information is provided to Mr. McMinimee promptly as promises were indeed made to the community.


Mr. McMinimee stated that the past is past, he would ask people to forget and move on.  It’s easy to understand that someone from outside the community would take this position (even though Mr. McMinimee was a Jeffco parent, apparently he wasn’t that greatly vested or he would have participated in the Community Survey or at least taken the time to learn something about it.)  The Jeffco community deserves and expects open, transparent discussions. Over the past several months, the Jeffco community has seen first-hand how actions truly do speak louder than words. 


These are our schools, our community, our tax dollars, our property values, and mostly importantly, our children. 


The entire discussion was very open, warm and inviting.  The Jefferson Unitarian Church, Rev. Williams, and the volunteers are to be commended for hosting this gathering and welcoming the discussion.