April 12, 2014
Board of Education
Jefferson County School District
1829 Denver West Drive #27
Golden, Colorado 80401
Via Electronic Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Members of the Board of Education of Jefferson County:
Mr. Witt acted in clear violation and reckless disregard of District Policy BEDH at the April 3, 2014 meeting. This is not the first time Mr. Witt and other members of the Board of Education have violated numerous Board policies (and possibly state laws). Based on Mr. Newkirk’s replies to three letters I have sent to the Board on this topic, I anticipate that the violations will continue with impunity, as clearly Mr. Witt is interested in following Board policies only when they support his agenda and has no concern for violating the exact same policies when they do not. And Mr. Newkirk and Ms. Williams sit idly by, complicit in these actions.
To remind you, I wrote a letter on February 8, 2014 (c-14-148) reminding the board of its responsibilities with respect to policies BBBA, BDG, KDB, GP-04, GP-05, GP-07, GP-08 and GP-17, in particular in connection with the constructive discharge of Dr. Stevenson. My February 18, 2014 letter (c-14-203) related to C.R.S. 22-32-108, C.R.S. 24-6-402 and policy BE, in connection with the myriad of last-minute items that seem to appear on meeting agenda less than 24 hours before Board meetings. Here is Mr. Newkirk’s response to these first two letters, in its entirety:
Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed questions regarding Board governance and decision-making in Jeffco schools. Each director strives to continuously uphold the duties and obligations of our office, and we remain diligent to follow our policies and Colorado law in every respect. We are honored to have constituents such as you who seek to hold public officials accountable and we respect your concerns. However, I assure you that we have not acted in violation of our policies as alleged in your correspondence of February 8 and 18.
Thank you again for your vigilance. Please be aware that each Director acts in accordance with his or her principles in the best interest of the District, its staff, and especially its parents and students. [emphasis added]
The third letter, dated March 13, 2014 (c-14-305), dealt specifically with the resolution supporting SB-10-191 that Mr. Witt proposed at the March 6, 2014 regular meeting of the Board of Ed, the application of Board Governance Policy GP-02, and the Board’s blatant violation of this policy in connection with the resolution proposed by Mr. Witt and adopted by the three-member board majority. I finally received a partial reply from Mr. Newkirk to this letter a few days ago. The response was completely unsatisfactory and did not answer fully the questions I posed to the Board. I have responded to Mr. Newkirk and the Board on that issue separately.
This letter continues on my theme of blatant policy violations by Mr. Witt and the three-member board majority and focuses on the April 3 regular board meeting. There were many decisions made at the April 3 meeting that are, in my opinion, not in any way “in the best interest of the District, its staff and especially its parents and students.” And it is also my opinion that the three-member board majority is not educating itself properly on education issues, nor are you truly interested in gaining additional knowledge. But let’s focus on the facts: Mr. Witt acted in clear violation and reckless disregard of District Policy BEDH at the April 3, 2014 meeting.
Fact: District Policy BEDH, Public Participation in Meetings, provides in relevant part as follows:
All regular and special meetings of the Board of Education shall be open to the public. . .
The Board president will request that a large number of citizens who sign up to speak on a single topic select speakers and comment for no more than ten (10) minutes. An individual speaker on a single topic will be given three minutes to speak.
Fact: More than 30 people signed up to provide public comment, in both the on-agenda and off-agenda lists, pertaining to charter school equalization or agenda item 7.03. And more than a dozen of the people were all from the same charter school.
Fact: Mr. Witt, as Board president, did not mention District Policy BEDH on the microphone, nor did he mention on mic that any of these citizens would need to form a group and be limited to ten minutes.
Fact: The dozens of people who spoke in favor of charter school equalization spoke for more than 90 minutes, repeating many similar comments, themes and ideas.
Fact: Mr. Witt (and Mr. Newkirk and Ms. Williams) voted in favor of reserving at least $3.7M in additional funds for charter schools serving only 8% of Jeffco students in the 2014-15 school year.
Fact: At a meeting of the Board earlier this year, Mr. Witt told a group of parents that had signed up individually to speak regarding the STEM program expansion at Deer Creek that the Board could not have 25 people all speaking on the same topic, and that they would need to form a group and be limited to 10 minutes total.
Fact: Mr. Witt (and Mr. Newkirk) voted against expanding the STEM program at Deer Creek.
Inference: Mr. Witt had at least an inkling of what the people were going to discuss at the April 3 meeting, since he was able to identify with particularity certain people on the off-agenda list who were actually addressing the same topic, and many parents wore t-shirts identifying their affiliation with Compass Montessori charter school.
Conclusion: Mr. Witt is interested in following Board policies when they support his agenda, and has no concern for violating the exact same policies when they do not.
The Board of Education appears to remain “diligent to follow [y]our policies and Colorado law in every respect” only when those policies and laws do not get in the way of the “education reform” agenda that the three-member majority is pushing in Jeffco.
While I have your attention, I would also like to point out another element of Policy BEDH. Policy BEDH is entitled “Public Participation at Meetings.” In addition to the excerpt above, it also provides as follows:
At regular meetings, citizens can address the Board on any topic related to the operation of the schools. Only those topics which are on that particular agenda may be addressed at special meetings. [emphasis added]
This policy contemplates that public comment will take place at special meetings. The language specifically addresses what topic(s) may be addressed during special meetings, namely only those items on the particular agenda (as compared to a regular meeting, where “citizens can address the board on ANY topic related to the operation of the schools”).
I will also note that there are three types of meetings permitted by District Policy BE and Colorado state law, namely Regular Meetings, Special Meetings and Executive Sessions. I realize the Board occasionally has what they call “study sessions,” but we should be clear that what the Board calls “study sessions” are, in fact, special meetings of the Board.
Therefore, I would like to know how a citizen can sign up to participate via public comment at special meetings of the Board with respect to the topic(s) on the special meeting agenda? Also, if you understand there to be types of meetings of the Board of Education permitted in addition to those set forth above, please provide me with the types of such meetings and the basis for your understanding.
Finally, there were so many people in attendance at the Board meeting on April 3 that the building was closed to the public. In order that the Board may fulfill its obligations to the citizens of Jeffco, it is important that the Board hold its meeting in a location with sufficient room to house all interested members of the public.
There was at least one communication going around to charter school parents prior to the April 3 meeting that suggested that the charter parents should show up in such numbers as to ensure that others not supportive of their position not have room to attend/participate in the meeting. The quote I saw was: “and anyone not in support of our charters ends up on [sic] the overflow room and [sic] no seat/no voice.” While this opinion goes right along with your obvious agenda, it is inappropriate for Board members to support or encourage, in any way, such behavior. It violates many of the policies that I have delineated previously to the Board regarding its fiduciary obligations to the citizens of Jeffco.
Based on the dismissive responses I have belatedly received, the Board has not taken my concerns seriously. I am not alone in noticing the lack of transparency and integrity in the Board of Education since the three new members were elected and took office last fall. Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman have pointed it out on numerous occasions, most recently when they refused to participate in another Executive Session that Mr. Witt wanted to call.
In fact, the number of dissatisfied parents and citizens (not to mention teachers and administrators) is growing. You are under a microscope. The rules are clear. You must follow them. If you cannot, then you must step aside for citizens who actually care about public education in Jeffco to participate in the Board.
Wendy R McCord