(This is one of the longest posts we have done, but it is because a lot happened at what was supposed to be a simple ‘working’ special meeting. We trimmed down a lot, but at several points decided we had to go with the verbatim dialog so you can ‘hear’ the actual tone of t
Agenda Item: 1.02 Budget Development Update
Topic: Teacher Compensation.
Question: Why was the Compensation Allocation placeholder reduced by more than $4 million? Where does the Board intend to put that savings?
Topic: Charter Allocation
Question: In redirecting $3.7 million dollars to the Charter schools, the Board is giving 6,325 charter school students an extra $585 that their schools can spend per student. At the same time, that $3.7 million dollars is going to take away $47 from the remaining 78,675 students in the District. What programs is the District planning to cut that will account for that negative $47 per student?
Topic: Elementary Math Instruction
Question: In December, the Board increased it’s goal math and writing literacy for elementary school children. In April, the Board defunded free, full-day kindergarten for poor students. On the agenda tonight, it looks as if the Board is getting ready to cancel a new math curriculm for elementary schools. At the same time, the Board is getting ready to send a resolution to the Colorado State Legislature, complaining that the Federal and State governments have placed “unfunded obligations” on the District. Is that not what the Board is now doing to the elementary school principals and teachers of this District? Is that not the height of hypocrisy?
Topic: Planned Reductions
Question: The new Board members came in, in part promising a true conservatives approach to the District’s finances. Since then the Board has spent thousands of dollars on an attorney just for the Board, not the District, given over $650,000 with no strings to charter schools that are in financial trouble do to their own actions, decided to give all charter schools an extra $3.7 million dollars also with no strings, and now has chosen not to begin replenishing the Reserve Fund that helped keep the District afloat the last few years. How can the Board honestly characterize this as conservative or fiscally responsible?
Questions not on the Agenda
Question: In March, a CORA request Brad Miller’s invoices was submitted. The copy of the invoice that was released had everything redacted or blacked out except for the dates and the costs. Last week, during discussion over this, we never heard an answer to these questions: Who did the actual redaction? Who decided what should be redacted? When did the Board, acting as the Board, authorize these redactions? When will these questions be answered?
Question: Why is the Board opposed to using the word “Diversity” in it’s advertising for a new Superintendent? Is the Board opposed to Diversity? Not believe in it? Thinks it does not exist?
Topic: Public Comment
Question: Under District Policy, B: School Board Governance and Operations, number BEDH, Public Participation at Meetings, paragraph for it says, and I quote:
“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.”
This is an official Board Governance policy. Yet, this Board has not allowed comment in any Special Meeting, contrary to the second sentence of that paragraph. There are many agenda items that the Board considers during Special Meetings, that are not brought up during Regular meetings. In the interest of transparency and the Board actually hearing from the public, when will the Board begin to comply with BEDH and provide for Public Comment on agenda items during Special Meetings?o
he discussions/arguments. This also meant it took much longer as we had to transcribe the appropriate sections of the audio recordings of the meeting. We think it was worth the effort and hope you do as well. – jcsbw)
Opening the Meeting
At 5:30 p.m. Ken Witt called the meeting to order, with Julie Williams initially being absent (she arrived at 5:54 p.m.). There were about 125-150 people attending.
Witt started off by warning people not to cause any disturbance, including applause (only one Sheriff’s Deputy was there tonight). Waving your hand in the air is apparently okay.
He then said he was going to start with a “myth-busting” session, where he said that there was no truth to any rumors about de-funding of arts, sports, or anything else. He said that for the first time in five years the District was actually looking at increased revenue due to more money coming from the State and that increased revenue does not mean cut.
(This actually not true. Per student revenue actually bottomed out in the 2011/12 school year at $6,309. In 2012/13 it increased slightly to $6,317, and this school year jumped to $6,482. It is projected to rise to $6,699 for 2014/15. This is still lower than the $6,704 in 2008/09 and $7,070 in 2009/10. Also these numbers do not reflect inflation which, while low, still has had a significant effect. The $6,704 per student in 2008/09 would be now be $7,383.85 per student today. The inflation calculation was done at this site, using 2009 as the starting year, 2014 as the ending year, and $$6,704 as the base.)
He then went on to say that the District
did not walk away from negotiations. That the Board does want to negotiate and is waiting for JCEA to come back to the table.
Key Agenda Items
2. Study/Dialogue Session
2.01 Jeffco Accountability Committee School-Level Roles/Responsibilities (EL-11):
A dozen people came up to present on this item. Parents from a number of schools including Bradford Elementary, Lumberg Elementary (in Edgewater) and Stanley Lake High School made presentations as well as SPAC. Some of the things they said included that they view their role as supportive of the teachers and staff “who are the experts”, and that having dual language meetings (at Lumberg) helped enormously for english-only parents and spanish-only parents come to understand each other better and pull the school together. Bi-lingual support for their committee has really helped them have all the diverse ethnic groups take active roles.
What came out was that ACs differ widely from school to school in name, structure and focus.
(It seems the AC orientation is heavily dependent on the inclination of the parents involved and specific issues facing the schools. Most of the groups are focused on trying to help their schools, as such, they see themselves as being supportive of the principals and teachers, not impartial evaluator/judges of the principals. – jcsbw)
During the question period, it got a bit interesting.
Dahlkemper and Fellman mainly asked questions concerning how the committees had been working. What had they learned? What worked? How did they communicate to parents and others in the District?
Witt & Newkirk (Williams did not ask any questions) focused on structure and are the ACs actively evaluating the principals. Where Dahlkemper & Fellman were concerned about how the ACs helped the schools, Witt & Newkirk wanted to know how much judging (evaluating) of the principals and staff the ACs did. Witt seemed concerned that there was no formal policy authority for the ACs.
Witt then quoted state law, that said that ACs were to consult in a substantive way concerning school budget setting. He wanted to know how this had been done in the last three years. The AC/SPAC members seemed puzzled by this, and gave non-specific answers.
The session concluded with Witt saying while there was a lot of variability in ACs, there was also a “lack of rigor” at the SPAC level. He then instructed Mr. Elliot to put together a proposal to create rigor in authority and procedure for the ACs & SPAC.
Fellman then interjected, telling Mr. Elliot that a diverse community means there will always be variability in ACs and any “any rigor needs to take that into account.”
Dahlkemper added that while there is always room for improvement, that the Board need to recognize that a lot of good work being done, and that SPAC to contribute to this requested plan.
Mr. Elliot then asked for clarification of the request. Witt told him he wanted a review of how the ACs and SPAC were going to do the evaluations required by law (Witt repeated ‘required by law’ three times).
(Several things quickly became apparent during this discussion. First, that Dahlkemper & Fellman were concerned over how ACs and SPAC were working with their schools and the District to improve those schools. Witt & Newkirk were almost accusatory, and very focused on ‘rigor’, how many principals had been fully evaluated, and what the formal processes were. This is in striking contrast to the lack of interest in ‘rigor’, ‘evaluation’, and formal processes WNW exhibits when anything related to charter schools comes up. Please note: This is not a criticism of charter schools, but rather the apparent blind spot WNW has when it comes to charter schools. Such a blind spot is not only not fair, it looks as if it is becoming very dangerous to all district-managed schools – jcsbw)
2.02 Budget Development Update
– (Click here for copy of their presentation.)
Below are the items that had serious questioning from members of the Board:
Compensation Allocation ($11,725,100) – Witt started off the questions with a pre-emptive statement, that the Compensation Placeholder represented an increase not reduction in employee compensation. Dahlkemper quickly pointed out that the original placeholder was $4 million higher before WNW cut it.
Charter Allocation ($3.7 million, aprox $585 per student based on current enrollment) – Ms. Gillis made the point that this will not show up as an expense item, but rather as a reduction in revenue since it is passed directly on to the charter schools.
Elementary Math Instruction ($4 million one time, $1.8 million on-going) – This is to cover the cost of a new elementary math program. Most of the one time cost is for re-usable supplies, the on-going is for continued professional development on using the new program. Witt stated that there had not yet been a “deep dive” on this math program and he wondered why it was needed? He wanted to know if schools can choose not to use the new system (they can only choose not to use it next year, but will have to the year after). Witt says he will postpone deep dive until the May 1st meeting, and then they will decide if this is needed or not.
(This came as a big surprise. In the earlier Budget reviews there had been no question about the program, or the need for it. When Witt says he wants a ‘deep dive’ into something, it generally seems to mean he is looking at cutting it. Of course, how WNW intends for the District to meet the enhanced math goals WNW set for it without investing in the new math program is puzzling….)
Virtual Academy ($700k on-going but should be offset by increased revenue from out of District students who sign up) – Newkirk said he saw advertising for the Academy on JeffCo school buses and wondered how is enrollment going? Ms. Gillis said it was on-target with projections.
Planned Reductions – Ms. Gillis explained that these have been added into 2017-18 planning to keep reserves flat at 10%. This is NOT conservative! The state is warning that there is budget uncertainty ahead, and unless new revenues are found, more of the State’s budget will have to go to Medicaid and other health costs. The current JeffCo budget estimates for future years (2014/15 to 2018/19) do not include inflation, salary increase, or possible revenue decreases. This was done because including these things in the estimates increase the reductions needed to keep the reserves at 10%.
Newkirk asked if this is merely uncertainty about the additional state funding bills that are currently pending. Gillis responded that the potential $10-14 million that could come out of the state it is not extra revenue to spend. Most of it has been anticipated already. Any additional revenue would be used to fund existing budget priorities. This is because the current proposed budget is not revenue neutral but will draw down on existing fund balances. So any state allocations above and beyond what had already been anticipated is not extra money for the District.
Dahlkemper then said she had grave concerns about not increasing reserves. She pointed out that SPAC had recommended $2 million be placed in the Reserve Fund. No there is no additional funds scheduled for the Reserve. This is very dangerous, especially with any upcoming state budget crunch.
Gillis and the staff responded that keeping reserves steady is critical to the District keeping AA bond rating. (A reduction in the District’s Bond Rating would result in higher interest payments due on existing bonds, plus other costs.). Currently the District is maintaining a 10% reserve . Moody’s recommends an 8-15% reserve for AA ratings. The District is in that range, but at low end. Any significant impact to revenue could drop JeffCo below Moody’s 8%. floor.
Dahlkemper reiterated that she feels the original $2 million for the reserves is critical to maintaining AA bond rating. Fellman agreed with her, stating that as state revenue funding uncertainty increases even more attention will be paid to the Districts reserves.
Newkirk then asked when was the last time the District’s rating was below AA, and how long did it take to recover?
The District was upgraded to AA after 2004 bond. Prior to that had only an A. At one point it did have a AAA rating, but was part of one-time (temporary) credit. Strong financial management has kept the District at AA even through the Great Recession, which is very important. 2004 was very different credit environment than there is today (implication – getting a AA back after losing it would be much harder than in 2004).
Newkirk then asked if there was any danger of losing right now?
Gillis responded, no. but she would be much more comfortable with more in reserve, especially with future state revenues being so uncertain.
The Board will have about two weeks to incorporate any changes to the budget before it is finalized.
Dahlkemper then made a motion to restore $2 million to the Reserve Fund. Fellman seconded the motion, observing that the original number SPAC was proposing was $8 million that was then reduced to $2 million.
Gillis then jumped in saying the $2 million would have to come from somewhere (in the budget), there is simply not $2 million in cash lying around uncommitted.
Newkirk then stated that this motion was premature and they should wait on state funding finalization.
Witt then opined that 10% is adequate and that increasing the reserve fund “is not wise use of taxpayer money” (???). He does not include any increase, but it could be at the end as the final numbers come in.
Williams then agreed with Witt, saying that if there was more money coming from the state, then maybe they could increase the reserves.
Fellman pointed out, “Aren’t we showing a strucural imbalance of $2 million right now?”
Gillis responded, “Yes”, and again pointed out the 10% does not include future inflation or salary increases or any other changes.
Witt then said that the reserve level should be revisited yearly.
Vote on motion to restore $2 million to the Reserve Fund: Defeated. DF- Yes. WNW – No.
(In some ways, the issue of the District reserves is even more important that the new Superintendent. The ability of the District to fund anything is dependent to a large degree on how much it has to pay in Bond interest. The loss of the AA rating would increase the District’s borrowing costs, which would pull even more money away from the actual operational budget, including charter school equalization WNW is so devoted to. Further, any reserve fund is meant to be spent down in bad years and built back up in good years. But WNW seem to think differently. Their approach is akin to someone with a leaky roof who says they cannot fix it while it’s raining, but when it’s sunny, then it’s not leaking!
We have just come through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. JeffCo kept it’s AA credit rating when many other Districts were downgraded and some municipalities went bankrupt. It was able to use careful spending reductions (including district staff taking a pay cut) cushioned by an equally careful draw down on the Reserve Fund and new money from the 3A/3B Mill Levy Override to keep the core educational programs intact. Now revenue from the state is climbing again, but the state economists are warning of a state budget crisis in the near future. We should be saving more now. Not when revenues are falling! God help their families if WNW run their finances the way they want to run JeffCo’s….)
Charter school funding model:
Witt stated that construction cost for a charter school could average as high as $600 per student cost, but the state only provides $95 per student for construction funding.
Fellman noted that there is a state increase for charter school construction funding pending in the legislature.
Dahlkemper then asked how many districts in Colorado have equalized charter funding?
Gillis responded that there is no single list. The staff has sent out inquiries to the other districts, but have not gotten answers from everyone yet. Also that different districts allocate in different ways, so a clear answer is hard to reach. Denver has done it and now includes explicit equalization as part of every new mill levy. The reason for the inconsistency across the state is that state law does not require to districts to equalize mill levies, so everyone does something different.
Dahlkemper observed that all schools are jeffco schools and not just charter schools are needing money. There are other areas of public education that need additional funds as well.
Witt retorted that charter schools are public schools. And since the number one priority is student, each student deserves the same amount of money to base spent on him or her.
Gillis explained that in Jeffco, 10% are SPED (Special Education) students and 8% charter students.
Williams asked if the school for the blind was included as SPED (she meant the Rocky Mountain School for the Deaf). No, it is included as charter.
Witt wanted to know how the 5% administrative compared to Denver Public Schools.
Gillis said that the numbers are similar due to statutory 5% number. Gillis had also pointed out in the presentation that under state law, the District has to reconcile at the end of each year the actual administrative costs incurred by the District against the 5% charge. Currently, the average cost of Administrative services to the Charter schools is $405 per student, but the District is only charging $316 per student. (This is a $89 discount or subsidy given to the charter schools by the District.)
Witt wanted to know if District managed schools also had to pay for additional services? It was explained to him that those services are part of a pooled cost. The money is taken for the pooled costs up front before any budget is set for the individual schools.
Williams then wanted to know what it would take for a better accounting system. One that could keep track of all expenses at a school level. Gillis responded that it would ‘take a while and money’. Gillis then state the present system could to it, but it would be an add-on to the existing system, cost a lot more and taking a lot of work to implement. She openly wondered if the investment of time and money in a more detailed accounting would be worth the cost.
(It was evident from their questions that WNW went in to this section convinced that the District was short-changing the charter schools. What they found was the opposite. In fact, the District is not even charging the schools as much as they could under state law. This was obviously not the result they were looking for. We will now see if WNW adjust their world model to fit the actual facts of the world, or if they will persist to act as if their vision of the world is more real than the world itself.)
2.03 Superintendent Search Update (EL-11)
(Click here for copy of the time line.)
The Ray and Associates representative participated via telephone. He state the size of applicant pool is good, but refused to specify a number, saying to do so could prevent additional applicants between now and Monday. Ray & Assoc. will begin screening on Friday and will provide the Board with finalized numbers next week. He did say they have a mixture of Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and Non-Traditional candidates.
In response to Dahlkemper’s question about how the interviewing with the Board will take place, the Ray & Assoc. representative emphasized that the candidates would expect to see only the Board members and that their (the candidates) identities would have to be kept confidential (to avoid possible repercussions at their current jobs). Ray & Assoc. will provide the Board with a set of sample questions ahead of the interviews and will help the Board customize them for JeffCo.
Williams stated that she wants to have Brad Miller plus the District council in the interviews as well. The Ray representative said that would be no problem.
Newkirk wanted to know if Ray & Assoc. were just taking applications or were actively seeking candidates (“pro-active recruiting”)? The response was that they were actively recruiting, and that advertisements seemed to produced about 40% of applicants and active recruiting 60%.
(The news that the interviews will need to be held in Executive Session is a bit disappointing but not surprising. It is a fairly standard practice. We do hope that a list of finalist will be published so the public can actually see who has been considered prior to the actual hiring. One more note – when discussing the meeting days for the next school year, Witt said he thought the District would have the new Superintendent by the end of June.)
2.04 Technology and Data Privacy Advisory Committee Update
– (Click here for list of applicants.)
Some fireworks occurred here. This is a new Board Committee that was proposed and approved in January. It is to consist of ten members and advise the Board and District on technology issues, including data privacy.
19 people applied (see the list) and submitted resumes. Fellman observed that it was highly unlikely that all five Board members had had the chance to meet with all 19 applicants. She proposed that each Board member nominate two applicants for the Committee, filling its vacancies that way. This way, she reasoned, each Board member could place on the Committee someone known personally to them to have the needed background and interest to help the Committee in its functions. Dahlkemper agreed with Fellman.
Needless to say, WNW did not.
Newkirk said that there were plenty of qualified people on the applicant list, implying it should be easy to get to ten out of it. Williams chimed in that she wanted to vote on each candidate. Witt concurred. Fellman then said if it was going to be about nomination and voting then she wanted more than 15 minutes as she only knew and had talked to four or five of applicants. Instead, Fellman stated that they should call the people in for interviews so every Board member would be able to meet every applicant. Witt basically ignored her, and and proceeded to ask for nominations. (…and so the train got started on this railroading exercise. – jcsbw)
The Board proceeded to nominate and vote on 10 people, approving nine. The tenth position will be held open for now. The new committee members are:
1) Sunny Flynn (WNW – yes)
2) Jennifer Butts (WNW – yes) –
Butts was nominated by Witt because, he said, he had seen several of her “presentations” and had been impressed with her. Fellman & Dahlkemper asked where and what presentations? Witt did not answer. Williams spoke up saying Jennifer had given at least one “public comment”. That apparently was equal to a “presentation” in the eyes of Witt. )
3) Michel Hovet (Unanimous)
4) Jill Green (Unanimous)
At this point, Dahlkemper nominated Marcia Bohannon, the current Deputy CIO (Chief Information Officer) of the Colorado Department of Education, citing her long experience (20+ years), knowledge, and expertise. Witt, obviously agitated, stated “Miss Bohanon works for CDE and this Board needs to get better with governance,” then went on say that it would be improper for a member of the CDE which “is an oversight organization to this board, it shouldn’t also be an advisory organization beneath this board and I think it is bad governance to put Miss Bohannon on this committee.”
(On the surface, this sounds reasonable, but if you really dig into, it is actually very spurious. Miss Bohannon, as CDE’s deputy CIO is actually not in an oversight role. Her job is to help make internal technology decisions for the Colorado Department of Education. By Witt’s logic a file clerk in a court should never vote in an election because the laws passed by people the clerk voted for might one day be reviewed by the clerk’s court. In short, the expectation and fear are absurd. – jcsbw)
Bohannon was rejected by WNW, 2-3.
5) Virge “T.O.” Owens (WNWF – yes)
6) Derec Shuler (Unanimous)
7) John Sullivan (Unanimous)
8) Jorge “Yuri” Csapo (Unanimous)
9) Phil Romig III (Unanimous)
A this point, there were no other nominations. Witt then said he wanted to stop at nine members. Fellman suggested they could invite the others in for interviews then select the tenth person. Witt said that individual Board members could ‘reach out’ to the remaining candidates to learn more.
Fellman complained during the process that she did not know some of the candidates being nominated by WNW. Witt shot back (a bit nastily) that Fellman had had a month to review the resumes, and that should have been sufficient. Dahlkemper retorted that the time was not the issue, that it was about fair representation.
(This was less a process where policies and programs were at stake and more one that showed off how WNW, Witt specifically, deal with being in power. There were a total of two candidates that were voted in just by WNW, one that got four votes, and six that were unanimous. One candidate was voted down by WNW. Then, contrary to Witt’s blithe assumption at the beginning that they should very easily be able to fill the committee, everyone ran out of people they knew, so the committee is left one short. If they had done it the way Fellman suggested, there would have been ten. The truth is that having Marcia Bohannon on the committee would not have made a substantial difference to the committee’s make-up. This was another situation where Witt could have allowed Dahlkemper and Fellman to win a minor victory while he looked reasonable. He could not bring himself to do that, and Newkirk and Williams backed him up.
WNW feels and acts as if it has to win every single decision, even minor and unimportant ones. To do that, they will actively ram down their choices down the throat of the opposition, no matter how it appears. They will use any flimsy excuse they can come up with to justify their position. Witt’s efforts to stop the Deer Creek STEM expansion serve as just one of many examples.
In the long run, this is actually very harmful to their cause. Every time they do this, it simply hardens the opposition more, and begins to alienate people in the middle who might otherwise give them the benefit of the doubt. WNW would be well advised to strongly temper that tendency. It has already earned them enough enemies. – jcsbw)
2.05 Draft Board Meeting Schedule for 2014-2015
(This was about as cut and dried as one could hope. Witt kept up the snitty, inaccurate remarks, for example, when Dahlkemper said she was unavailable for a meeting in the first half of August, Witt said “I did some checking and the Board has met year round for many, many years until a couple of years ago.” To which Dahlkemper responded, “No, we took July and half the time in August [off].”
It did provide one bit a humor, though. Julie Williams said she wanted a long weekend meeting/retreat again, because “…sometimes a short meeting in the evening does not give you that bonding experience…” At that point one audience member was overheard saying quietly, “With this group, it would be more of a bondage experience.” Several muffled snorts of laughter were then heard from those nearby. – jcsbw)
2.06 Policy Review: GP-1, GP-2
(GP-1, Governance Commitment) and (GP-2, Governing Style and Philosophies.)
Here was where a large amount of fireworks erupted. This section is pretty long because a lot was said and revealed. If you do not have the time, to read it all, the summary is that no changes were made to the either of the policies, but Witt strongly hinted he wanted to remove the section that requires the Board not vote on an issue in the same meeting it is raised. Also, it came out that no one claimed responsibility for the total redaction of Miller’s February invoice, that it was done without formal Board approval or discussion. Witt said he hoped that Miller did it himself, which Fellman and Dahlkemper pointed out would be highly inappropriate since the confidentiality belonged not to Miller, but to the Board.
We would encourage you to take the time to read the actual dialog or listen to the audio recording in order to capture the flavor of the debate.
GP-1: Fellman observed that “all children” runs through almost everything in Jeffco. She wants to see if a rewording could emphasize that the Board is committed to “all children” in a meaningful way. She had no specific change to propose, but feels that with such a divided community, this could be a chance for the Board to come together and emphasize that all children are included would help. Witt said that the policies already say “all students”. As the discussion became more testy, Witt said that he felt the Board had gone to great lengths to make sure that “every student of every public school is equally treated.”
Fellman had another comment on GP-1 concerning the transparency. She referenced the portion of the Policy that says the Board is committed to “effective and transparent oversight” and the Board’s actual commitment to this. She referred to the copy of Brad Miller’s February Invoice (posted in various places on the itnernet and Facebook – click here to see a copy) noting it had been heavily redacted (portions blacked out so you cannot tell what was there). She wanted to know who did the redacting. She also pointed out that redacting is done due to attorney-client privilege, but that according to an attorney she talked to, the privilege belongs to the client, not the attorney. She repeated that she wanted to know who decided on what should be redacted.
Witt said she could see the detail of the billing anytime she wanted, but it was not for public viewing. Fellman said she thought is should be available for public viewing and that the redaction was not transparent.
Dahlkemper jumped in at this point, saying she had issues with the compliance (or lack of) with GP-02 with item #10 (under the “Accordingly” section – it states: “10. The Board will not take a position on discussion agenda items the first time such items are placed on the agenda for Board consideration.”), and this was part of the problem with the attorney issue (Brad Miller’s hiring, contract, responsibilities, and role). When the Board voted on his hiring on a month-to-month basis, the Board had no copy of the proposed contract, did not know what the hourly rate would be, and both Dahlkemper and Fellman have been trying to put a discussion of the contract on the agenda (but WNW keeps voting it down).
Witt then said, “Is that last bullet item something we want to keep in this policy?” Fellman interrupted at this point, saying, “Yes. Absolutely.” Witt continued over the top of her, “That nothing is voted on by this Board until it has been discussed once, then delayed for a month and then voted on?”
Dhalkemper then pointed out that items do not need to, nor have they taken a month because the Board has study sessions generally one to two weeks prior to the full meeting, that this was a good policy and make sense and should be continued.
Newkirk then spoke up, saying it was a slippery slope to post non-redacted legal documents. Fellman retorted that legal opinions she has received is that the redactions are to be done by the client, and that no one asked her about these redactions. She went on to say there had been no conversation that involved her over what was to be redacted. That it is not transparency when she does not know why (emphasis added) something was redacted.
Witt, trying to change to thrust of Fellman’s argument, said she (Fellman) had copies of the invoice and so knew what was redacted.
Dahlkemper then jumped in, saying “Who redacted? Was it someone on our Board who gave instructions to the staff to redact the invoice?”
Witt then said, “I would hope our attorney redacted it before posting.”
Fellman quickly said, “But that’s not appropriate!”, with Dahlkemper saying, “The attorney is not a District employee!”, and Fellman continuing, “The privilege belongs to the client not the attorney.”
Witt then said, “So, okay is there anyone on this Board presently that thinks we should post publicly attorney bills unredacted?” To which Fellman said, “Yes!”
Witt then, trying to cut this off, said, “Is there a motion to that effect?” but was interrupted by Newkirk who shot back at Fellman, “Including Caplan & Earnest?” (the District’s law firm)
“They are already posted,” Fellman retorted.
Newkirk continued, “Including matters that have to do with, ah, shootings and…”, then Fellman interrupted him saying that they could have a discussion about what to redact and what not, that all she wanted was to be included in the conversation.
Dahlkemper then pointed out that the scope of work Miller provided (see contract here) included items such as “prepare reports for the board or conduct more research.” She continued, “I don’t know what that research was for. I don’t know what those reports entailed.” Dahlkemper went on to say that she agreed that the Board had to protect it’s students and personnel as well as comply with state law. That the key problem was the “..we were not transparent from the get go.”
Witt (no surprise) said, “I certainly disagree. I think we have been fully transparent.” At this point the audience began voicing it’s disagreement, with people muttering out loud. “We have voted on this in public. We have made the attorney agreement, uhm, public. There is nothing that has not been transparent.” (Note: Brad Miller’s Attorney agreement was only made public after a CORA – Colorado Open Records Act, request was filed. You can find a copy here. – jcsbw) Witt went on, saying over quiet derisive laughter from the audience, “And we will continue to work responsibly as a governing body and govern this District appropriately.”
Dahlkemper, then asked, “Mr. Witt, did we have a contract in front of us…we reviewed as a Board when we took a vote on Mr. Miller serving as the Board attorney?”
Witt admitted, “No, we did not.” He then went on, “We had a contract within a couple of days…(he paused)…which is fairly normal process.”
Dahlkemper responded, “I don’t think so”, with Fellman adding, “No, it is not.” Fellman continued, saying that taking a vote to accept a contract that has not yet been presented is not something she has experienced or heard of with other governmental bodies anywhere in the country.
Witt, trying to confuse things again, said, “I have checked the records of this Board and I don’t believe we have voted on other lawyer contracts, so….”
Dahlkemper pointed out that the Board had not had an ongoing attorney for the Board before Miller.
Witt, getting angry, said, “It was the September 20 13 (sic) meeting, it was asked publicly and on the record if this Board’s attorney was Mr. Taggert, and the answer was ‘yes’. There was no vote on his contract.”
Fellman jumped in at this point, saying, “The answer was “No”.
(We checked the written minutes from the September 19, 2013 Board meeting – there was no September 20 meeting – the only reference to Alan Taggart is under agenda item 6.03 Compensation Redesign. Here it refers to Mr. Taggert as the District’s Chief Legal Counsel. – jcsbw)
Dahlkemper stated that Mr. Taggart had been hired by the District to function as the District’s attorney, not the Board’s attorney. That all that was being asked that there be transparency on this issue.
Witt, now very angry, interrupted, “…And we have full transparency and we are not going to keep revisiting the same contract issue!”
Dahlkemper replied that she hoped that before the Board hires its next Superintendent that they would have a chance to review the actual contract before any votes.
Witt, without responding to Dahlkemper’s comment, tried to move on quickly, but had to stop to confirm that there were no pending motions to modify GP-01 or GP-02. He asked Fellman if she was going to bring a motion to the Board later on. Fellman, said, “I just mentioned that I was interested in having us try to unit our community instead of keeping the divide. Apparently we cannot do that and I think that’s very unfortunate.”
Witt left well enough alone and moved on.
(Three key things to note here. The first is that Witt strongly indicated that he wants to change the rule that requires an issue to be discussed at one session, but not voted on until the next. This is a major structural change he is suggesting. It would mean that WNW could bring up any major issue by surprise and then vote on it, closing the issue before the public has a chance to even know what is going on. In the Colorado Legislature, a bill must be ‘read’ out loud to the chamber three times before it is passed! WNW do not want this because it gives us, the public, too much time to digest what they are doing and mobilize against it. If they do go through with this modification, it will turn the steam driven railroading they are doing now into a ‘bullet train’.
This tied into the second item, that of how Miller’s contract was rammed through the Board.
The third key item was what was revealed on the redaction of Miller’s invoice. Apparently no one was responsible or Miller was responsible, which would be a huge conflict of interest as well as potentially being a violation of legal canons. This could be a serious stumbling of Miller. We all need to keep the pressure on. Who authorized the redaction?
The ultimate irony is that WNW+Miller is creating all of the controversy themselves! They have a clear majority. All they need to do is allow for one open discussion session, let Dahlkemper and Fellman motion to discontinue the contract, vote the motion down, and they would be done! But they seem emotionally unable to do that. Their ability to tolerate dissent is vanishingly small, and getting smaller. Which is just getting them into more and more trouble.
As with many other governmental scandals, it is not the actual act that gets the perpetrators into the biggest trouble…it is the effort to cover it up or avoid having to listen to dissent. – jcsbw)
3. Consent Agenda
All items were approved unanimously with no controversy or debate.
4. Executive Session
4.01 Negotiations with Employee Associations
Newkirk made a motion to into Executive Session with Williams’ seconding it.
It was at this point that the second major fireworks session erupted.
Fellman read a statement saying that after the District filed the appeal in the 2090 Wright case, Caplan & Earnest strongly advised the Board to continue the appeal. Three members (guess who – jcsbw) went against that advice. During that discussion, Miller did not warn the Board members that failure to take legal advice from the District’s legal counsel could open Board members to personnel legal liability.
Fellman continued, saying earlier that day (April 24) Miller had sent her and others a email, warning that if individual Board members do not take his legal advice on the contract negotiations that those Board members could face personal legal liability (i.e., they could be sued as individuals).
Fellman said she was not a lawyer and was not going to argue with Mr. Miller. However, she is concerned that when WNW wants to do something against the District’s legal counsel (Caplan & Earnest, in the 2090 Wright case), Miller was perfectly okay with that and gave no them no warning. But when she and Dahlkemper go against WNW and do not vote to go into Executive Session when she, Fellman, feels it would be inappropriate, Miller sends her this email, telling her she could be personally liable.
Fellman summed up, “So, it appears to be fine to ignore legal advice if that accomplishes a policy goal of the Board (e.g., WNW – added by jcsbw), but we (i.e., Dahlkemper and Fellman – jcsbw) create individual Board liability if we don’t take legal advice. Mr. Miller may or may not be correct, but I have serious concerns given the inconsistency (sic) nature of his advice. I believe I need to seek personal legal counsel and I am willing to that, so before I can vote to move into Executive Session I will be seeking my own individual representation.”
Witt cooly said, “OKay. Other comments?” When none were offered, he called for the vote. WNW voted to go into Executive Session, Dahlkemper and Fellman voted no. Moving into Executive Session requires a two-thirds majority, which with five Board members means four votes “yes”, so the motion failed.
Witt then said that because they were not in Executive Session, there would be only limited discussion. He then noted that there was a $11.7 million placeholder for employee compensation.
Amy Weber, the District’s negotiator, said that she had received the letter from the JCEA that the Board had requested. In that letter, JCEA said they wanted a commitment to a three-year contract extension to return to the table. Witt highlighted that before JCEA declared an impasse, they had asked for a one year extension and now they wanted three.
Witt asked if there was a motion to give JCEA the three year extension. There was none.
Newkirk then opined that they had received legal advice on what can be discussed in non-executive session, and that if anything was to be discussed beyond that, they should ask for legal counsel. That confidential documents that had been projected onto the screen had been video-taped and made public. That they should not make that mistake again.
Witt then said that since there was no motion to meet the JCEA request, then they (the District and JCEA) were in fact at impasse.
Witt: “And at this point I am not willing to go into any other negotiation discussion.”
Dahlkemper then said that everyone brings different experiences to the table. That she supported giving the employees a 2.5% increase, but WNW did not agree and did not authorize Weber to make that offer. Dahlkemper said she wanted to go on the record as being in favor of open negotiations and that the employees helped the District out during a very tough time, and that they deserve the increase.
Weber asked for clarification on whether to move forward with mediation as specified in the contract. Witt, again said, he had already talked to her about this in Executive Session and he had not changed his mind, so to proceed.
He then adjourned the meeting.
(As usual, the most fireworks were at the end. Fellman’s little speech really gives us a look into the mentality and morality of WNW. When they cannot get their way, they are now resorting to strong-arm tactics disguised as ‘legal advice’. Pretty selective legal advice at that. After this, it is hard to see how Miller is a neutral party and sees the entire Board as his real client.
Another interesting thing is Witt’s growing tendency to act as if the President of the Board is an executive position and the other Board members are subordinate to him. You can see this in the number of pronouncements where he uses “I” and “me” and “my” instead of the “the Board”. He acts as if he is a CEO rather than simply the spokesperson for equals. This is not a wise course for him to follow, even with his own supporters. His dismissive tone is not only being directed at Dahlkemper and Fellman, but is now also falling on the Julie Williams from time to time. Irritating your opponents might be fun, but irritating your supporters who you depend on is just plain dumb.
WNW does seem to continue with a playbook known mainly to themselves. But there is one thing we feel we can confidently predict: that WNW+Miller’s penchant for creating easily avoided controversies is only going to get them into more and more trouble.)