Dismantling Public Accountability & Transparency in the Name of Accountability & Transparency?

8/23 Saturday Post: Deconstructing the School ‘Deformers’

A comment by Diane Ravitch brought this post to our attention.
School reform, which began in the late 1970’s had laudable goals…to help schools and school district’s become better at educating our children.
One early idea included giving teachers the freedom to innovate through adjunct or ‘chartered’ schools, who would then be brought back into the regular system to share and spread what they learned. From this, district’s could establish best practices, and measure results carefully to learn what works and what does not.
But this earnest motivation was soon overwhelmed and betrayed by outsiders claiming they wanted ‘to help.’
‘Education Reform’ became a political tool in the hands of extremist politicians looking for wedge issues. Next, a number of religious and political ideologies saw it as a way to get the public to pay for schools where their children and the children of well-meaning, but misinformed parents could receive covert indoctrination into a particular political and/or religious philosophy.
Conservative business groups got involved, seeing the possibility to use the good-faith goals of many to disrupt and destroy the unions. Other ‘business’ people saw it as an opportunity to get wealthy at public expense. And now, the Koch Brothers, through AFP, the Independence Institute, and other similar organizations, see it as their last, best hope for altering the basic fabric of the country.
Somewhere along the road, the idea of helping teachers teach our children disappeared. It has not so much gotten lost, as it has gotten trampled by opportunists who are seeking only their own profit, be it money, power, or the destruction of perceived enemies.
Such are the supporters of WNW.
—–
We of JeffCo need to realize that we have many dark days yet ahead of us. We have slowed WNW+Miller down, but not stopped them. They still hold a majority on the Board and can ram through almost anything they want. And make no mistake about it, they will.
Now is the time to take inspiration and heart from our own history.
There was another time when a small but powerful group of people tried to take control of the political process of our country. They had everything on their side; money, power, people in influential positions, and a ruthless determination to win at all costs. The public of the time was divided not only on what to do, but also whether it was even worth fighting. How could they win?
And the first few years showed that more often than not, they could not. At least not if winning meant the other side stopped trying to control them.
But they did win the most important battle. That was for their morale. Instead of giving up, they kept fighting. And eventually won.
The British were defeated and the American people threw off their control.
—-
A bit melodramatic? Maybe. But the lesson it offers is clear, practical, and as applicable as ever – WNW and all their cronies and hidden backers only truly win if we give up. And we won’t, will we? After all, our forebears fought tougher wars and smarter opponents that Witt, Newkirk, and Williams, even with Miller’s tutelage! So long as we do not give up, we can’t lose…but they will.

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!

School Finance 101

This post comes about as a follow up to a previous post where I critiqued the rationale of the Students First policy agenda.  It should be noted that the Students First policy agenda is anything but unique. Like DFER, SFER, ALEC or any policy advocacy organization, the SF policy agenda is little more than an aggregation of largely non-original, template policy prescriptions.

Now, I’m not one who goes all in for the lingo of “corporate reform” or one who perceives “privatization” or “market” mechanisms to be inherently evil and contrary to the public good. However, I am someone who believes we should consider carefully the multitude of tradeoffs involved in shifting between publicness and privateness in the governance and provision of schooling.

What I have found most intriguing over time is that the central messaging of these reformy template policy prescriptions is that they will necessarily improve accountability and transparency…

View original post 3,411 more words

9News Turns Issues with BOE into Labor Dispute

witt meme

This letter to 9News and the full public comment from a Jeffco Schools parent (also a lawyer) was published on May 5 on Support Jeffco Kids.  It highlights 9News and Nelson Garcia’s attempt to turn real issues parents, the community, teachers and staff have with WNW into nothing more than a labor dispute.

We feel it’s important to share so that all of you know not to trust what you see on 9News.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Please read the letter to Nelson Garcia and Ms. McCord’s public comment below and then take a few minutes to write to Nelson Garcia and 9News  (Nelson.Garcia@9news.com,  tim.ryan@9news.com with complaints and adele.arakawa@9news.com) and demand they tell the REAL story.

LETTER TO 9NEWS

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.

[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 and 2 state laws

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.

Witt’s Post Editorial – Our Response

typewriter

Last Saturday, May 3rd, Ken Witt managed to get a guest editorial published in the Denver Post.  In it, he began WNW+Miller’s PR spin, using carefully worded phrases that hid what WNW has actually been doing while painting an image of failing District that WNW is trying to ‘rescue’.

We decided we would do a point-by-point response to Witt’s editorial.  Since it was published in the Denver Post and is copyright protected, we cannot post the original in it’s entirety here.  So what we have done instead is summarize each paragraph of his editorial and then make our specific comments / observations right below it.  As we worked our way through the editorial (17 paragraphs!), we found ourselves keeping a tally on the the various types of problems his editorial has.  We have included that in our observations as well.

Paragraph #1
Witt: 
He says has gotten many letters questioning WNW’s vision and priorities.  He also stated that he was speaking for himself, and not for the Board.

Our comment:  We sure that all three of them, Witt, Newkirk and Williams, or ‘WNW’,  have gotten a lot of letters and emails.  Since their actions have infuriated the JeffCo public enormously, we also have no doubt that the vast majority of these letters have been negative about WNW and their efforts to radically alter the JeffCo School District.  

One additional point – while Witt did say he was speaking only for himself, he made no reference to the fact that the Board is strongly divided.  Not stating this can leave uniformed people thinking that the entire Board basically agrees with him.  Let’s chalk that up as Mislead #1.

Paragraph #2
Witt:
 Let’s find some things we can agree on.

Our comment:  This is a standard rhetorical device which can be used for good or ill.

Paragraph #3
Witt:
 All students at Jeffco should be able to go to a school that prepares them for life, be that college, a tech school, or straight into the job market.

Our comment:  Agreed.  In fact this is what JeffCo was doing pretty well before WNW took over the Board.  The District has also had a strong tradition of constantly innovating and working on doing things better and better.

Paragraph #4
Witt:
 Every student is different and a cookie-cutter system school system will not work for many children.

Our comment: This is absolutely true.  It is also why JeffCo is not a ‘cookie-cutter’ district.  JeffCo has 132 Neighborhood schools (93 elementary, 22 middle, and 17 high school), 10 Option schools, 16 Charter schools, and 19 Special Schools and Programs (you can find all of these on the JeffCo School website). School programs include International Baccalaureate (“IB”), Advanced Placement (“AP”), STEM, Vocational/Technical, GT, ELL, Special Ed, and others.  It has online courses, Concurrent Enrollment courses, and ‘schools within schools’.

Prior to WNW getting elected, JeffCo was on the path of continuing to expand the different offerings.  JeffCo has not been sitting still.  Perhaps what WNW experienced decades ago seemed like ‘cookie-cutter’ to them, but it is not what JeffCo is and has been doing for several years.  Let’s call this one Mislead #2.

Paragraph #5
Witt:
 Teachers are essential to good schools.

Our comment:  We would go further.  Highly trained, experienced, and supported teachers are the basis of any good school.  Just having teachers, especially if they are inexperienced, have minimal training, or are not backed up with tools, resources, and help, will not help a school system be successful.  Indeed, the opposite will occur – the District will go downhill…fast!  Just look at DougCo as an example.  That is why JeffCo is very fortunate to have the very kind of highly trained, experienced, and motivated educators it has.  No mislead here, but rather an overly simplistic statement we will call Oversimplification #1.

Paragraph #6
Witt:
 If you agree with me on paragraphs 3-5, then you probably agree with us that change is needed!

Our comment:  Our short response is. “NO!”  At least not the radical teardown approach Witt,  Newkirk, and Williams (and Miller) seem bent on taking with JeffCo.

The sentence Witt used is a classic example of the deliberate use of a fallacious or false argument to try and persuade the unwary.  His conclusion is that anyone who wants to have a good, accessible public education system, that supports a variety (and diversity!) of learning styles and conditions, and is staffed by teachers, must therefore agree with WNW that his kind of change is needed. This is a non-sequitur argument and therefore, fallacious.  His argument presumes that JeffCo does not meet any of the initial requirements, which we disagree with strongly!  In fact, if you look over our comments on the three paragraphs above, you will see that our contention is that JeffCo has met all three of those requirements and, up until WNW took over, has been steadily working towards improving upon them.  This is Logical Fallacy #1 and Mislead #3.

Paragraph #7
Witt:
 So what needs to be changed?

Our comment:   We will give you our answer, and it matches the answer given by education experts and JeffCo residents:  1) More teacher training and increased compensation so they can afford to live in JeffCo and one day send their children to college, 2) Broader access by at-risk children to full-day kindergarten, especially if their families are unable to afford to pay for it and, 3) increased support for JeffCo’s special programs and schools to help cope with growing diversity of JeffCo’s student population.

Paragraph #8
Witt:
 Increased goals for 3rd grade reading and 4th grade math.

Our comment:  Laudable goals…so long as you put the money towards the programs that will help achieve it!  Otherwise, it becomes one of the ‘unfunded requirements’ that WNW scream about when it is done at the State or Federal level.

Paragraph #9
Witt:
 Better test scores in 3rd and 4th grade will help the high school scores, which are too low.

Our comment:  True, but the evidence shows that just improving lower grade test scores does not necessarily translate into better high school scores on a one-for-one basis.  There is a significant drop-off after 4th grade, especially during junior high years that needs to be addressed.  Besides, if the only focus is on improving 3rd & 4th grade test scores now, what happens to next year’s 5th to 12th grade students and the years after that?  Improvements must be made not only to the elementary level, but also to middle and high school levels as well.  This is where increased teacher training and experience, backed up by a focused, well thought-out and proven support effort from the District, will make the difference.  This is Oversimplification #2

Paragraph #10
Witt:
 We owe it to JeffCo students to do better.

Our comment:  We will always owe our children our best, most thoughtful, and thoroughly tested and vetted efforts.  We will also always owe them our resistance to quick fixes that don’t, fads that fade, and noble phrases that hide personal agendas.  We call this Platitude #1.

Paragraph #11
Witt:
To achieve this, JeffCo needs good teachers that will stay.  Instituting a Pay-for-Performance model needs to be adopted, and eliminate broad band pay scales that treats teachers equally.

Our comment:  Simple solutions to complex problems always sound so good, but generally they are like cotton-candy; they look big and bright, and the first bite is delicious, but then it quickly gets sticky, contains mainly air, has no vitamins, leaving you ill-nourished, poorer in the pocketbook, and often nauseous.

That is why JeffCo did a major study over the last school year, carefully looking at teacher compensation structures.  The results of the study were presented to the Board at the February 6th General Meeting (see the presentation here).  

The team concluded that there was no correlation between ‘Pay for Performance’ and better student results.  What did make a difference was teacher experience plus having degrees in the field that they are teaching (i.e., a history teacher has a B.A. in History, a math teacher has a B.S. in math, as well as teaching certification.)  One way to to organically gain more experienced teachers is to help new teachers with increased District and School support (i.e., coaches, mentors, additional professional development) plus an increase in initial pay so they can afford to stay and master their craft.  The goal is to help them get through the first three to five years when they are still mastering their classroom skills.

This actually makes sense in so many ways.  No one becomes a teacher in order to make a lot of money.  You become a teacher because it is what you are called to do.  At the same time, you need to earn enough so you can put your own kids through college, and can spend summers improving your mastery of your subject and improving your teaching skills, instead of trying to make ends meet by selling shaved ice or painting houses.

Of course, implementing this means actually having to pay attention during the presentation and actively thinking about what it is telling you, instead of preparing sound-byte rebuttals that justify a dismissal of the presented facts.  This one is Oversimplification #3 and Mislead #4.

Paragraph #12
Witt:
 In order to give teachers more time teaching, there should be less testing and assessments.  We are getting teachers the tools they need and we promise to actually pay attention to data in order to determine what is most effective.

Our comment:  Let’s see if we understand this.  Give teachers more time by reducing tests and assessments.  Then use the data that the tests would have produced, but now do not (because the tests have been eliminated) to determine what really works.

Huh?  This does not make sense.  If you want to have a data-driven model and verified results you need tests and assessments, otherwise all you have is uninformed opinion.  Illogical Reasoning #1.

Paragraph #13
Witt:
 Sometimes something sounds right, but the evidence says differently, such as the efficacy of expanded free full-day kindergarten.  JeffCo has never done a study on this in JeffCo, and the proposal is not fair because parents who could afford to pay for full-day kindergarten would get it free as well as those who cannot afford it.

Our comment:  Okay, first of all almost every national study shows that if you want to raise elementary school scores, full-day kindergarten is the most cost-effective measure a school district can use.  This was pointed out to WNW in the April 3rd meeting.  Witt and Newkirk demanded to know if any of the studies had been done in JeffCo, and when told “no”, they  then said they doubted that those studies could be applied to JeffCo.

This is nonsense so ludicrous as to boggle the imagination.  By this logic, a nationwide traffic safety study that shows that using seat belts and airbags in cars saves lives should be ignored in Jefferson County because the study was not specifically done in Jefferson County.  WNW’s attitude assumes that JeffCo is somehow magically different from the rest of the country when it comes to how and when children learn best.

Even so, JeffCo Kindergarten teachers and PTA members responded to the challenge!  At the May 1st meeting, in a ten minute comment period (the maximum Witt would allow them), five of them presented the Board with a detailed analysis (FFDK Report) of JeffCo’s full-day vs half-day kindergarten impact on at-risk kids.  The results were dramatic.  Both statistically and anecdotally, the available data shows that adding in free full-day kindergarten raises the level of proficiency of at-risk children so dramatically that the difference between them and non-risk children almost disappears.  Additionally, more JeffCo statistics showed that these gains continue through at least 3rd grade.

Witt’s response was that an unasked-for presentation during a ten minute comment did not suffice.  But he also did not ask for a more in-depth presentation, or direct Dr. Beck to conduct a follow-up, or take up the presenters on their plea to at least consider offering a sliding fee-based kindergarten.

WNW has repeatedly stated that to them (WNW), fairness is the same amount of money being spent on all kids, regardless of their circumstances.  In this case, WNW would rather not give poor children additional help if it meant some not-so-poor children would be helped too.  This is like now being against seat belts and airbags because it would help protect bad drivers as well as good ones!

In short, WNW is against free full-day kindergarten because…?  We are not sure!  Their explanations are so full of contradictions, misstatements, and factual error that their real reasons are hidden.  Mislead #5 and Ignoring Facts #1.

Paragraph #14
Witt:
 The District started open negotiations with JCEA and JCAA, but JCEA walked out, so now there must be closed negotiations with a mediator.

Our comment:  Witt is trying to imply here that JCEA really did not want open negotiations and so declared an impasse in order to get out of them.  What he ignores is the fact that in those open negotiations JCEA repeatedly asked the District negotiating team for responses on JCEA’s proposal for a contract extension, but WNW refused to give the District negotiating team any guidance on this.  In short, JCEA was asking, “How about agreeing to a contract extension?” and the District negotiating team, because WNW would not give them guidance (and they have the votes to do it, regardless of what Dahlkemper or Fellman might want), would have to say ‘we have received no instructions on that.’  So finally, JCEA declared an impasse because WNW would not let the District respond to JCEA’s proposal!  This one is definitely mislead #6.

Paragraph #15
Witt:
 WNW has $11.7 million set aside for total comp increases, including PERA retirement and increased health costs, but “I” (Witt), want to give starting teachers more money and begin Pay for Performance.

Our comment:  A lot of misleads here.  First, the original place holder was $4 million higher.  WNW reduced it to the current $11.7.  Second, WNW wants to deduct from any actual pay increase the employer portion of PERA.  Third, Witt does not explain that PERA is the Social Security replacement for all state employees, including teachers.  PERA payments by the District (and employees) are like the employer and employee FICA deductions.  By wanting to have the employer PERA deductions count as part of the employee pay raise, it is a very sneaky way of trying to offer a lower pay raise!  Imagine if you employer offered you a 2.5% raise, but then counted the company’s portion of FICA as part of the 2.5%!  The same thing for the health care cost increases.  Those are employer costs that WNW is trying to pass on to the employees as part of their ‘raise’.  Paying starting teachers more is great, and the District study we referenced in paragraph #11 gives specific targets, but again, Witt chooses to ignore actual evidence on the Pay for Performance issue.  So that is Misleads #7, #8, and #9 and Ignoring Facts #2.

Paragraph #16
Witt:
 He says that WNW was elected to “approach education…differently”, and that they value feedback from the community.  That the community has told them we want “clear academic achievement goals, accountability for results, broad choices in public education, genuine transparency, and a commitment to local control….”

Our comment: Those all sound good, but he leaves out a lot!  For example, the public Budget Forums held at six different high schools on three different nights the 526 people attending gave their top three priorities as: Keep class sizes small, Increase employee compensation, and Maintain electives.  In the on-line 02132014_Community_Survey_Results1 done by JeffCo in February and filled out by over 13,000 people, the same top three priorities were given, and free full-day kindergarten was the fifth highest priority.  In a question of where to place educational emphasis (question #4), Early Literacy Instruction was given the highest priority with 71% agreeing or strongly agreeing.  On the other hand, 78% did not want to expand charter schools, and 61% opposed expanding option schools.

These results are very different from the list Witt gives.  What are his statistics to back up his claims?  Because the JeffCo community surveys and outreaches come to very different conclusions.  Mislead #10 and Ignoring Facts #3.

Paragraph #17
Witt:
 Jeffco is big and diverse.  Building a great school district takes respect, openness, patience, and commitment to students and families.

Our comment:  We agree, but would also add ‘and a firm commitment to the truth, with a willingness to set aside preconceived ideas when the facts indicate otherwise.’

But even on the items Witt mentions, WNW has sadly fallen short.  The disrespect they have shown Dahlkemper and Fellman, Cindy Stevenson, teachers, the public, and our students has got to be seen to be believed.  Hidden conversations that play fast and loose with Colorado’s Open Records Act, the speed with which WNW moves to push money towards their favorite causes while starving other parts of the District, all brings into the question just which students and families WNW is committed to.  It certainly does not appear to be to all the JeffCo students and families.

BTW- if you were keeping score, the final tally on Witt’s editorial is:

10 Misleading Statements,
3 cases of Ignoring Facts.
1 case of Illogical Reasoning,
3 Oversimplifications,
1 Platitude,
1 Logical Fallacy

Keep Fighting, Jeffco!

<Update:  We have now posted a version of this response in the comment section of the Denver Post editorial.  We are looking into submitting an editorial ourselves, but that may not be possible.  If you are interested in submitting an editorial for us under your name, please contact us.>

BOE Meeting 5/5 Agenda – Superintendent Finalist List

School_BussesOn Monday night the list of Superintendent candidates is to be narrowed down to a small group of ‘finalists’.  These people will then be directly interviewed by the Board.

BOE Meeting 2014-05-05
Date and Time:  Monday, May 5, 2014, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Education Center Seminar Room,1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO

Key Agenda Items

2. Executive Session (5:30 p.m.)
2.01 Legal Advice and Consideration of Confidential Documents Submitted by Superintendent Applicants
Type:
Action, Discussion
Recommended Action: to move into executive session to confer with legal counsel for the purpose of receiving legal advice regarding compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Law and the Colorado Open Records Act during the superintendent selection process.

The Board of Education will meet in executive session to confer with legal counsel for the purpose of receiving legal advice regarding compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Law and the Colorado Open Records Act during the superintendent selection process, pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(b); and, C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(g), for consideration of documents submitted by applicants for the position of superintendent which are protected by the mandatory nondisclosure provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act, C.R.S. § 24-72-204(3)(a)(XI)(A).

After the vote to move into executive session, this portion of the meeting is closed to the public.  The Board will reconvene in open session at approximately 10:30 p.m. in the Seminar Room.

(Currently no downloadable material been provided.)

PRESENTING STAFF:

Dr. Bill Newman, Ray & Associates
Dr. Gary Ray, Ray & Associates
Ryan Ray, Ray & Associates
Amy Weber, executive director, Human Resources
Jim Branum, district legal counsel
Brad Miller, Board attorney

PURPOSE:  Review the Jeffco Superintendent candidate list and documents submitted by or on behalf of candidates; determine candidates to bring in for interviews with the Board of Education; receive legal advice about compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Act and the Colorado Open Records Act during the superintendent selection process.

BACKGROUND:  Ray & Associates was hired by the Board of Education to provide professional Superintendent Search services to Jeffco Schools. Ray & Associates representatives will review the candidate list and documents submitted by or on behalf of candidates with the Board of Education.  The Board of Education will determine candidates to bring in for interviews with the Board.

Our comments:  This is a key point in the process of selecting the new Superintendent.  Up until Friday no one, other than Ray & Associates, even knew who had applied.  Then on Friday, the Denver Post broke the story that GOP State House Rep. Mark Waller, had applied.  See our post just a little bit ago to learn more about him.

Our concerns go to how the list of finalists will be put together.  Here is where WNW can really ‘stack the deck’.  If each candidate requires a majority vote before they can be place on the list, then WNW will be able to make sure that only their candidates are genuinely considered.

The problem for us is that this is a decision that would normally be made in Executive Session, and Board members are not supposed to reveal what happens in such sessions.  So it will come down to face-reading Dahlkemper and Fellman as they come out of the meeting.

Another concern is that WNW+Miller might try to use this Executive Session to get done the dirty work that they were unable to do at the April 24th meeting when Dahlkemper and Fellman refused to vote for Executive Session.

Normally, meetings that are nothing but Executive Sessions are pretty boring.  The Board votes to go into Executive Session, then they go off to a private room to have their meeting.  At the end of it, they come back just long enough to adjourn.

But WNW+Miller you never know!  So, we hope some of you will be there just to make sure!  Doing so is one of the ways you can…

Keep Fighting, Jeffco!

JeffCo Superintendent: Mark Waller applying for the job….

apply-todayOn Friday, the Denver Post’s blog “The Spot” posted that Colorado Springs State Representative Mark Waller has applied for the JeffCo Superintendent position.

Waller currently represents Colorado State House District 15 which is the northeastern part of Colorado Springs.  He defeated Doug Bruce, the extreme libertarian in the Republican 2008 primary and has since run unopposed.  He could have run for another two-year term in the House, but decided instead to take a stab at the Republican nomination for Attorney General.  That lasted until April 12th, when he came in a distant second at the Republican Assembly meeting to Cindy Coffman, current Attorney General John Suther’s deputy.  By that time it was too late to file for re-election to his House seat, and two other Republicans had already entered the race for this highly Republican district. (In the 2012 General Election, he ran against a Libertarian candidate and an American Constitution Party candidate.  No Democrat ran against him.)  He formally pulled out of the Republican Primary for Attorney General on April 29th.

Since the deadline for applications was April 25th (although Ray & Associates said they would accept applications until April 27th), Waller must have applied for the JeffCo Superintendent position before he announced he was giving up on the Attorney General’s race.  Since the GOP Assembly meeting was not until April 12th, it is apparent that this job has not been in the forefront of his mind for very long.  Indeed, Waller seems to have thought little about education in any significant manner during his six years in the state legislature.  His entry in Ballotpedia (a non-partisan on-line encyclopedia focused on American politics – click here for more information) shows his was the prime sponsor for only four bills, all of them in the 2009 session.  Only one of them have anything to do with education, HB09-1270 “Enrollment Options Private Home Schools”.  This bill would have made privately-schooled or home-schooled students eligible for concurrent enrollment in state-supported colleges and universities.  According to the state legislatures staff report, this would have required five full-time CDE employees and cost the State almost $20 million by requiring those state colleges to create programs for non-public schools.   It was postponed indefinitely only two weeks after he submitted it.

Waller is quoted as saying., “I don’t have a strong educational background…“, then continuing, “…but I have a very robust background in developing consensus and bringing parties together.”  He apparently has submitted a generic letter of recommendation from Bruce Benson, the President of CU…who also does not have an educational background.

Benson’s letter reportedly praises Waller for his work on legislation involving education.  Apparently Benson counts one failed bill in 2009 as significant. Benson’s letter of recommendation is only a generic one, not one written specifically for the JeffCo Superintendent job.  Benson, when asked about this by Lynn Bartels, the Post reporter is quoted as saying, “This letter could be for dog catcher, or for your job at the paper — which could be one and the same — or for something higher up.”  Not exactly a resounding endorsement.

This one, in some ways, has us shaking our heads even more than the Tom Tancredo report a week or so ago.

In this case, at least the applicant has confirmed that he has applied.  But even WNW’s slanted requirements, Waller comes up dramatically short.

He has no actual experience in education.  In fact, we are not even sure he has a passionate interest in the JeffCo job, other than he is looking for work!

Coming from one of the safest Republican districts in the state, Waller has never really had to to try to work with people with very different view points.  His one effort at education policy (which would have gotten private schools state money) got shot down in almost record time.  He only decided he want to apply for the position after his poor showing at the GOP Assembly meeting less than two weeks earlier.  And of the one letter of recommendation he has, even the author of the letter (Benson) says could also have been for the position of “dog catcher“!

If anyone other than WNW were involved, then another ‘dog‘ phrase would pop to mind, this one from Texas, “That dog won’t hunt.

But, this will be in front of WNW.  And they are highly suspected of wanting to follow DougCo’s fake charter school to redirect public tax dollars to private schools efforts (see our post here.).  Given that, Waller’s own efforts to squeeze out tax-payer dollars to help private schools could very well appeal to them.  While he did hold the position of Minority Leader in 2013, he apparently did not impress anyone enough to get more than a ‘dog catcher‘s  endorsement.  We wish we could say that Waller hasn’t got a snowballs chance, but…he did try to get public money for private schools.  Other than that he is something of a cipher who is needing a job.

It could be that WNW, instead of looking for a strong-willed leader who might disagree with them from time to time, would prefer a puppet whose strings they could pull on to their hearts content.

Scary times are ahead.  Stay strong, and…

Keep Fighting, Jeffco!

Saturday Post: Next Steps….

2014-05-01 BOE Meeting - Audience #1

After Thursday night’s Board meeting, a lot of people are asking, “What can I do…now?”

A lot of people are calling for recall, and while we favor the sentiment, the time is not yet ripe.  As bad as WNW+Miller (Witt, Newkirk, Williams plus their attorney, Miller) have behaved and performed, the sad fact is it will take even more brazen acts before the majority of JeffCo residents would be willing to vote for a recall.

But that does not mean there is nothing that can or needs to be done now.  In fact, there is a LOT that can and needs to be done.  Some of it we are already doing.

The first and most important thing is to PUBLICIZE, or get the word out.  We are working hard on that.  There is this blog site and it’s Facebook page. There is SupportJeffCoKids.org,  Also on Facebook is Transparency JeffCo which posts edited videos of the Board meetings.  There is also coverage from the local newspapers, the Denver Post, the website ColoradoIndependent.com (made up primarily of former Rocky Mountain News people), as well as political blogs from the left, right, and center.  We see cars with home-printed signs in the back windows, and other signs being held up at meetings.  The word is getting out.

The next thing is to ATTEND.  Having people actually showing up in large numbers, expressing their viewpoints and making sure that WNW+Miller cannot act outside the light of public scrutiny.  It also is heartening to Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper to see people supporting them in their outnumbered fight.

Now we need to start taking the next steps:  to VOICE our opinions.  There are two ways that we can do this directly to the Board members.

First, you can sign up to speak to the Board. If you want to talk to the Board on a subject that is on that meetings agenda, sign up here: Comment on an Agenda item. We will always post the upcoming agenda (plus our observations) as early in the week as we can – so keep on a look out!

If you want to talk to the Board about a subject that is NOT on the agena, sign up here: Comment on a non-Agenda item.  You can only sign up for the next meeting.

Second, you can send an email to the Board as a whole.  This is an under-utilized option, and one we should definitely use more often.  The Board is obligated to respond to all emails and letters sent to them.  District Policy KDA – Correspondence from the Public states,

“The secretary of the Board shall respond to all Board correspondence with the assistance of the superintendent or designee. Information that has been researched by the administrative staff in response to Board correspondence shall be sent to all Board members.”

This means that Mr. Newkirk, who is the Board’s Secretary, MUST respond to any letter you send.  Further, if that letter requires research on his part or the part of the District staff, that information must be sent to all of the other Board members as well.

This is a BIG difference between the verbal comment portion of a Board meeting and a letter to the Board.  The verbal comment does not have to be responded to by WNW.  A letter or email does!

Do you want to know why the Board ignored almost every national and state study that shows how Kindergarten helps under-priviledged kids do better in school?  Send in an email!  Do you want to know what, if any, monitoring of Charter schools who needed loans is being done to safeguard those loans, and what will happen if the Charter schools default on them?  Send in an email!

You can send the email to board@jeffco.k12.co.us or an actual physical letter to: The Board of Education, Jefferson County,1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401.

There are a couple of rules you should follow.  First, no profanity or vulgarities, no matter how much you feel certain Board members deserve them.  You also need to address the entire Board, not just a few members.  Finally, anonymous letters will not be published in the Board agenda.  So be polite and sign your name with pride!

“Okay,” you say.  “I don’t mind send an email, but I am not sure what to write about?”

We understand.  Sometimes when it comes to putting keystrokes to the computer, the best writer amongst us can have a block.  To help you along, we have put together a list of suggested topics and questions.  Do not use these verbatim, but rather as inspiration.  Fundamentally, these questions need to be coming from YOU, the JeffCo parent, teacher, staff member, resident, or just concerned adult.

Correspondence Topics

  • Why did the Board feel it necessary for the first time ever to hire an attorney to represent specifically just the Board?
  • Why did the Board refuse to fill the post of Attorney for the District, leaving it without an in-house counsel of its own?
  • Why does the Board loan more than $850,000 to poorly managed charter schools with no strings attached?  If there are strings, please explicitly list them.
  • Why did certain members of the Board try to stop the Deer Creek STEM expansion?
  • Why does the Board discriminate in how groups are treated during public comment?
  • Why does the Board refuse to have public discussion of Brad Miller’s hiring and contract?
  • Who redacted Brad Miller’s February Invoice?
  • Why did the Board go against the advice of the District’s counsel and the District’s Capital Assets Advisory Committee (“CAAC”) on withdraw the appeal of the 2090 Wright Street ruling?
  • Why did the Board refuse to consider a one-year contract extension with JCEA and JCAA prior to JCEA declaring an impasse?
  • Why did the Board remove $4 million dollars from the employee compensation placeholder?
  • Why did the Board ignore almost every study on the efficacy of full-day Kindergarten for at-risk children and remove $600,000 for free, full-day Kindergarten for schools with 35%+ Free or Reduced Lunch-qualified students?
  • Why does the Board intend to an optional $3.7 million to the charter schools without any feedback from the charter schools on how it will be spent?  How can this be reconciled with the Board’s stance on the free, Full-Day kindergarten defunding?

The list can go on, and on, and on,….

This, too, is real democracy.  In fact, it is enshrined in our Constitution’s 1st Amendment!  The last phrase of the 1st Amendment states: “and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And we certainly have grievances that need redressing!

There will be more to do as the year goes on, but how well and hard you do what you can NOW will greatly determine what we can do next.

So let’s get going!

May 1st BOE Meeting Review – A Short Synopsis

2014-05-01 BOE Meeting - Audience #1(A more detailed review will be posted later.)

There were two real surprises last night.  The first is that over a thousand people showed up, filling Bear Creek High School Auditorium to  capacity while JeffCo’s security announced that there were another 400-500 people waiting outside.  The second surprise was that WNW did not pull any surprise antic on us. They just did pretty much what we expected. They keptthe $3.7 million additional funds for Charter Schools and the $840,000 additional for GT. They continued to refuseto reinstate $600,000 to fund free full-day kindergarten for almost 400 at-risk children, and they also refused to specifically increase the Reserve Fund (they are counting on extra money from the State). They also continued to refuse to put discussing Brad Miller’s contract on the agenda. The one minor surprise is that they actually approved the purchasing of the new elementary math curriculum, Math Expressions.

That took not quite two hours. The meeting lasted for seven and a half.

What took up the remaining five and half hours?

About 45 minutes was spent approving the Consent Agenda, honoring a teacher and high school wrestlers and setting up the meetings for the rest of the school year.

Four and three-quarter hours were public comment. And if you were not there for this public comment, you are the poorer for it.

From 7:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m., more people than we could count came up and presented to the Board with a passion that was at the same time moving, overwhelming, powerful, and inspiring. Teachers, students, parents, concerned citizens poured out their hearts. The two dominate topics were employee compensation and funding free full-day kindergarten. Everything else was swamped by these two themes.

WNW ignored all of the logic, reasoning, statistics, and emotion in favor of funding FFD kindergarten, of course. And that does not bode well for JCEA & JCAA in the upcoming negotiations. But for the rest of us, it was inspiring and motivating. If you were unsure this is a battle worth fighting, you had no doubts at the end of the night.

If you want to recruit someone into this fight, you do not need to marshal your arguments and persuasive skills. Simply get them to come to a Board meeting. Watching WNW in the meeting will persuade them far better than you ever could.

And that is why they will (eventually) lose. All we have to do is not give up.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!