One County's School Board Recall

We’ve heard that all politics is local and school board politics can be the worst. I can attest to both after a recent school board election; the politics in my county -- a drama that came to a climax in November 2015 – are emblematic of what’s going on nationally while showing just how bad school board politics can be. Even so, I believe that truth still matters and truth will win out.

In 2013, three new school board members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, who were conservative or reform candidates, were elected to the Board of Education for Jeffco Public Schools. They ran on making changes to how the schools were being run and the voters elected them with a wide margin.

Progressives did not congratulate their opposition on the win; instead it seems they were determined not to accept the election results because they began a campaign to drive the new school board members from office, not at the next election but through a smear campaign and then a recall.

First, the school superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, arguably the driver of the progressive steamroller in the schools, said she could not work with the new board, and announced her resignation on the day after the election. Then, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), otherwise known as the teacher’s union, orchestrated the attendance of teachers and others at school board meetings. They instructed them to disrupt all they could.

My husband Peter attended the school board meetings and was disgusted at the behavior. At one meeting he filmed the disruption. Charter school parents got up to speak to the board and were shouted down by teachers and other union supporters -- the union does not like charter schools -- if they went one second over their time. When Peter turned around to film the disrupters, one woman flipped him off. (It turns out that the woman who flipped him off went on to be the PTA president in Jeffco.)

Everything the board members said or put forward as solutions to the real problems in the school district was mocked and they were publicly discredited. Rumors and lies spread through the community about them. Local and national media in the mainstream markets went along with this; they rarely told the whole story or included the steps the board was taking in their reporting and they passed along the slander and libel instead of doing adequate fact checking or reporting the true nature of the disruptions. The week of the election, 9News in Denver came out with an apology, saying that they had not done their job on fact checking on two of the accusations against the school board.

Union supporters even targeted the children of the board members at their schools; one of them, an autistic child, was reportedly tricked into holding a sign against his mom at his school and he marched in a protest against her; another’s elementary age children read signs with the ‘F’ word and their dad’s name outside their school.

The campaign against the board members went on like this for two years. One of the new school board members, Julie Williams, reviewed the advanced placement history curriculum of the College Board in the past year and suggested that it might need balance restored to it. After saying so, she was immediately demonized locally and nationally. Local teenagers were seen on television protesting her proposed “censorship.” They got out of school to join what became a cause célèbre. Even if you remember that, you might not know the rest of the story: The College Board looked at the AP history curriculum and determined that more balance was needed. They made changes accordingly.

The behavior of the union and the union supporters in our county reflects a utilitarianism that is running amok in our country; that is, there is a significant rise in thinking that says the ends justify the means. People are no longer shocked that when folks lie and cheat and smear but seem to feel such tactics are justified. I am concerned that this utilitarianism is rising to the level of liberal fascism where citizens’ free speech and due process in electing leaders are even now being disregarded and even destroyed.

I’m not the only one. An editorial published prior to the election in the Denver Post, which has been reputed to be left leaning, called the recall effort out of line. Also, Mike Rosen, a conservative talk show host in Denver, wrote an opinion piece that was published in that paper, which railed against the union effort and detailed the level of it.  He wrote, “In 2014, the National Education Association sent 48 UniServ (Unified Service) directors from 18 states to Jeffco to engage in community organizing against the board, and funded the Colorado Education Association, its statewide teachers union, to organize campaigns in other school districts to "fight back against the movement to privatize education."”

So, who am I to make these observations?  I have lived in Jeffco for thirty-one years. For seventeen of those years, as my children were being educated in the district, I volunteered in the Jeffco Public Schools at every grade level and in many capacities. My husband also volunteered in many ways in the schools, including heading up a school accountability committee. Together we helped start an alternative middle school program, which eventually expanded to similar programs at other middle and high schools in the county.

Our kids are grown now, but with the election of the reform board members and the response from the union, we again became involved in school board issues. We fought back against the smear campaign; we made our voices heard, along with others, but we lost. A majority of voters believed the lies, which were even published on the ballots. The whole thing has hurt us personally (even impacted us in our church) and has been very frustrating, but we realize it’s just been one battle in a long war. Also, we believe that God cares about the truth, we know we do, and so we will continue to speak out about it and write about it.  We’ll bide our time until the next election and support conservative or reform members then. We won’t stoop to the level of the union and its supporters and start a smear and recall campaign.

I had nothing against the teacher’s union until all this happened.  Now, I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them; and, I won’t be volunteering for Jeffco Public Schools in my retirement years, but I will find other ways to help children.