A packed house of disgruntled Jeffco parents, teachers, and students started out 2015 exactly where they left off from 2014 — disrupting the Jefferson County Public Schools District Board of Education’s regular school board meeting on Thursday.
Only this time, disruption came from two groups with close ties to the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA).
One group presented more than 6,500 “signatures” on an online petition calling for President Ken Witt and members John Newkirk and Julie Williams to resign. Another attempted to present the same three members an award designed to ridicule the trio.
However, both attempts missed their intended effects, offering weak arguments, from unverified persons or registering purchased votes influenced by union officials. In the end, they both also backfired.
JOHN DOE OR JON DOUGH?
The first disruption came when Madalyn Snyder, who described herself as a parent of two Jeffco students, a proud alumni and president of the Parent Teacher Association at her children’s school, misrepresented her connections and intentions to the board.
She made it clear she had no ties to the JCEA before delivering the petition. However, JCEA director of communications Scott Kwasny was taking video of Snyder as she approached the podium — long before it was clear what her intentions were — and throughout her presentation.
Snyder, who signed up to speak during the portion of the meeting reserved for those who want to talk to the board on something on the agenda, told the district she wanted to address the community survey topic. She never did mention the community survey; instead she presented the petition while accusing Witt, Newkirk, and Williams of lying to the community.
“You have wasted taxpayer money. You have insulted teachers. You’ve driven away effective and senior staff. You’ve impugned students. You’ve broken sunshine laws and your own bylaws of the board,” she said. “…You have grossly misrepresented our school district and students by publicly claiming that Jeffco or its students are somehow failing.”
After her allotted two minutes, Newkirk countered her allegations, angering fellow board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper, who quickly came to the defense of the disrupters.
Newkirk, and later Williams, both thanked Snyder for her passion for the district, but made it clear that they were not stepping down now or anytime soon. Newkirk compared his passion for educational service to Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones’ refusal to step down until the job was complete. He pointed out that the petition was started last year when he was just 11 months into a four-year term. He also noted all the positive things the board has done in that time, including raising salaries, opening union negotiations, taking meetings on the road to neighborhood schools, and putting millions of dollars into reserves.
“But I feel like I’ve barely begun,” Newkirk said. “When every child and every parent in Jefferson County gets their first choice … no more waiting lists, when there is no achievement gap between our minority students and non-minority students and finally, when Jeffco becomes the nation’s leader in academic achievement, then I’ll step down.”
Newkirk challenged Snyder to reach out to the 6,500 names on the petition and ask them to volunteer by mentoring a student to make the district a better district.
Her supporters in the audience laughed at the suggestion.
Newkirk’s challenge would present quite a task for Snyder, because she failed to mention in her speech that the online organization MoveOn.org collected the signatures. The platform allows anyone to sign the petition without verifying the information. In this case, many of the signatures have addresses outside Jefferson County, and it’s possible that some were also fictitious, as the voter’s information is not verified. It is also possible that only a small portion of the signatures belonged to registered voters in the Jeffco school district, who would have any impact on a potential recall effort.
NOT SO WELL ORGANIZED
In a separate attempt to embarrass the three members that make up the conservative majority on the school board, Debra Brown from Jobs with Justice failed to deliver its “Scrooge of the Year” award after she didn’t sign up correctly to speak. The group’s Facebook page says it’s dedicated to “kicking ass for the working class since 1987.”
After yelling at the board from the back of the room, Brown left frustrated, claiming it was an attempt to censor her speech.
When questioned in the hallway about her intentions, she said the organization planned to deliver the award that is given to the “curmudgeon CEO, anti-worker politician, right-wing operative or other fat cat who has done the most to hurt the working people of Colorado this year,” on Thursday, no matter what.
However, it didn’t happen. At the end of the meeting, when the next round of public comment started, Witt called her to the podium. But she had already left the building.
The group’s reputation and the validity of the award is questionable, as Jobs with Justice’s connection to the JCEA also includes its communication director Kwasny, who is listed as the group’s executive director on his Linked In account. On Thursday, Kwasny was advising members of Jobs with Justice on how to proceed after they failed at their attempt.
Additionally, the group’s blog site says votes for the award cost $1 each. It is not known what the group does with the money raised.
Joe Thomas, co-organizer of Colorado Jobs with Justice, said the Jefferson County board members won hands down, receiving over 2,700 votes from more than a hundred contributors to the campaign, adding it was way more than the next closest of three other nominees — newly elected U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R), McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“We got more votes for the three board members this year than we did total votes last year,” Thomas said.