According to numbers received from the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s office, the recall effort against three school board members may end up costing Jefferson County Public Schools an extravagant amount of money.
A group of residents behind a political organization called Jeffco United for Action claim irresponsible spending as one of their reasons for organizing a potential recall election against President Ken Witt, Vice President Julie Williams, and Secretary John Newkirk from the Jefferson County Board of Education.
However, while recall organizers have pointed out all the ways they believe the board has mismanaged funds, they haven’t pointed out how much the election to replace the three may cost Jeffco students.
Jeffco United argues the election will be part of the general coordinated election in November. However, that is not confirmed, and there is still a good chance the recall effort could turn into a special election, at a price tag of more than $500,000.
According to Beth Clippinger, executive assistant to Jeffco clerk and recorder Faye Griffin, preliminary cost estimates for the recall are somewhere between $500,000 and $650,000.
Additionally, if any of the targeted officials are not recalled, the district must reimburse them for their campaign costs up to $10,000 each.
“If this is the true cost, it is massively disappointing to use funds in this manner,” said Jeffco superintendent Dan McMinimee. “We had to make a lot of tough decisions this year because of our smaller-than-expected budget. This is money that could be used to reduce class size or reward our most dedicated teachers.”
Three Jeffco residents—Wendy McCord , Michael Blanton, and Tina Gurdikian—filed recall request documents with the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s office on Friday. They cited complaints about the superintendent’s salary, the hiring of Brad Miller – counsel to the board – and setting aside $7.4 million over the past two years to equalize funding for students in the district’s 16 charter schools.
McCord disagreed with the estimate.
“We have been told there will not be additional costs for the recall if we are on the November ballot with the existing school board election,” McCord said in a statement through the group’s media contact, Lynea Hansen. She did not say who gave her that information.
Clippinger said the cost to the district for placing the item on the coordinated ballot has not been determined yet.
“If it is to be part of the coordinated election the cost would be a percentage of the number of active voters and the number of ballot styles required,” Clippinger said. “This percentage formula is also used for the two seats up for election this fall.”
Clippinger was referring to the seats currently held by Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who have both announced that they will not seek re-election. Since 2009, elections costs have ranged between $165,000 and $530,000.
Clippinger said the election division was currently forming a timeline and would have more answers soon.
Tim Griesmer, spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, agreed with Clippinger. Despite the election becoming a part of the November general election, the district will still bear the cost to include it in the coordinated election, he said.
“The governing body pays for the recall election,” Griesmer said. “The cost is going to be on the Jeffco school district.”
However, being on the November ballot is questionable. According to the secretary of state’s office website, because this is a mail-in ballot election, getting the election on the November ticket may be a tall task for organizers, as it appears the group will have little time to gather signatures, and that gathering process cannot begin until the clerk certifies the petition, which is not expected until next week.
Ballots must be in the mail to military personnel by Sept. 19 and to the general public by Oct. 16. The last day for the designated election official from Jeffco to certify the ballot content is Sept. 4 – less than two months from the date the clerk has to OK the wording for the recall.
That means the gathering of signatures, the validating of signatures, the protest time, the time for those subject to recall to resign, and the turning in of successor candidate nomination petitions must all be completed in the next 60 days. Working backwards and allowing 15 days for the clerk to validate the signatures, it appears the group would have to have all signatures verified by the clerk and recorder sometime during the first week of August, giving them about two weeks to gather 15,000 signatures for three separate officials.
Jeffco United has claimed no affiliation with the Jefferson County Education Association. However, Hansen is also the spokeswoman for the JCEA. Hansen has no apparent personal ties to Jeffco. Her company biography says she lives in downtown Denver.
According to past contracts obtained from the district’s website, money used to finance recall elections could fund a lot of things:
• Pay the utilities district-wide for a year.
• Finish funding full-day kindergarten for all students in the district.
• Pay library service contract for 18 months.
• Purchase 2,000 Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, Google Chrome Management License and accessories.
• Purchase 2 or 3 new buses.
• Pay the costs of Infinite Campus – the district’s student information systems that tracks attendance, grades and other personal student data — for one year.
“We believe that such a diversion of funds is a huge loss of limited resources that should be going into our classrooms to support student growth and achievement,” McMinimee said.