Some policies that took the previous Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education two years to put in place will likely unravel before the end of this school year if the new board’s statements on Thursday are an indication of their intentions.
Five new Jeffco school board members were sworn in Thursday, and immediately after, they voted on offices for Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, and Ron Mitchell.
The board reflects five new faces after a successful recall of three members and two others whose seats were up for election chose not to run.
It only took this first meeting for the new members to show their willingness to back away from some of their campaign promises.
Despite using the word “transparent” throughout their campaigns to indict the alleged behavior of their opponents, the offices of president, first vice president and second vice president were taken by secret ballot.
Board members mentioned several times throughout the meeting that they had not previously talked to each other.
However, Mitchell, who was elected the new president, thanked his fellow board members for giving him their confidence from a prepared statement, lending speculation that the board members had laid out their intentions long before being sworn in.
Also by secret ballot, Lasell was voted first vice president, and Harmon second vice president. Mitchell then broke from the format. Stevens was voted secretary and Rupert was voted treasurer in open meeting.
During communications they all talked about working together, regaining trust, healing and listening to constituents as they moved forward. But it became clear policy drove the recall as one after one, they all recited the same priorities.
Members said they would like to revisit issuing more than $80 million in Certificates of Participation to curtail overcrowding in the district. COPs will force lease debt payments to a tune of $5-$6 million a year without voter approval.
“We must understand that per-pupil funding on the state level continues to fail to keep pace with the increasing needs and inflation,” Harmon said. “Our budget lacks those resources that we need, leaving us with difficult decisions about how to finance the needs of our district.”
Most agreed they also needed to examine the current memorandum of understanding with the teachers union, pay-for-performance, and staff compensation.
“Are we competitive?” Lasalle said. “Does it attract the best teachers to Jeffco?”
Stevens said she would also like to find ways to deal with cuts made because of the recession and other budget constraints.
“Cuts that have forced a lot of either or decisions,” Stevens said. “Recession cuts are seemingly permanent, and we must find local solutions to shore up the sustainability and success of all our schools.”
Although members discussed the importance of transparency, implied that they had not discussed their intentions before the meeting, and said it was likely there were going to be times they disagreed, it was clear that was not the case.
“I always felt like I should stand up say, ‘me too and sit down,’” Mitchell said shortly after being sworn in. It was in reference to his opinions on topics and always speaking last at forums and other gatherings the five attended while they campaigned.
Stevens added later that Mitchell offered members the ability to have a few minutes at each meeting to discuss that collaboration.
“You mentioned while we were campaigning the possibility of us being able to report out what we are learning when we get out to other places a couple minutes to report out,” she said.
Overall, members promised to listen to all their constituents and be respectful of everyone’s beliefs.
“A positive climate in the school district allows us to work collaboratively,” Mitchell said. “(I hope for) two things: listening and expecting all conversations occur in mutual respect. It begins in this board room and permeates the entire organization.”