Douglas County, Education, Featured, Sherrie Peif

Dougco school board candidate plaintiff in $1.4 million lawsuit against school district

CASTLE ROCK – Misleading information supporting a Douglas County School District Board of Education candidate is circulating via a controversial political activist group.

The literature, which was handed out at the recent Douglas County Fair, fails to address one candidate’s role in a pending lawsuit against the district and contains other false information concerning who is actually paying the school district’s costs.

Supporters leave out information that Kevin Leung, who is making his fourth attempt at a Douglas County school board seat, is a named plaintiff in one of their bullet points against supporting the current board.

Fliers distributed at the Douglas County Fair by a political committee called Douglas County Parents say that “costly voucher lawsuits divert resources from public schools.”

The ambiguous reference is apparently intended to invoke the 2011 Douglas County School District Choice Scholarship Program. The program would essentially allow state and local per-pupil funding to follow the student by giving up to 500 parents a scholarship to help pay for private schools, including faith-based private schools.

Leung is one of four candidates running on a slate dubbed the “Dream Team” for open seats on the Douglas County Schools Board of Education.

This is Leung’s fourth attempt at a school board seat. He ran and lost in 2009. He applied for an appointment in 2013 and lost. He then filed to run for an open seat in 2013, but withdrew.

Despite school board races being nominally non-partisan, the opposition to the incumbents in the last two elections have maintained it is the “conservative” members they seek to unseat.

Only one of the four seats, President Meghann Silverthorn’s, is term limited. None of the other incumbents—Steven Peck, Judith Reynolds, or James Geddes—have said whether they intend to seek reelection.

The voucher program Leung is a named plaintiff against was placed on hold when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed lawsuit on behalf of Leung and others against the school district, claiming it violated the separation of church and state clause in the United States Constitution.

Leung did not return requests for comments concerning his role in the lawsuit or how he plans to separate the conflict from his candidacy or service, should he win.

The Colorado Supreme Court sided with the ACLU and struck down the program in 2015.

However, the school district appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in June 2017 SCOTUS vacated the decision, remanding it back to Colorado courts to review. The decision was in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the matter of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, in which SCOTUS ruled that governments can’t discriminate against churches that would otherwise qualify for public benefit programs just because they’re religious institutions.

The Daniels Fund, which has covered most of the costs of the suit so far, is still donating; their most recent donation came July 28 of this year in the amount of $50,000.

DSCD litThe Douglas County Parents literature goes on to say that the lawsuit diverts resources from public schools. However, documents obtained through an open records request from Complete Colorado indicate that all funding for the suit has been provided by external, non-district sources. No taxpayer money has been spent on the primary voucher suit.There was a second lawsuit against a separate voucher proposal, but Complete Colorado is awaiting the information on that suit, and will update when received.

According to Dougco records, outside organizations have donated nearly $1.6 million in encumbered funds to pay legal expenses to defend the suit. Nearly $1.4 million of that has come from The Daniels Fund, a well-known educational supporter. Another $100,000 came from the Walton Family Foundation, and the El Pomar Foundation gave $25,000. The remaining donations came from private citizens, totaling about $55,000.

To date, the district has spent nearly $1.4 million of that money. District documents show that no district funds or taxpayer money of any kind has been used to pay for the legal defense of the Choice Scholarship Program. Likewise, the documents show the money is specific donations earmarked for the purpose of defending the lawsuit. In other words, the money would not have been available to the district otherwise.

The Dream Team is supported by a group known as Douglas County Parents. DC Parents has already taken pages from Jefferson County play books in election tactics hoping to win at least one seat and gain a majority that would oppose educational choice.

According to its Facebook page the group is non-partisan but says: “Since we do spend money supporting school board candidates, Colorado law requires us to register as a ‘political committee.’”

It’s official purpose statement with the Colroado Secretary of State’s Office, makes its intent clear. “To elect new directors to the board of education who support public education and oppose corporate education reform.”

It is not the first time the group has been linked to deceptive tactics to persuade Douglas County conservatives to vote in favor of its slate of candidates.

In March, someone opened a Facebook account that mimicked nearly all aspects of another, legitimate Douglas County Facebook group The DCSD Charter Parent Coalition.

The fake page, called Charter Parent Coalition of Douglas County, attempted to bring in people believing they were pro-charter schools, but instead used it to collect names, emails, and other private information to send out what they refer to as “pro-public school” information later.

However, the term “pro-public” is deceiving itself, those from the Colorado League of Charter Schools have said. It implies that only traditional, district-run schools are open to the public. However, charter schools are also open to public. They do not require tuition, they cannot test for admission and most that are at capacity use a lottery system for admissions. They must follow all the same state regulations and testing. And waivers that are available to charter schools are also available to districts.

The effort is backed and supported by members of the Jefferson County Education Association and the Colorado Education Association. Members of both organizations have been seen at Douglas County meetings causing chaos and forcing board members to have audience members removed or warned.

Some Douglas County teachers currently affiliate with the Colorado chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, but that association does not have collective bargaining rights since its contract was ended by the previous board majority in 2012, rather than thelarger and more powerful National Education Association – which funneled more than $150,000 into the Jefferson County elections of 2016.

How much they plan to spend in this election is yet to be seen as the first state reporting period isn’t until October and United States Department of Labor annual LM-2 reports aren’t due until after the election.

Silverthorn said nothing surprises her anymore.

“It is amazing to me the lengths that people will go to and the amount of time and money they will devote to denying other people’s children their choice in education,” Silverthorn said. “They have made super clear they are not planning on (using the) vouchers, but they are very keen on denying to everyone else, too.”




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