A sizable crowd gathered for a Wednesday rally to mobilize support to recall three conservative Jefferson County school board members, an event where many expressed anger over a perceived lack of respect on the part of their elected school officials.
The estimated crowd of 2,000 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds included Tim Leenerts, a Lakewood parent, who had a pointed response when asked what brought him to the rally.
“You mean other than the three being out of control?” said Leenerts of the three board members. “It’s like they’ve got no rules. They’ve got to be stopped.”
The kick-off rally allowed recall supporters their first opportunity to sign petitions to oust board President Ken Witt, Vice President Julie Williams and Secretary John Newkirk.
The three conservative make up the majority of the five-member board.
Recall backers cite a laundry list of grievances against the board they feel are resonating with frustrated parents and teachers. The board has constantly been embroiled in controversy and has often made national headlines since the three new members were elected in November 2013.
“I think the mood has been that (the community) doesn’t feel respected by this school board,” said Michael Blanton, one of three Jeffco parents who are driving the recall effort. “They’ve made it very clear that they don’t want to hear from the public, or, at most, a limited segment of the public.”
Recall supporters say the board has wasted taxpayer money with the generous salary given to “novice” Superintendent Dan McMinimee and by hiring a board attorney and public relations firms.
They also accuse the board of violating open meetings laws and “severely” limiting public comment.
The recall effort has also been spurred by events from last year, when proposed changes to the Advanced Placement history curriculum made national headlines and led to thousands of students walking out of classes.
“I’ve just watched our district slowly disintegrate,” said Samantha Howes of Golden. “There’s so much disrespect. There’s no transparency. Things are happening without the community support.”
Petition gatherers have 60 days to collect 15,000 signatures for each of the three board members they are seeking to recall. Organizers did not know how many signatures they collected Wednesday, because those who attended took the petitions with them to have others sign.
Supporters were pleased with the large turnout. That was in spite of complications, including rush-hour traffic and steady rainfall. Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for Jeffco United for Action, the organization behind the recall effort, said cars had to be turned away because of full parking lots.
“We feel very good about it,” Blanton said of the petition process. “We have 60 days and we think we will get in there in much less time than that.”
But organized opposition to the recall effort is starting to take shape.
Sheila Atwell, executive director for Jeffco Students First, blasted the recall effort as “a frivolous political campaign that drains important resources that could be going toward student achievement.”
Atwell also said in a statement that the petition language “contains many factual inaccuracies.”
She defended the board’s work. Under the board’s leadership, Atwell claims, student proficiency levels have gone up and administrative costs have gone down. She also said teachers are being paid more and the board has created a more equitable funding structure for all Jeffco students.
“We hope community members will not be swayed by those who want to return to the status quo in Jeffco rather than keep moving forward.”
But Gina Ducett, a longtime English teacher at Columbine High School, said the actions taken by the board majority have left parents and teachers frustrated and exhausted.
“We love what we’re doing and we love our kids,” Ducett said. “But we don’t have much faith in this board majority. It’s hard to have morale when you feel like, no matter what you do, you’re not appreciated, you’re not respected.”
— Twitter: @VicVela1