JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - Three controversial Jefferson County Board of Education members have been recalled. Julie Williams in District 1, John Newkirk in District 2 and Ken Witt in District 5 have been ousted from their seats two years after they were elected to the school board.
Jefferson County voters overwhelming approved the recall, with 60+ percent voting "yes" on three recall questions.
Brad Rupert, who ran uncontested, will replace Williams, Susan Harmon will replace Newkirk and Ron Mitchell will replace Witt.
"When it comes to our children's education, there is no left there is no right," Newkirk told Denver7. "There's only forward and backward and I'm confident the district can move forward."
The state's second largest school district will have an entirely new school board now, as the other two members chose not to run again when their terms expire this month. Jill Fellman, in District 3, has been replaced by Ali Lasell. Lesley Dahlkemper, in District 4, has been replaced by Amanda Stevens.
"The citizens of Jefferson County said enough is enough. This is a non-partisan position," said Lasell. "We need to restore respect back in that boardroom. And that's what going to happen."
Jeffco United for Action, which was behind the movement to recall the three conservative school board members, said it wanted to restore accountability, transparency and respect to the board. Members of Jeffco United for Action, which included parents and community members, say the board wasted taxpayer dollars (by paying too much for a superintendent), drove away teachers, limited public comments at meetings, and attempted to censor U.S. History classes.
Thousands of students walked out of classes last year because of a proposal to revise curriculum that would have promoted the positive aspects of U.S. history and heritage, while avoiding material on civil disorder and social strife.
The superintendent, who still holds the position, is Daniel McMinimee. McMinimee came to Jefferson County from Douglas County, where he served as the assistant superintendent of secondary education. While supporters said his decades working in education qualified him for the position, opponents in Jefferson County spoke out against hiring McMinimee, fearing he’d bring some of the conservative initiatives from the Douglas County school board, like shutting out the teacher’s union.
The board’s minority argued that the original offer to pay him $280,000 was too high for someone who’d never worked as a superintendent. His offer was eventually reduced to $220,000 with $40,000 more in performance pay and $20,000 in retirement reimbursements. The previous superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, made $205,500 with $30,000 in performance bonuses and $20,000 for retirement contributions.
Opponents to the recalled board members also disliked the process in which the school board hired an attorney to represent the board the month after the 2013 election that voted them onto the board. The attorney was voted on in public but the search was not.
People who supported the recall and those who opposed gathered to watch the results pour in on Tuesday night. From early on in the evening, results overwhelmingly supported the recall.
"I think it says the people spoke and that the parents, and community members and the teachers behind this talked to a lot of people," said recall supporter and Jefferson County parent Wendy Strom.
After Tuesday's results, McMinimee gave this statement:
“First, I’d like to thank the outgoing members for their work that continued Jeffco Public Schools’ tradition of striving for excellence in education. The district, our students and our community have benefited from increased student growth and achievement, greater transparency and accountability with student-based budgeting, the expansion of free full-day kindergarten for all free and reduced lunch students, our innovations to improve student achievement and address overcrowding concerns in the Jefferson and Alameda articulation areas, and the development of our Jeffco 2020 Vision, which will help prepare our students for their future, not our past.
I’d also like to welcome our new board members to Jeffco Public Schools. I look forward to working with them to collectively do our best to deliver an excellent education for our children. Finally, we hope that our Jeffco community can heal its rifts and reunite to focus on ensuring that every Jeffco student is well-equipped and prepared to excel in his or her college life or career.”
“It reminds us that lower level offices make a big difference,” Norman Privizer, a Metro State political science professor, said of the recall to Denver7 on Election Day. “The battle over school boards is an ideological battle over whose vision of America is going to be taught in school. That’s the way it’s viewed.”
After Jeffco United for Action finalized the petitions for recall in August, Witt, Newkirk and Williams issued statements that mostly said they’re proud of the board’s work. Among the efforts they say they were proud of were pay raises for teachers and free full-day kindergarten. The number of schools offering free full-day kindergarten decreased with this board, but any low-income student who attends one of those schools with full-day kindergarten is eligible. Opponents also didn’t agree with the board’s decision to vote against another plan that would have provided free-full day kindergarten for any student at the five schools with a high concentration of low-income students.
Conservative group Americans for Prosperity had argued that the current board’s reforms were working. They praised the teacher pay-for-performance system, rather than basing it on seniority, and the format for school funding.