Jeffco superintendent announces retirement

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told the school board Thursday night that she’s retiring effective at the end of the school year, next June 30.

Stevenson’s announcement comes two days after a slate of three conservative candidates took the majority on the five-member board of the 85,000-student district.

The superintendent was diplomatic in an interview with EdNews, saying, “When you have a major change on the board they have their own plans. I just feel like it’s time. Twelve years is a long time. … I have eight months yet. … We’re going to have a great transition. We’ll have everybody ready for a great new world.”

Choking up a little over the phone, Stevenson said, “It’s been a great run; I’ve loved every day.”

Stevenson, who started as a kindergartener at South Lakewood Elementary School, has spent her entire professional life in the district, including stints as a teacher, principal and multiple jobs in the district’s central administration.

She’s been superintendent since 2002 and has been prominent in state education groups and circles.

“The past 12 years have been the best years of my life. This is an exceptional school district and it’s been my honor to lead an amazing staff of talented people. I’d like to thank my team, the community and our students – they have made my life joyful,” Stevenson said in a statement.

In recent years she’s been increasingly criticized by conservative citizen groups, most recently over the district’s pilot use of inBloom, a data system that can aggregate student personal and academic information and link such data with online instructional materials that teachers can use to personalize teaching.

Shortly after Stevenson’s announcement, the board voted to sever the district’s arrangement with inBloom, an initiative that has been pushed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Those groups also have criticized district spending and expenses under Stevenson.

Jeffco has had the state’s largest enrollment for many years, but its student population has been stagnant in recent years as the county population has aged and changed. Jeffco is expected to be passed in enrollment this year by the Denver Public Schools. That stagnant enrollment has created tensions in parts of the district where the administration had considered closing schools.

The district administration also has had a close and collaborative working relationship with the county teachers union, the Jefferson County Education Association. Kerrie Dallman, former head of that group, now is president of the statewide Colorado Education Association.

On Tuesday conservative candidates Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt won three open seats on the board by comfortable margins. All had been endorsed by the county Republican Party, and an independent committee named Believe in Better Schools reported spending $22,804, most of it in support of those three candidates. Spending was on newspaper and social media advertising and on direct mail.

The group received its funding from Jeffco Students First Action, a group that has been critical of district policies but which itself doesn’t have to report its contributors.

The three winners actually were outspent by their opponents, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne and Gordon Van de Water, who were considered to have closer ties to district administration and who were supported by the union. (See this story by EdNews partner for more background on the Jeffco election.)

A former Jeffco board member and prominent Jeffco business leader told EdNews Thursday that he thought the three conservative candidates’ opposition to Amendment 66 also helped them win. That proposed $950 million tax increase for education was defeated with a 64.6 percent no vote statewide and had a 65.3 percent no vote in Jeffco.

Under the formula in A66’s companion legislation, Senate Bill 13-213, Jeffco would have received only a 9.6 percent increase in per-pupil funding, compared to an 11.6 percent average increase statewide, and Jeffco residents would have paid more in increased income taxes than the district would have received in additional funding.

A slate of GOP candidates made a run at Jeffco board seats two years ago but were unsuccessful.

In addition to retaining control in Dougco and gaining it in Jeffco, it appears that conservative candidates now control the Thompson school board and have a strong minority in the Greeley district. But a GOP-endorsed slate was defeated in the Grand Junction-based Mesa 51 district.

Overt partisan involvement in school board races first surfaced in Douglas County four years ago, when a slate of GOP-endorsed candidates took control of the board. That majority since has expanded school choice options in the district, ended the contractual relationship with the county teachers union and approved a voucher program, which currently is being challenged in the courts.