Dan The Man

In split vote, Jeffco board hires new superintendent

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.

Update at 9:45 p.m.:

GOLDEN — Dan McMinimee’s welcome wagon traveled a bumpy road to the Jefferson County school district’s headquarters here Tuesday night.

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night voted, 3-2, to hire McMinimee as its next superintendent, despite an overwhelming outcry of concern from rowdy community members in the audience.

McMinimee sat stoic in the front row of a packed board room as his neighbors, potential employees and employers raised questions about his credentials and whether he was worth the $280,000 salary advertised.

“A lot of interesting things we saw tonight, I guess,” McMinimee said after the meeting adjourned.

The crowd behind him chanted “stand up for kids,” a rallying cry of sorts for the Jeffco teachers union and its supporters.

The board and McMinimee must still finalize ​specific terms of the ​contract. The board is expected to vote on a final contract at its June 5 meeting.The vote came after about an hour of public comment and several rounds of amendments — ​”friendly”​ and otherwise — from board members on the terms of McMinimee’s contract. None of the amendments — which included limiting the contract to one year, lowering the base salary, and including specific performance goals — were adopted.

​Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against hiring McMinimee. However, Dahlkemper publicly pledged to work professionally with “whomever the board majority hires.”

Twenty-two individuals and groups spoke on McMinimee’s status as the sole finalist for the superintendent position, which has been open since February.

Five spoke in favor of the board hiring McMinimee, including a Dougco employee, Tom Lawson.

“Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers,” Lawson said.

The rest generally opposed McMinimee’s hiring, or at least requested the board put a hold on hiring McMinimee until after the community could vet more public finalists.

“From the nationwide search, why only one finalist?” asked Craig Middleton, a Jeffco parent. “How many other candidates were interviewed for this position, or were there no others? Or did the other candidates politely decline when you explained they would have no voice in their position.”

A staff presentation after public comment noted that the board, in an earlier executive session, interviewed five candidates.

Original post

The $280,000 question tonight before the Jeffco Public Schools isn’t whether Dan McMinimee will be the suburban school district’s new leader — with the apparent blessing of the board’s three-member majority, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Instead, the question is whether his appointment will be unanimous, as so many hoped it would be, or split along ideological lines, as so many recent votes taken by the Board of Education have been.

McMinimee is the sole finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the end of February. His nomination, which came after a three month search that cost the district $40,000, was made on 3-2 vote.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who opposed naming McMinimee as the sole finalist (they wanted to see more options made public), are keeping their votes close to their chest.

Both board members, who were strong supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, have pledged to keep an open mind on McMinimee.

“I’m not prepared to say [how I’ll vote],” Dahlkemper said last week.

Stevenson’s tumultuous exit in February was a flashpoint in recent struggles between the board’s conservative majority and some Jeffco constituencies.

A unanimous nod from the board would go a long way in repairing relations not just among the board members, but also for the community, insiders and observers said.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” said Bill Newman of the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., throughout the search process.

Even though McMinimee’s resume — which includes stints as a teacher, coach, principal, and central office administrator — meets much of the criteria members of the Jeffco community wanted, his ability to unite the district is in question because of his tenure in the nearby school district Douglas County.

Dougco’s decidedly conservative board and its reforms have made headlines throughout Colorado. And critics of those reforms are wary the Jeffco board majority is laying the groundwork to take similar steps.

Jefferson County has had no shortage of anxiety since the November election when the board’s current majority — board president Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — was elected by wide margins. Critics of the board’s majority worry their platform of expanding school choice, linking teacher pay to student test scores, and beefing up funds for charter schools, are unnecessary reform tactics influenced by a larger conservative agenda.

Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School —  with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board's minority.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School — with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board’s minority.

Douglas County, where McMinimee has worked for the last 12 years, has already put into place many of those strategies. The board ended its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union and put into place a voucher program that would have allowed some students to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.

McMinimee represented the board in 2012 during contract negotiations that ended in a stalemate. And the legality of the district’s voucher plan, which never went into effect, is expected to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court this summer.

The finalist has said both publicly and during the interview process that he’ll work to unite the board and community by spending “quality time” with each board member and by touring the district that spreads from the Littleton to Westminster and from Lakewood to Evergreen.

But McMinimee’s bonhomie and rhetoric have not seemed to sway some skeptics.

More than 3,000 individuals signed a Change.org petition during the Memorial Day weekend asking the board to ditch McMinimee and revisit the application pool. And emails opposing McMinimee’s appointment addressed to Jeffco board members and copied to members of the media have trickled into email inboxes since he was named as the sole finalist.

“Please go back to the drawing board,” wrote Jim Earley, a Jeffco parent, in a Saturday email to board members provided to Chalkbeat. “Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for superintendent to present to the community.”

Besides the Dougco connection, Earley said in his email, McMinimee’s lack of experience leading a large district (Jeffco has nearly 85,000 students) and some details of his contract were unacceptable.

A draft of McMinimee’s contract was released last week after a flurry of emails from parents and teachers requested a preview.

According to the draft, which is still subject to further negotiations and a separate June 5 vote, McMinimee will be paid $280,000 a year for five years. That’s about $80,000 more in base-pay than Stevenson, the district’s last superintendent. Stevenson was eligible for $30,000 in bonuses but had to pay for her own expenses, while the draft contract for McMinimee does not outline any performance-based bonuses and he will be reimbursed for some expenses.

If approved, McMinimee’s base salary will also be more than New York City School’s chancellor Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 per year, and Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett, who earns $250,000 per year.

Previously, all members of the board agreed to the increase in base salary during the recruitment process.

But board member Fellman said, in retrospect, the board might not have had all the information needed to when it agreed to increase the base salary for the position.

“Right now, I’m more critical of the process than of Mr. McMinimee,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The board’s discussion and vote will follow 45 minutes of public comment, which is expected to begin after 6:30 p.m. More than 60 peopled have signed up to address the board. Departing from standard procedure that has allowed some board meetings to go on for hours, individuals will have only two minutes to speak while groups will have five minutes.

Decision day

Unity prevails: Jeffco incumbents easily beat back challengers

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Meredith Van Deman signs the back of her 2014 mail-in ballot outside the Columbine Library in Littleton before turning it in.

The status quo has held in Jeffco Public Schools.

Two incumbents facing opposition easily defeated two challengers, ensuring that the governing board of the state’s second largest school district will remain united 5-0.

In District 1, incumbent Brad Rupert won by 20 percentage points over against Matt Van Gieson, a parent and former president of the parent teacher organization at a Jeffco charter school, Golden View Classical Academy.

In District 2, incumbent Susan Harmon claimed a similar margin over Erica Shields, a conservative Jeffco parent.

Current board president Ron Mitchell ran unopposed. The other two seats are not up for a vote this election.

The current board, supported in large part by the teachers union, was elected in 2015. That election, voters recalled three conservative board members and voted in five new members who have since hired a new superintendent, signed an extended contract with the teachers union, given some pay raises and voted to close an elementary school.

The school board incumbents raised considerably more money than the challengers, including thousands of dollars from the teachers union.

 

Keeping the peace

Jeffco voters to decide whether school board will remain united or include dissenting voices

Students at Edgewater Elementary School in Jefferson County work on iPads during class.

With little controversy, no national media attention and control of the school board not at stake, this fall’s school board race in Jefferson County has centered on whether a board that is consistently united could use a dissenting voice.

Three of the five board of education seats are up for grabs, but only two of the incumbents have challengers — a single one in each race.

A win by the two challengers, both conservatives who oppose much of what the current board has done, would not change many of the votes or direction of the school district, but it could change the conversations. Some voters now say they are weighing whether to vote to keep the stability of the current board, which often vote unanimously, or whether more diversity of thought is needed. One question is whether different voices would repeat the drama of the previous, split, school board that saw conservative members ousted in a recall election.

“Everyone in Jeffco wants us to commit to maintaining civility,” said Ron Mitchell, the board president, who is the member running unopposed. “I don’t see that changing.”

Some who support the current board say even one dissenting voice could slow down progress, distract from the current work or create doubt in voters if the district asks for a tax increase soon.

“I believe that even one or two detractors on the board will stagnate progress,” said Jeffco parent Kelly Johnson, who helped recall previous board members. “Our district has already paid too much in lost opportunities with the chaos of the past.”

Erica Shields and Matt Van Gieson, the two challengers, say they want to work with the current board.

“We are not there to disrupt,” Shields said. “We are not about that. We don’t want to return to the old type of board mentality. We want to make things better.”

The incumbents have a huge money advantage.

Those current members running for re-election — Mitchell, Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert — supported by the teachers union, have raised large amounts of money as of the last finance reports filed two weeks ago. The two in the contested race each had more than $40,000 raised, compared to about $3,200 raised by Shields and $2,300 raised by Van Gieson.

Mailers and yard signs for the incumbents advocate for all three together.

Since their election two years ago, the current board members have hired a new superintendent in Jason Glass, approved an extended contract with teachers union, given teachers a pay raise and advocated for better school funding.

Opponents Shields and Van Gieson say, recent events pushed them to consider running for school board independently, but now both also are running together, asking for voters to support them as a team.

Shields said she is running after realizing the work she does as a volunteer helping homeless people doesn’t address the root causes of the problem, which she now sees as a lack of good education opportunities for everyone.

Van Gieson, said that he hears too often from people who feel they no longer have a voice on the current school board. He said he official decided he wanted to run after a spring board meeting in which several community members asked the board not to close their schools.

School closures have not been a major issue for voters, most say, because Glass has said he would pause any school closure recommendations until district officials can create a better system for evaluating if a school should close.

Instead, campaign messages and questions at forums have centered on typical political divisions such the sources of campaign contributions, the support of teachers and positions on charter schools or private school vouchers.

“Sometimes I think there are issues created by others that are really just divisive wedges,” Mitchell said. “For example, charter schools. Every year we seem to try to drive the charter school wedge into the election.”

Mitchell said the current board is not against charters schools. In previous board discussions, Jeffco board members have expressed a desire for more authority to decide if a charter application is good enough for Jeffco, instead of just legally meeting its requirements to open.

Van Gieson, who is on the parent-teacher organization of a charter school in Jeffco, said he thinks charter schools are treated differently in Jeffco, and if elected, wants to help all schools have similar accountability.

“Where a charter school has to come in front of the board and answer for lower achievement, it would be beneficial to do the same things for neighborhood schools,” Van Gieson said.

The campaign also has included an increased focused on equity.

Joel Newton, founder of the local nonprofit Edgewater Collective, joined Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children to hosted, for the first time, a forum just for discussions on the needs of diverse learners. In previous years, the Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children has hosted a similar forum alone.

“I don’t think that was part of the conversation in the past,” Newton said. “The interesting thing now is both sides have a piece of the puzzle. One side talks about school choice…the other side makes the argument that poverty is the real issue.”

Glass, the superintendent, has emphasized the importance of the school district working with community partners to tackle poverty and other out-of-school factors that impact learning.

Tony Leffert, a Jeffco parent who lives in Golden and supports the new superintendent, said the issue on his mind is keeping the current board on track. He said adding a dissenting voice to the board, could set up a possibility for the minority opinion to take control of the board in two years.

“Given the last school board election that we had, every school board election is important in Jeffco going forward,” Leffert said. “We do not want a repeat of that again.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that a forum on the needs of diverse learners, which was hosted for the first time with the Edgewater Collective, has been hosted in the past by Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children.