(Re)Call Me Maybe

Recall effort in Jefferson County has raised $43,000

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jefferson County parents and recall organizers Loreli Bratton and Laura Center prepare recall petitions before a campaign event in Golden.

The organization behind the recall effort of three conservative school board members in Jefferson County has raised nearly half its fundraising goal in just two weeks, according to campaign finance documents.

Jeffco United for Action has raised — in mostly small and local donations — $43,981 of its $100,000 goal. The report, filed with the Secretary of State on Tuesday, signals that there is a committed grassroots effort to change the governing board of Jeffco Public Schools and that suggestions that the effort is entirely bankrolled by the teachers union are inaccurate.

A Chalkbeat analysis of the organizations first filing found that only $675 of the total raised came from outside the state. About one-fifth of the individuals who gave to recall effort listed Jeffco Public Schools as their employer. Slightly more than 90 precent of the 536 donations so far were for $100 or less. And the two largest donations were for $1,000.

One of the individuals who gave a grand to the recall group was former Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

“I’ve seen such demoralization in the district,” Stevenson said. “I consider it a service to the kiddos and staff of Jefferson County to change the governance structure.”

Stevenson served as the district’s superintendent for a dozen years. She announced her retirement shortly after the board majority, which ran on a platform to challenge the district’s status quo, was elected. She then left her post early citing a poor working relationship with the school board’s new members.

Data Center
Find out who gave in the first fundraising push to support the recall effort here.

During the reporting period, Jeffco United for Action spent $5,159. Most of the organization’s expenditures thus far have been on fees for its online fundraising site.

By comparison, the political committee that supported the school board majority, Believe in Better Schools, spent slightly more than $22,000 to get Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk elected in 2013, according to campaign finance reports.

Jeffco United for Action is a political 527 group. That means it can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on the recall effort.

The same group of individuals has also established a nonprofit organization that can also raise an unlimited amount of money. But that money can only be used to “educate” the public about issues — not directly campaign. Unlike the 527 committee, the nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors.

So far, neither the nonprofit branch of the recall effort, which paid for a direct-mail campaign last month, nor the Jefferson County teachers union has made a contribution to the 527 group. That sort of funneling of cash between nonprofits with 501(c)(4) tax status and political committees has become the status quo in elections.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit behind the political committee that supported Witt, Williams, and Newkirk is also actively seeking donations to raise awareness about what they consider positive steps for the suburban school district under the board majority.

“I think it’s incredibly unfair that [Jeffco United] is doing this,” said Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, in an interview earlier this month. “I want to be sure that the parents who voted for this board have a voice.”

Atwell said her organization is taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether to launch another political committee to directly support candidates this fall.

Backers of the recall, which kicked off with a campaign at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, have until Sept. 8 to collect 15,000 signatures per board member they wish to recall. Organizers want to be on the regular-November ballot and not force a costly special election are pushing to get enough signatures by the end of July. They believe if the recall effort can collect enough signatures by the end of the month, there is a strong likelihood that will happen. However, there is no guarantee the recall will be part of the general election.

getting to know you

New Jeffco superintendent has more questions than answers in tour of district

New Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

New Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass introduced himself to the community Monday with an eight-site swing through the sprawling district, asking the same three questions of community members at every stop.

At a late afternoon visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver in Lakewood, the former Eagle County schools chief asked more than 50 residents, parents and teachers for feedback on what the 86,000-student district should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

That was in keeping with what Glass promised this spring when he was tapped to succeed Dan McMinimee, who had led Jeffco since 2013. Even before officially starting, Glass met with staff and visited schools. He told Chalkbeat in May he would not start with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said in the spring. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

In Lakewood, much of the hourlong discussion evolved around expanding community partnerships and supporting students with diverse needs, which Glass said were common themes he heard throughout Monday. Glass has said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs.

“We only have so much energy, time, resources to spend, and we want to make sure that those are pointed toward the real concerns — issues and vision for the community,” he said in an interview. “We only can get to that by talking to people and finding out what that really is.”

No labels

How Jeffco’s pick for superintendent changed his mind about education reform

Jason Glass, the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, toured Arvada High School last week. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

When Jason Glass was recruited to oversee more than 300 Iowa school districts as the state’s director of education, he was known for his work in Colorado’s Eagle County tying teacher pay to student performance.

The Republican governor who appointed Glass in Iowa called him a “reform-minded leader” and put him to work to explore similar models for Iowa’s teachers.

Over time, both while in Iowa and after returning to serve as superintendent of Eagle County Schools, Glass changed some of his thoughts on education reform. He said it happened while he was looking at education systems around the world and found that many of the popular reforms in the U.S. “were not a strong ingredient” in other systems around the world. Addressing student needs was, he said.

“Unless you’re doing something to impact poverty, you’re really not changing outcomes,” Glass said. “It changed my focus.”

Glass’s views are front and center as he is set to take on a more prominent role as the next superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Pending contract negotiations and a final vote Tuesday night, he will begin the role July 1.

Glass was the sole finalist of a school board that won election with support from a coalition that included well-connected parents and the teachers union.

In Eagle County, Glass is admired by the local union. He said he no longer believes in performance pay for teachers, but advocates for other ways to pay teachers other than under traditional models. He’s been critical of testing in Colorado. He believes charter schools should meet high bars, including showing quality in instruction.

“I’m most interested in getting something done,” Glass said. “That can take on different forms.”

Jeffco board members who picked Glass as sole finalist for the job praised his ability to work with different people, his work on rolling out a biliteracy seal in his district to encourage bilingual students and for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s master plan.

The Jeffco board launched a national search earlier this spring to find a new leader.

The last superintendent, Dan McMinimee, was hired by a previous school board in a majority decision by three conservative board members who were later recalled. Three of the five current school board members are up for re-election this November.

“I really admire this board,” Glass said. “It took a lot of courage for them to run.”

Even before officially starting, Glass has been meeting groups of staff and visiting schools. On Thursday, he visited Arvada High School, where two students gave him a tour of the school and told him about the programs they say make their school great.

Glass was quiet, mostly listening to the students and asking occasional questions.

He said he won’t start work in Jeffco with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

He said he will consider whether Jeffco could offer a biliteracy seal — a credential given to graduating students who meet requirements to prove they are fluent in two languages.

Talking about his views on budget issues facing most Colorado districts, Glass said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs — services that cash-strapped districts often have to cut.

Glass said it is clear the district needs someone to unite the community.

“It’s a place that needs a strong leader, a relationship-builder,” Glass said. “Those are skill sets that I have and areas that I’ve been successful in.”

His job application highlighted that voters in Eagle County in November approved a tax increase for the district. Jeffco failed to pass two tax increase measures in November.

Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, agrees that Glass has learned to work well with various groups.

Edwards said that when Glass started in Iowa and was working to create a statewide model of teacher pay and to create new academic standards, the hundreds of school districts used to having local control were skeptical.

“There was initially quite a bit of resistance,” Edwards said. “He worked through a lot of it. It was not an easy sell.”

Now people describe Glass as a supporter of teachers.

When he returned to Colorado after working in Iowa, Glass negotiated a contract with the school district that tied his own pay raises to teacher pay raises. It was something important to the community at the time, Glass said, because they worried about a previous leader that took pay raises while teacher salaries lagged.

Glass also rolled back the performance-pay model that he helped create as the district’s director of human resources. Now, teacher pay is more traditional but with some added performance bonuses.

“He is very supportive of what we do,” said Megan Orvis, president of the Eagle County Education Association.