Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich on multiple occasions used the words and work of others in filling out a Chalkbeat Colorado election questionnaire without crediting the sources.

Portions of the southeast Denver education activist’s answers were nearly identical matches to passages from a blog post from education historian and writer Diane Ravitch, a prepared statement from a national union leader and an opinion piece by another DPS board candidate.

In an interview, Butkovich said she didn’t see a problem with “using someone else’s wording to get a point across” and doesn’t consider it plagiarism. Later, she sent a statement taking “full responsibility for not attributing the professionals for the work I respect and commend.”

“It is my writing style to quote the experts,” Butkovich wrote. “I know I cited several sources. In my haste to send in the questionnaire (it was already one day late), I should have asked someone to proof it before I hit submit. It was never my intention not to credit the appropriate author.”

Chalkbeat identified the passages in question — seven in all — while preparing the DPS board candidates’ responses for publication. In replies to the 10-question survey sent Sept. 24, Butkovich did include attribution in two instances in quoting extensively from Ravitch and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Among the instances in which Butkovich did not cite source material, and the sources:

Butkovich response:

Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.” 

From May 2013 blog post from Ravitch:

“Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.”

Butkovich response:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, kids thrive.” 

From American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a 2015 press release, quoted in The Huffington Post:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive.” 

Butkovich response:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

From Denver Post June 27 guest opinion piece co-written by DPS board District 5 candidate Michael Kiley:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

Chalkbeat reviews of the other five DPS candidates’ replies using the same search methods turned up nothing similar.

In an interview Thursday, Butkovich said she has a network of people providing information for her to use in her campaign.

Kristi Butkovich
Kristi Butkovich

“I don’t think it’s problematic because those of us that are speaking publicly on this topic area are all using the same language. We are trying to get the same message across,” she said. “ …. This has not just come up in education but it has come up with other issues. Immigration, the gun laws. That language that has been expertly written that clearly gets the message across is used over and over again by other people so that we all are speaking the same language.”

She cited other circumstances, too, including the length of the questionnaire, its timing during “the busiest time of the campaign” and that she lost her original replies because of a computer issue and had to start over after the deadline had passed.

When told that Butkovich had used his work, Kiley, who is running for an open DPS board seat in northwest Denver, said that if he were to quote someone, he would follow “the established protocol.” He said he isn’t sure what that would be in this case.

“I think everyone when they write should follow generally accepted practices about that — and if you don’t, it’s a mistake,” said Kiley, who like Butkovich opposes the district’s direction under the current board majority. “In the heat of a political battle, mistakes are made. And I have made them, too.”

Butkovich in her responses also used large sections of a piece published by Angela Engel, a local author and former teacher, without citation. Engel said she is volunteering help to the campaign and gave Butkovich permission to use any of her language or work.

“This is a David vs. Goliath issue,” Engel said in an email. “Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position, her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director. She is not a journalist and she is not trying to get something published for profit, she’s relying on experts and trying to answer the questions as best she can.”

Elizabeth Skewes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, reviewed Chalkbeat’s findings and said she considers it a case of “significant plagiarism.”

“If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought,” Skewes said.

“I understand it’s not running for the presidency,” she said. “But it’s not that hard to stop and think, ‘What do I really think about this?’ Even running for school board, you have to step back and ask, ‘How does this come together for me?’ … If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

Skewes said attitudes about plagiarism vary depending on the context. While the realms of academics and journalism have their own standards, interpretations are looser in politics, where ghostwriting and talking points penned by staff are the norm, she said.

Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, is taking on incumbent Anne Rowe for the seat representing southeast Denver. Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input and criticizes the district for a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education.

The questionnaire material flagged by Chalkbeat — which accounted for nearly 20 percent of Butkovich’s overall responses — has been removed from her responses published Friday as part of a 2015 Election page.

You can read the responses that were removed — and citations of the original source material and online links  — here: