Follow the money

Denver-based libertarian group adds $75,000 to fight Jefferson County school board recall

PHOTO: YouTube/IIonKBDI
Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, interviewed Jefferson County school board president and recall target Ken Witt, left, on his CPT12 television show "Devil's Advocate."

Big money continues to pour into the fight over who controls Jefferson County classrooms, new campaign finance records show.

Since the recall effort was launched in June, an estimated $1 million has been raised by groups on both sides of the fight.

The latest round of reports filed with the Secretary of State — which covers a small window of Oct. 16-22 — continues to show supporters of the recall have the edge in reported donations. But a new contribution to the committee opposing the recall has narrowed that gap slightly.

Colorado Independent Action, a nonprofit linked to the libertarian think tank The Independence Institute, contributed $75,000 to Kids Are First Jeffco, the political committee that opposes the recall of the three conservative school board members, in the latest filing period.

The donation from Independent Action to Kids Are First Jeffco was the single largest donation during the reporting period. Reports from campaigns and committees involved in the Jefferson County school board recall were due at midnight Tuesday.

Kids Are First Jeffco spent all $75,000 on advertising with a Denver-based company called Colorado Media Group, according to records.

Data Center | Track contributions to players in the Jefferson County school board recall election and see how much everyone has raised in spent since June here.

While donations to recall supporters slowed down during the latest reporting period, the groups still holds an edge in total reported contributions.

Jeffco United for Action, the organization that initiated the recall, reported raising $3,110 in the period. It spent $23,997, mostly on advertising.

Jeffco United Forward, the committee that is backing a slate of candidates to reset the entire board, raised $630 in non-itemized contributions. Tapping into money it had previously raised, it spent $9,980, mostly with the consulting firm Strategies 360.

Contributions to recall targets and the candidates seeking to replace them were more mixed.

Recall targets continued to raised little campaign funds on their own. Jeffco school board president Ken Witt raised $575. John Newkirk raised $1,345. Julie Williams didn’t report any new contributions.

By contrast, members of the so-called Clean Slate who are seeking to replace the conservative school board majority raised and spent impressive sums. Ron Mitchell raised $10,783. Brad Rupert recorded $14,198 in contributions. And Susan Harmon added $5,515 to her war chest.

Big contributors to their campaigns include the county’s teachers union’s small donor committee and a rancher from Boulder, John Powers, who has given generously to Democrats in the past, according to records.

The union’s small donor committee donated $9,000 to Rupert and $6,000 to Mitchell during the seven-day reporting period. During the same time, Powers donated $4,000 to Harmon and $3,500 to Mitchell.

The three candidates, who are also backed by recall supporters, continued to spend thousands of dollars on advertising with Mad Dog Mail, a Democratic marketing company in Florida.

Other candidates in the recall election raised considerably less money — if any.

Regan Benson raised $200, according to records. Neither Paula Noonan nor Matt Dhieux recorded any new contributions.

The final reporting deadline for committees in the recall election is Dec. 3.

Candidates and committees involved in the regular election that features two school board seats in the state’s second largest school district are due at midnight Friday.

The total amount spent on the recall will never be known because organizations like the Colorado Independent Action and Americans For Prosperity, which supports the school board majority’s policies, aren’t required to file with the secretary of state so long as they don’t expressly advocate for or against particular candidates.

Recall supporters have a nonprofit of their own that is not required to disclose its donors. That nonprofit, Jeffco United made an early donation of about $90,000 to the recall effort.

planning ahead

New superintendent’s vision for Jeffco: It’s not just what happens in school that matters

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

In a vision document meant to guide Jeffco Public Schools for the next several years, Superintendent Jason Glass is underscoring the importance of boosting student learning by addressing issues that reach beyond the classroom.

Glass took the top job in the state’s second largest school district this summer. The new vision document, released Wednesday, has a strong focus on equity, improving students’ learning experiences and working with outside groups to help create “a Jeffco where no child suffers from hunger, preventable illness, lack of dental care or lack of mental health supports.”

Though the plan draws on previous district planning documents, it is more specific in parts and carries a strong emphasis on addressing out-of-school issues, a big emphasis of Glass’s since before he assumed the role.

“This was not intended as some jarring change,” Glass said in an interview. “But I think it provides greater clarity.”

The structure of the plan divides the work into learning, conditions for learning and readiness for learning. The first two sections focus on work happening inside schools, while the third section points to “decades of education research which confirms that the biggest indicators of student success are related to out-of-school factors and the student’s environment. ”

Some of the work under the readiness for learning section — such as expanding social and emotional support and parent and community engagement — is not new. But using schools as “community hubs,” and having a section on expanding early childhood education is new compared to the existing Jeffco Vision 2020 authored by former superintendent Dan McMinimee.

The two vision documents share similarities.

Both suggest the use of so-called “multiple pathways” to offer students a variety of ways to learn and reach graduation. But Glass gets more specific, mentioning apprenticeships, internships and partnerships with community colleges to increase early college credit options.

Both documents also mention the need to incorporate technology for student learning and the need to hire and retain high quality educators. Glass goes further by suggesting the district must commit to paying teachers and staff “a fair, livable and reasonable wage.”

Glass’s vision also notes that the district must find a balance between giving schools flexibility and having district-wide direction. Several metro-area districts have been moving for years to give school leaders more autonomy to make decisions, especially through innovation status.

In an interview Tuesday, Glass said that flexibility in Jeffco schools already exists, and that he would allow principals to keep flexibility in hiring and budgeting. But, he said he’ll have to evaluate whether more or less flexibility is better, saying, “both or neither” are possible.

But in keeping with a new value he’s adding in the document for having an entrepreneurial spirit he adds that innovative thinking toward the same district goals, will be encouraged.

“So long as there is a north star we’re all looking toward,” Glass said.

The former vision document included a strategic plan that laid out a rubric with goals, such as having all students completing algebra by the end of ninth grade by 2017. Other metrics were not as detailed, only pointing to certain reports, like attendance or discipline reports, to look for progress.

The Jeffco district will contract with a consultant, Deliver-Ed, that will evaluate the district’s ability to execute the new vision plan.

The group is then expected to provide some recommendations and help the district create a more detailed strategic plan with clear performance metrics and ideas for how the budget will affect the district’s work. Glass said he expects the detailed action plan to be completed by March or April.

Asked whether the plan is also meant to lay out the need for more local funding through a future ballot measure, Glass said that work is separate. He said the work laid out in the vision plan will happen regardless of more or less funding.

“We’re going to take whatever resources we have, at whatever level, and we’re going to execute what’s in this plan,” Glass said.

Glass has toured the district holding public meetings to gather input for the document. Now that it is created, the components of the vision plan must still be vetted by the community, Glass said.

It will start with Glass hosting a Facebook live event at 11 a.m. to discuss the vision document.

different voices

Jeffco superintendent extends listening tour through event targeting multilingual community

Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass talks to community members at Arvada K-8 during a Many Voices event. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

In an extension of his district tour, new Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass on Monday answered questions about biliteracy, equity gaps and school financing in the first of three “many voices” events.

The events are meant to give the multilingual and non English-speaking community an opportunity to speak out on issues. About 35 people showed at the auditorium at Arvada K-8 Monday, including a handful who listened to Glass through a translator on a headset.

Glass said he heard more questions about equity and language issues than he had on previous stops on his tour to get acquainted with different parts of the sprawling, 86,000-student district. Roughly 10.5 percent of Jeffco residents speak a language other than English at home, according to Census data.

When Glass was hired, and as he moved into the position, he said he would make equity issues a priority. He often talks about disparities in Jeffco school buildings, with some in desperate need of updates and others that are “fantastic” — and did again Monday.

He also answered a question — familiar to many Colorado superintendents — about why marijuana tax revenues aren’t helping with significant building needs.

One man asked if Glass was interested in offering Jeffco students a biliteracy seal, an endorsement that proves graduates have mastered two languages. Glass, as leader of Eagle County schools, helped that district become one of the first in the state to offer the seal.

“I think it has a positive aspect, just cognitively,” Glass said. “And I think it’s a huge advantage when kids go out into the workforce. I think we should move this forward.”

Glass also mentioned he’s looking into different ways schools might address students’ differing needs. He cited community school models, which bring in community organizations to help provide health care and other services to students and student-based budgeting, which involves allocating more or less money to certain students depending on need, following them to whichever school they attend. But Glass said the key is not to lower expectations.

When a woman asked what he’s noticed visiting Jeffco schools, Glass said he’s seen a lot of hard work and professional talent. But he said he has also seen a lot of worksheets.

He told the group he’d like to see better student engagement through more hands-on learning.

A mom of a kindergartener told Glass she wanted more school communication to know what her student is learning and how well he is doing. Glass agreed.

“That needs to be a priority for us is how we view our partnership with our parents,” Glass said.

At the end of the event, Glass noted similarities in the hour-long discussion and previous ones he hosted.

“The thing that we keep coming back to, that can unite us, is the student experience,” Glass said.

Glass said that although many things can be done in different ways, if student experience doesn’t change, reforms won’t make much of an impact.

The next two multilingual events are scheduled for: 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2 at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School and 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 10 at Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.