Supporters of the effort to recall three Jefferson County Board of Education members cheered Tuesday as they turned in 28 boxes of petitions to the Jefferson County elections division.
The 17-day recall drive brought in more than 110,000 signatures.
Frustrated Jefferson County parents and teachers launched the recall effort on July 8, seeking to collect the required 15,000 signatures per board member. According to Tina Gurdikian of Jeffco United for Action, they collected more than double that, about 37,000 signatures per board member, in 17 days. They had 60 days under state law to collect the signatures.
The recall targets three conservative board members, all elected in 2013: Ken Witt; the board’s current chair; John Newkirk and Julie Williams.
Those who participated in the petition drive say they want the three out because of a lack of transparency, inappropriate comments and actions, and failure to listen to the community.
Shawna Fritzler of Arvada helped collect signatures. She said she did so on behalf of her daughter, Morgan, a 6th-grade student at Hackberry Hill. These board members are not being transparent, they’re not accountable to the community and they’re wasting taxpayer dollars that should go to the children, she said.
“We had a community-budget forum with more than 13,000 comments,” Fritzler said, but instead the board “allocated the dollars the way they wanted.”
The three board members were elected in 2013 with strong majorities, but voter turnout that November was only about 17 percent.
Gurdikian told The Colorado Independent that people are far more aware this time around. “Everyone is paying attention,” she said. “We’ve been building grassroots support for the past two years, with everything this board has been doing and not doing. People are upset, and now they know what’s going on.” To collect 110,000 signatures in just 17 days says volumes about the community awareness, she explained.
Turning in the petitions starts the clock that will determine whether the recall takes place with the November 3rd election, or if the district will have to hold a special election.
The Jefferson County Clerk has 15 business days to review the petitions and deem the signatures sufficient. After that, opponents have 15 days to protest or challenge signatures.
That’s where the cost could go from a low of about $10,000 to more than $500,000. The district will have to cover the costs, whether it’s for the November election or a special election.
According to Jeffco United for Action, which led the petition drive, if even one protest is filed, because of time constraints, there will not be enough time to get the recall onto the November ballot. The recall will instead take place through a special election, resulting in the $500,000 cost.
Gurdikian said she hopes the opponents recognize that there are more than enough signatures to get the issue to the ballot, and not waste taxpayer money by forcing a special election.
The potential recall election will likely pit teachers’ unions, both in Colorado and nationwide, against groups such as Americans for Prosperity, which announced last week it would launch a door-to-door campaign in support of the conservative board members and their agenda.
Once the election is set, candidates who are interested in running for the seats up for recall will have to petition onto the ballot. That will require 50 signatures per candidate, according to Gurdikian. Spokesperson Lynea Hansen said she is aware of at least two or three people per seat who are interested in running.
Reached on Monday, Newkirk told The Independent that he doesn’t have any control over the actions of others. He claimed the petitions were factually inaccurate and urged voters to look at the positives accomplished since he was elected 20 months ago. “The union-supported recall effort gives voters the opportunity to agree or disagree with the priorities” laid out by the board, and if voters prefer the old approach, “I will accept their decision.”
Newkirk said his priorities were to put educational decisions in the hands of the parents and principals rather than district or federal bureaucrats, to reward teachers based on merit and to ensure every child is equitably funded regardless of school.
Witt said he welcomes the opportunity for dialogue about the need to continue to improve public K-12 education, and the board’s accomplishments. Since the conservative board took office, “we have fairly funded education for all of our students,” making it equitable for all neighborhood and charter school students. Witt added that he believes accountability has improved, the district is building a new $18 million school without taking on additional debt and free full-day kindergarten is available to all.
“We heard loudly from voters in the last election that they want improvement in Jeffco education,” Witt added. “We have delivered strong improvements.”
Williams has been the lightning rod for much of the criticism of the board. She proposed the creation of a curriculum review committee that would have looked at changes to the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum. That review called for a curriculum that would promote citizenship, patriotism and the benefits of the free enterprise system, and would discourage civil disorder. But the proposal led to student and teacher walkouts district-wide, and it was later watered down.
Williams also posted a link on her Facebook page to an article that encouraged parents to keep their students home on April 15 to keep them away from “perverse indoctrination” of the “homosexual-bisexual-transgender agenda.” She removed the link after receiving complaints and reportedly claimed she had not read the article before posting it.
As to the recall, Williams told The Independent that “I believe this is an opportunity.” She said she looks forward to engaging with Jeffco voters about the issues.
“This is not about me,” she said. “This is about making sure our Jeffco students receive an excellent education and have bright futures.”
Photo credit: Marianne Goodland.