As the rhetoric heats up for the recall election of three Jefferson County Board of Education members, so too does the potential for problems.
And that’s what happened recently with one of the district’s charter schools.
Three conservative board members have been targeted for recall by parents, teachers and the teachers’ union. Those who support the recall claim the three have not acted in the district’s best interest since taking office in January, 2014. The three up for recall are Chair Ken Witt, Vice-Chair Julie Williams and John Newkirk, all Republicans. Should the recall succeed, it could mean as many as five new members on the board, since the other two members, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, both Democrats, are not running for re-election.
Earlier this month, Roberta Harrell, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen, forwarded a letter to the charter school’s parents suggesting that they vote against the recall.
The letter, which was written by academy board president Alan Scheik, III, said if the recall succeeds, it could result in a cut in funding for the district’s charter schools.
The passage in question stated:
FIRST, VOTE in the upcoming JeffCo School RECALL Elections. Understand where our funding comes from, particularly the MILL Levy funding increase that were increased by the current board at JeffCo and keep this in mind on Election Day. Three of the current board members that voted in favor of additional charter school funding to balance out revenue are being recalled and we may be at risk of losing the additional funding we now have in place which could cause setbacks for our financial stability.
The conservative majority on the JeffCo school board voted to equalize funding across all public schools in the district. That meant a huge windfall for the charter schools, which up to that point had been getting about $200 per student. All other schools in the district are getting about $1,400 per student.
However, Harrell used the school’s email system to send out that letter, which also included a link to an article on the conservative news website Complete Colorado.
Using the email system to advocate against the recall is a violation of the school district’s policy. That policy states that staff members may not use district resources to create or forward material that expresses support or opposition for candidates or ballot measures.
Last week, Wendy McCord, a parent in the district and co-founder of Jeffco United for Action, which supports the recall, notified Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee about Harrell’s apparently illegal use of school resources.
In her letter, McCord said Scheik’s letter and the other link “spread misinformation to parents from a credible school district source.” McCord disputed Scheik’s claim that voting for the recall would mean a cut in funding to the charter schools. “[T]he recall effort has never talked about reducing funding,” nor have any of the candidates running to replace the three board members, McCord wrote.
Monday, R. Craig Hess, the district’s attorney and executive director of employee relations, agreed with McCord that Harrell’s use of the email system was a violation of district policy. In a letter to McCord, Hess said the district would address the violation with the staff member but did not say what action would be taken.
Jeffco School District spokesperson Michelle Lyng told The Colorado Independent she could not specifically identify what steps the district would take to correct Harrell, citing personnel confidentiality. However, anytime a policy violation occurs, she said, the district would enact the lowest level response that would prevent further violations. That could range from a letter of counseling, a letter of warning or retraining, all the way up to termination for the most egregious violations.
The recall election will take place November 3, in Jefferson County, in conjunction with the general election.
Photo credit: Got Credit, Creative Commons, Flickr.