Colorado’s Independence Institute and the local branch of Americans for Prosperity didn’t get anything for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on school board elections in Jeffco and Dougco. The winners in Jeffco fought off the conservative PACs with their own hundreds of thousands of dollars, including PAC money from unions.
But the Dougco winners didn’t take any union money. Their victory is perhaps more remarkable, given the conservative voting bias in the county. The new board members defeated three incumbents, including the board president, with close to 60 percent of the vote.
The real winners in the two districts turn out to be the words “neighborhood” and “public” as adjectives in front of the word “school.”
The new Dougco school board members will try to dump the voucher initiative. Just as important, they can push against the district’s market-based compensation system in which high school math teachers are in a higher pay category than high school English teachers. Picture English teachers grinding their teeth every weekend as they’re reading all those essays.
The Independence Institute still has a toehold in Dougco, as the three new members don’t hold the majority on the seven-member board. The Institute will have to do its influencing without Ben DeGrow, its principal education policy guru, however. He’s moving to Michigan to push his theories at the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
As a school board candidate myself in the Jeffco election, I didn’t know if the recall case against the conservatives was strong enough to carry the day. But voters turned hard against the conservative majority for their perceived anti-public school, anti-teacher policies.
The question in Jeffco is whether the new majority will follow the voters’ will.
Three contested issues are already settled: Brad Miller, the attorney hired by the conservative majority, will lose his contract. (He stepped aside this week.) Charter school equalization is a done deal. The board will not immediately terminate its contract with superintendent Dan McMinimee.
The new directors will need guidance. Two likely counselors are Lesley Dahlkemper, who will leave the board when the new members are sworn in, and Cindy Stevenson, former Jeffco superintendent when Dahlkemper was board president and I was first vice president. Stevenson is now a consultant with the Public Education and Business Coalition.
Dahlkemper was vice president for strategic engagement and communications at the Colorado Education Initiative. PEBC is CEI’s ally. Dahlkemper’s husband, lawyer and former state legislator Mike Feeley, is the registered agent for the Colorado DFERs’ political committee.
CEI, PEBC and DFERs support Common Core, the PARCC tests, charters with in- and out-of-state management, teacher evaluation based on standardized testing, school accountability and comparisons based on testing, pay-for-performance compensation and intensive data mining of student records.
Immediately, the new Jeffco board will have to address its recently negotiated competition-based pay model, its test-based teacher evaluation system and a new contract negotiation. Student data privacy remains an ongoing problem.
Parents and teachers in Jeffco and Dougco walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors to win more time for teaching over testing. They voted for emphasizing collaboration over competition. They voted to strengthen and invest in their neighborhood public schools. If board members don’t act on these commitments, they know what will happen — they’ll get the boot.
Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform. A former member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, she ran unsuccessfully for a seat in this month’s election.