No Official Voting at Study Session but Plenty of (Wink-Wink, Nod-Nod) Opinion Votes

2015_09_13_backroom_dealsThe Jeffco school board is not supposed to vote at study sessions unless they have previously notified the community that there is a critical issue which will require a vote. What we saw at the Tuesday night’s board meeting certainly looked like voting to us.

The first “non-vote” vote came when Superintendent McMinimee asked the board to provide direction on whether the district should move 6th graders into middle school everywhere except Alameda, Jefferson, and D’Evelyn. Board President Ron Mitchell reminded the board they wouldn’t vote but they would each individually answer the question. Each board member proceeded to share why they supported K-5 elementary schools with the move of 6th graders to middle schools. The Superintendent took that as permission to proceed with the facility plan, moving 6th graders to middle schools. There was no conversation about how any of this will improve student achievement. Nor was there any recognition of how difficult it might be for those families who stay in a K-6 school to opt into a 7th grade at the middle school of their choice. Again, how these were not official votes is beyond us.

Alameda Area

The next non-vote came in whether to close Patterson and Kendrick Lakes and build a supersized school on the Kendrick Lakes’ property, or whether to do deferred maintenance at Patterson and build a replacement school on the Kendrick Lakes’ site. Each board member again weighed-in, preferring not to close both schools and build a super-sized school. Instead, they determined (again not with votes), that there should be a new 576 student school built on the Kendrick Lakes’ site and that Patterson would get deferred maintenance.

Arvada Area

In the Arvada area, new to the plan is moving all 6th graders in Arvada to middle school. That’s right, those parents west of Wadsworth who didn’t know they should be paying attention to this process because there were no changes suggested for their schools, should have been attentive. Since there was no input from those parents, the board did their non-voting vote and directed to move all 6th graders to middle school. There is one exception; Mr. Rupert suggested that Foster elementary keep 6th grade in support of the dual language program. The board also nodded to building an auxiliary gym and turf field at Arvada high school. Arvada K-8 will be getting 6 classrooms and Foster will get 4 new classrooms.

Arvada West

The non-voting vote for the Arvada West area was not to close Allendale and Campbell. Instead, the board did their non-voting vote to do major renovations at Campbell elementary and deferred maintenance at Allendale. They also directed a new school be built as a K-5 at Table Rock or Lyden Rock site as phase one of the bond. Drake will be getting 16 additional classrooms. No…there was no vote on going for a bond either (wink-wink, nod-nod).

Bear Creek

In the Bear Creek area the board directed staff to add the cost of replacing Green Gables elementary instead of doing deferred maintenance.


There was no conversation about boundary changes (sorry Stoney Creek families, no decisions for you yet.) The board directed artificial turf be put in at Chatfield High School.


Columbine will also get an auxiliary gym and turf field. Ken Caryl will get 12 new classrooms to add 6th graders (no, there was no conversation about what the costs would be, but the non-vote approval happened anyway.)


The high school, middle school and Elk Creek elementary will all get turf fields. Marshdale will be torn down and rebuilt.

Dakota Ridge

The high school will get a turf field and 12 classrooms will be built at Summit Ridge middle school. Four classrooms will be added to Powderhorn. Again, there were no boundary change discussions.


A new item was added to the facility plan in the Evergreen area. You might remember recall leader Wendy McCord was at the Conifer facility meeting and was very upset that the elementary school her children attend was not getting any upgrades. This new plan now has a four classroom addition at Parmalee. Can anyone say “thank you payback”? And as in the original plan, Wilmot phase two was approved as was Evergreen Middle School updates despite a single digit FCI.


Bell Middle school will get four new classrooms to support the move of 6th graders. Pleasant View will stay open!

Green Mountain

Dunstan will get 8 new classrooms. Green Mountain High school will get needed updates.


Lumberg, and Molholm will all get 8 additional classrooms, with Edgewater getting a new preschool wing and an architect is developing a plan for the high school.


The board decided not to close Glennon Heights and will consider a boundary change to have more kids home schooled to Glennon Heights. 8 new classrooms will be added to Creighton Middle School, and Eiber will get 6 new classrooms.


The high school will get a new gym, weight room and turf field. Parr and Little will stay open and a new larger school will built on the Parr site.

Ralston Valley

The high school will get 10 new classrooms, bringing its capacity to over 2000 students. Oberon gets 8 new classrooms, and the brand new Candelas school will also get 8 additional classrooms.

Standley Lake

The high school gets a new gym and turf field.

Wheat Ridge

The high school and middle school get an upgrade. Kullerstrand and Prospect Valley stay open, and a new 576 building will be built on the Prospect Valley site. Stober and Vivian also stay open with major renovations to be done at Stober, and deferred maintenance happening at Vivian. The board will also get a price for building a 576 student school on the Stober site. Maple Grove will get four new classrooms.

Option Schools

Manning will get four new classrooms to be able to take 6th graders. The Long View decision was deferred to the fall and board president Ron Mitchell suggested maybe Long View and Brady could be consolidated.

Other thoughts

There was lots of conversation throughout the evening about helping schools that have high choice out populations get those students back. There was no recognition that in an environment of declining enrollment, if those students moved back to their neighborhood school, there would be other schools that are significantly under enrolled.

In each conversation where a title one school was on the chopping block to be closed, the board said over and over that they had not heard from the community. We wonder what more the board should have done to get the word out in the most at risk communities?

In addition, there was no conversation about how many buildings could have gotten investments if the board had allocated the $420 million across all schools. With $520 million dollars in facilities deficiencies, the money could have been allocated to upgrade nearly all of the buildings in the district instead of adding capacity with a declining enrollment.

Again, the board’s non-votes gave staff direction. On Thursday evening June 16th, the board will be voting and WILL BE TAKING PUBLIC COMMENT. So if you’d like to give the board your opinion sign up to speak.

New Board’s Dirty Politics: Secret Meetings and Secret Votes

tsJeffco board president Ron Mitchell suggested the school board use secret ballots to select the members of the board advisory committees. His suggestion for how the board should make these critical appointments is in line with the new board’s decision to eliminate public comment from study sessions at which votes will take place, the secret meetings that board members are having regarding facilities, and their decision to acquire debt without asking taxpayers.

Mr. Mitchell was attempting to avoid having public conversations about which of the 26 applicants to select for the board advisory committee. The board advisory committee is designed to provide parent and community input into both improving student achievement and budget allocations. The board needed to appoint a handful of new members to the committee and board members were discussing the process they would use. Each applicant had to fill out an application and answer a series of questions including “Why are you applying?” and “What skills and background do you have?” The answers to those questions were available to the board and to the community and yet Mr. Mitchell wanted a secret vote instead.

Mr. Rupert wisely checked with the attorney for the school district, who told the board they should vote in public. Mr. Mitchell then said he would like to hold a lottery to make the selection of who would fill the slots on the accountability committee, and that he would not do that at the board table. How in the world does Mr. Mitchell think this new clean slate board is honoring their commitment to the community to be transparent?

The board eventually followed the advice of legal counsel and had a discussion about which of the 26 applicants they wanted to fill the handful of slots available on the accountability committee. The choices quickly devolved into a popularity contest. Great candidates like former Senator Evie Hudak, who helped craft the state accountability law and has trained parents and community members around the state, were passed over for those folks who led the recall effort. Placed on the committee were Margaret Lessenger, who was a prolific publisher of recall dribble, and Al Rodriguez, who initially announced he was going to run for the school board in 2013 and then dropped out just as he resigned from the diversity committee.

The board followed their trend of rewarding friends who led the recall effort by appointing Shawna Fritzler to the teacher performance evaluation committee, otherwise known as the 1338 committee. Ms. Fritzler runs the 501c4 advocacy non-profit called Support Jeffco Kids, which helped lead the recall effort and hosted the secret meetings at which it was determined who would run for the recall seats. In fact, her organization was accused of campaign violations after the recall election, and the group was forced to defend its actions in court. Ms. Fritzler’s organization has also been outspoken in their opposition to equal and fair funding for all Jeffco students. Her answer to the public application question on what skills she brings to the performance evaluation committee was “I negotiated CBAs with a number of trades and I work with teachers all the time.” There was nothing in her application which indicated she had any experience with performance evaluations, yet she was selected over several applicants with much more relevant experience. It seems her appointment was payback for her helping both recall former board members and get these “clean slate” board members elected.

The end of the meeting also brought to light that school board members have been having secret meetings in the community to get feedback on the facility plan. Who were they meeting with? How many board members have attended these meetings? What feedback and promises are they making at these meetings? We won’t know because these meetings have not been posted. The board even went out of their way at the end of the meeting to make sure they could have a secret meeting on the morning of Thursday June 17th in Arvada. Who are they meeting with? What are they discussing? Again, there is nothing posted on the online board docs so we don’t know. So if you happen to be in Arvada the morning of June 17th and see Jeffco school board members attending a meeting, please let us know and let’s tell the new board we are tired of their lack of transparency!



Community Angry Over Proposed School Changes

Community meetingThe last two community meetings of the school year (there will be 8 more held in June after school lets out), were held at Conifer and Green Mountain High Schools last week and the contrasts could not have been larger. Conifer is home to one of the recall leaders, Wendy McCord, and the $800 million facility plan calls for a brand new school in the area.  No schools will close in Conifer and no boundaries will change. This made some people question if building a new school is pay back for the mountain folks who helped usher-in the new board? There were few people in attendance at the Conifer meeting and little opposition to the facility plan.

In contrast, the meeting at Green Mountain High School attracted over 100 people who came to express their anger and dismay that one of their neighborhood school’s will close. There was confusion about how the changes to K-5 for some areas and not others would affect their students and families abilities to make good choice for their students. There were many questions raised, much frustration expressed and people left feeling angry that there are specific timelines or priorities to projects.  Yet the board is poised to make the facility-change decisions in mid-June.

Conifer High School Community Meeting

At the Conifer meeting, Wendy McCord, one of the recall leaders, wanted to know why principals input was not solicited prior to building the plan. She believed the decline in enrollment shown for Parmalee was not accurate and she wanted the board members in attendance to know she wanted money added to the plan for her kids schools because there would be growth in enrollment.

Some in attendance suggested that because there is no recreation district in the mountains, the school district should build a track and more recreation amenities. Someone pointed out that many of the things in the plan for this area will be adding athletic resources.

The biggest point of contention was the perceived waste of money in the proposal to build a new school on the Marshdale site. With the new school having a planned capacity of 400 students, parents wondered if boundary changes would occur as there are only 288 students at Marshdale. With no new development planned in the area, people wondered where the additional students were coming from or if the building would always be 30% empty? Someone suggested building a new school was the token the mountains needed in order to vote for the bond. Many were disappointed there was no conversation about making Conifer high school a 7 -12, and moving 6th graders back to elementary schools, which would truly provide optimum facility utilization. Conifer High school is only at 61% capacity and West Jefferson Middle School is at 74% capacity and that is with 6th graders.

Green Mountain High School Community Meeting

The first concerns expressed were how the proposed new supersized elementary schools would provide for better education for students, especially when the combined Patterson and Kendrick Lakes is likely to be an over 800 student Title One school. The staff said they didn’t think any of the new supersized schools would be 700  or 800 students, but the combined enrollment of Patterson and Kendrick Lakes is 843 and that doesn’t include the 113 preschool students. This area is not planning to change to a K-6, so the likelihood of a nearly 1000 student building on the Kendrick Lake site is very real.

A Kendrick Lakes mom worried that the new school, which would house both Patterson and Kendrick Lakes students, would be the district’s largest Title One school. That means that more than seventy percent of the students would come from families that qualify for free and reduced lunch. She pointed out that the district does not have a great track record in providing student achievement success in our current Title One schools and wondered how the district planned to assure parents that student achievement would be good in the new super-sized school.

Another mom pointed out that Kendrick Lakes (which is part of the Alameda area)  is home to a Gifted and Talented (GT) center program for K-6.  Because the new super-sized elementary school will have 6th graders and the GT middle school will also have 6th graders, she wondered if the GT students from the new super-sized school would be expected to leave a year before their peers to go to middle school in 6th grade, or if they were to stay at the super-sized school and join the middle school in 7th grade. She suggested this dilemma is just one which will be caused by some district middle schools offering 6th grade while others do not.

Parents asked how they would get the details of the timelines and priorities so they could figure out what their potential choices would be, but as in previous meetings, staff continues to say there is no detailed plan and the effects on academic programs has yet to be evaluated. They continue to say this is just a facility plan which leaves parents very frustrated as they don’t send their children to school because of the walls.

Kendrick Lakes’ parents also expressed frustration that they had specifically met with district staff last year to ask for Kendrick Lakes to be taken out of the Alameda area. They mentioned that it seemed as if none of that input was considered as this plan was put together. Many other parents wondered if Kendrick Lakes is scheduled to get the new school because it is home to one of the school board member’s children.

The most anger of the evening came from the community reacting to the proposal to close Glennon Heights and split those students between Eiber and Belmar elementary schools, both much larger schools. Parents pointed out that the school has incredibly deep roots in the community. A Glennon Heights staff member talked about the heart of the school, saying the heart issues seem not to be covered in the facility plan. She described the growth the school is experiencing and the desire many new parents have to find small schools with close knit communities. She said families are specifically moving to neighborhoods with small community schools. She also spoke about the many investments, amounting to millions of dollars, that have been made in the building over the last couple of years. She mentioned the building has had new wiring, heating and air conditioning, and a new ventilation system. The school also has a new playground, parking lot and sidewalks, and they will be getting all new windows this summer. She asked, how is closing this school a wise investment?

The Glennon Heights staff member specifically told the school board members in the room that the proposal to close Glennon Heights makes them feel not valued, and asked how dividing the community will serve a financial benefit to Jefferson County students as a whole. She closed her comments with “…neighborhood schools are far more than brick and mortar – they are the heart of our communities, they are the second home to our children, they are the growing place for friendships and the launching pad for the dreams of our young learners and no amount of money saved could ever equal the value of our small neighborhood school.”  Glennon Heights students also attended to show support for keeping their schools open and brought with them a large petition signed by nearly every student as the school, requesting that Glennon Heights remain open.

Parents also asked why the district is not changing boundaries in the Green Mountain area today when Rooney Ranch is at 103% capacity while Hutchinson is only at 71% capacity.

A student rose to ask why Long View was proposed to be closed and the program moved to McLain. He said the small community feel of Long View would be lost and it is the only small high school in the county.

The award for the smart question of the evening goes to the parent who asked where the funding would be coming from to staff two new schools proposed to be built despite overall declining enrollment in the district. Certainly the number of teachers needed wouldn’t need to increase but there would be additional administrators and support staff. These parents pointed out there is no total savings proposed from all of these new facility plans and yet staff keeps talking about finding more money to put into teacher compensation.

Finally there was proof that the facilities department does have some priority set for the projects that have been proposed. Mr. Reed showed his hand when he answered that the plan to update the Green Mountain High School athletic fields would be part of phase one as would many of the upgrades to athletic fields across the district. We wonder what the priorities and timing are for the rest of the projects and why these are not transparent.

There was so much frustration in the room as staff tried to close down the meeting, that board member Brad Rupert took the microphone and told the community that  the board is hearing the desire to keep small schools, but the willingness of taxpayers to open their wallets and pay for small schools didn’t match the words. How can that possibility be the perspective of this board? Do they not remember that this community just passed a $39 million on-going tax increase?

Next year will be the 5th year in a row spending in this district has increased. Where does Mr. Rupert think that money comes from?  Mr. Rupert didn’t mention that the district has picked up all of the retirement cost increases for staff for the last six years, and that taxpayers are now making over 19% contributions to the retirement system for Jeffco’s staff. Mr. Rupert also did not mention that he and his fellow board members approved new debt and those dollars need to come out of money that would otherwise be in the classrooms. He didn’t mention that the $420 million dollars they want for the first round of these building projects will cost taxpayers $795 million. Nor did he share that because of the way the payments will be spread out (think 0% interest deals which never work out for the borrowers), we the taxpayers will pay $225 million dollars more in interest. Now those are dollars that should be in the classrooms.

It is incredibly disappointing not to hear these new board members ask what could be done with $420 million if grades weren’t moved, schools weren’t closed, and super-sized building weren’t built. How many more elementary schools could get upgrades if there was simply a sane proposal made about updating schools? But if that happened, Mr. Bell’s plan to keep our taxes where they are would not be able to go forward, and all of his good friends in the bond industry wouldn’t get their fat pay checks.

Killing Neighborhood Schools

sad childAmid massive confusion about what changes are actually being proposed in the Arvada articulation area, parents attending the North Arvada Middle School facility plan discussion, expressed opposition to the proposals to move 6th graders to middle schools, close neighborhood elementary schools and build community busting, supersized elementary schools. Additional concerns were raised about the loss of teachers that could happen with the plan, and the reduction in resources that schools will have when they no longer have their 6th grade students.

Among the audience of about sixty, seemingly half were from the Hackberry Hills community and about half were Jeffco staff members. According to the written plan 6th grade general education students from Hackberry Hills will move to North Arvada Middle, while GT students will stay at Hackberry. District staff assured the attendees that was not actually the plan. They asserted that elementary schools east of Wadsworth would change to K-5’s, while schools west of Wadsworth would stay K-6’s. However, the plan also calls for schools in the Ralston Valley area to change to K-5’s, so community questions were not adequately answered and there seemed to be no plan for updating the information provided.

More confusion arose when discussing both the grade configuration and boundaries for Foster and Lawrence elementary schools. In the written part of the plan on page 26 it says 6th grade will be removed from elementary schools east of Wadsworth except Foster and yet the graphic shows Foster losing 6th grade. More confusion came when parents asked about the boundary changes for Lawrence and Arvada K-8, saying the proposal could cause students close to Lawrence to not be able to attend there. Staff again said that was not the intention, but parents were less than pleased with staff’s explanation versus what is in the written plan.

Parents from Campbell and Stober elementary expressed loud opposition to their schools being closed and their students being forced to attend the new supersized elementary schools. Questions arose about how much funding Jeffco would lose because the two title one schools being consolidated could lose title one status. Parents discussed all of the capital improvements made at their schools over the last four years and what a waste it would be to then turn around and close those schools. In addition, many parents expressed frustration that the plan disregards communities and would attempt to force parents from one community to attend a school far from their home. In addition to the potential financial burden of having to pay for a bus, parents expressed concern that they had purchased homes specifically to be able to attend their neighborhood school, and this plan pits Jeffco on a path to close small community neighborhood schools.

More frustration erupted when parents expressed their opposition to moving 6th grade into middle schools. Parents were upset that their children would lose literacy instruction, would have to travel longer distances to schools and that teachers might not be able to teach 6th grade in middle schools. One parent shared that her family moved to Jeffco last year specifically because 6th graders are educated in elementary schools. Another mom said this plan seems to take into account the wall needs of the district but not the heart needs, a reference to the lack of regard to the “community feel” many small neighborhood schools create.

It was clear from the first comment/question that the room was filled with angry community members. The first statement made slammed the board for scheduling community meetings only two days after the plan was made public. Furthermore, this person complained that attempts to ask Jeffco principals for clarity were not able to be handled because staff was not adequately versed in the proposals. Superintendent Dan McMinimee said that the principals had been briefed on the plan on Monday before the board meeting, but it was clear there was not a thorough staff roll out when even the presenting staff couldn’t agree on what the plan contained.

In addition, the staff in the room had a myriad of questions about how the potential changes would affect staffing and job statuses. If 6th graders move to middle schools, concern was expressed that the instrumental music staff would be cut as they would lose half of their students. Staff also expressed concern that specials teachers might be eliminated as schools lose their 6th graders. While central staff said this was certainly not the intention, we all know the funding available to support smaller student teacher ratios does not exist.

Finally, community members expressed dismay in the lack of transparency and community engagement of the current process to provide feedback on the $800 million facility plan. Although there are twelve community meetings scheduled, eight of them are scheduled in June after school lets out and many parents and community members are away for the summer.

Sentiment for the evening seemed to be summed-up by the parent who said this may be a good plan for the walls, but killing neighborhood schools is not a not a good plan for the community.

Jeffco School Board Votes Against Funding Students Equitably

broken promisesAt their study session last night the Jeffco school board voted (watch at 4:33:00) to oppose legislation that would require all students be funded equitably no matter which public school they attend. Saying the board policy allowed them to vote if time was of the essence, board president Ron Mitchell called for a vote to support a Colorado Association of School Boards position to continue treating charter school students like second class citizens. Mr. Mitchell should have read his policies (GP02) as they only allow for votes the first time an item is on an agenda in exigent circumstances.

Exigent is defined in Webster’s as “requiring immediate aid or action”. How does expressing an opinion on potential legislation rise to the level of exigent? If the board had before it an item that would significantly improve student achievement or safety, which required immediate attention, then breaking their promise of transparency would be appropriate. However, weighing in on potential legislation hardly seems to rise to the level of exigent.

How do  Jeffco’s charter school parents feel about the board voting to oppose legislation which promised to treat charter students equitably? Amanda Stevens and Brad Rupert both commented that  ‘…being in the middle of facility conversations they wanted more flexibility.” What does that mean exactly? Will charter parents find themselves blackmailed into supporting facility plans not fair for their students or risk losing funding?

The board also seems to have broken their commitment to listen to the community before making decisions, as they voted on this the first time the item was on the agenda. The board allowed no public comments at this meeting, despite the previous board writing policy that required public comment at all meetings at which a vote would be taken. Will we hear the public outcry expressed over the last two years when it was perceived the previous board did not allow for public input before making a decision? There was certainly no public outcry in February when the board changed their policy from requiring public comment at all meetings with votes to only having public comment at regular meetings. It certainly seems as if we are returning to the years of charter schools being treated as second class citizens and a school board making decisions with no public input. Recall fans are you ready?

PS:  Might we have heard how the new school board really feels about charter schools in the words of Senator Merrifield who said at a hearing on these bills: “I want to get personal. … What’s frustrating [to me] is the concept that charter schools are superior. … The smugness, the superiority …”