Reading, Writing and Recall

A group of Boulder parents fail to unseat their school-board members.

In the weeks following the January 27 decision by the Boulder Valley Board of Education to consolidate five elementary schools, it was hard to find a parent in South Boulder who wasn't calling for boardmembers' heads to roll. But as the school year wound down, a petition to recall three boardmembers failed miserably.

The recall effort began after the board decided to shift 700 students around next fall to save money; boardmembers said they needed the cash because the cost of the school district's employee health-insurance plan had soared beyond expectations and because new teachers had been hired to handle an anticipated attendance increase that didn't materialize. Parents criticized the board for sacrificing neighborhood schools for the sake of covering its own screwups.

And they blasted their elected representatives for not giving them enough say in the matter and for not giving them enough warning -- parents were first notified of the pending consolidations in a letter that was sent home with their kids in December; the board approved the consolidations in a 6 to 1 vote a month later ("Honor Rolled," April 6).

Although the Community Action Council for Boulder Valley Schools never had a formal membership, hundreds of parents attended the group's early meetings and charged school-board members with lying to them and going against their own promise to not close schools for at least another year. They wanted the board to adopt a policy that would ensure public input in the future; while they were at it, they figured they'd also try to unseat the three boardmembers who had been in office long enough to be recalled: Julie Phillips, Jean Bonelli and board president Stan Garnett.

That plan collapsed, however. They needed 16,000 signatures on a petition by the second week of May to trigger a special recall election; they got only about 1,000.

"I don't think most of us thought we'd be likely to get 16,000 signatures -- it was a daunting effort from the beginning -- but it may have been possible had people not been so overwhelmed," says Robert Sharpe, who doesn't have kids in the district but who has been active in the Community Action Council. "Parents have been scrambling to get their kids enrolled in other schools, and a lot of people sold their homes and moved to other parts of town to be closer to other neighborhood schools. People were way too busy managing their lives to do anything, and a lot of them were too depressed and discouraged to go out and collect signatures." Sharpe says the remaining members are still committed to holding the school board accountable for its "woefully inadequate" public process.

Garnett isn't surprised that the recall effort failed. "As the CAC group found, when it went out into the community [to gather signatures], there was a lot of support in South Boulder for the decisions the board made," he says. "Unless there's overwhelming sentiment, it's hard to do a recall, and there just wasn't overwhelming sentiment."

 
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