The parents behind a move to recall three controversial Jefferson County school board members turned in twice as many signatures today as are required to get the recall questions on the ballot. Election rules require 15,000 voter signatures, and the parents collected just under 37,000 signatures each on petitions to recall board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams.
"For me, it is encouraging," says Wendy McCord, who has three children in Jeffco schools and is one of the parents who submitted the proposed recall petitions. "And heartwarming. And as you go through this for the last year and a half, spend six hours at a board meeting, walk out at one in the morning and you’re devastated because of the disrespect and the clear evidence they’re not listening to what people really want, it starts to feel hopeless. To see so much community support, it makes me feel hopeful and encouraged. But it's still early. Anything can happen."
The parents hope to get the recall questions on the November ballot. That's why they hustled to gather the required signatures and turn them in more than a month before they were due. The way they figure it, they only had a three-day window — today, tomorrow and Thursday — to submit the signatures to the Jeffco and Broomfield county clerks in order for the timing of the recall election to coincide with the November election.
Now, the clerks have fifteen days to validate the signatures. Then there's a fifteen-day window for any protest of the validity of the signatures. McCord hopes that doesn't happen. "If somebody does protest, they will drag us past the date by which we can get on the November ballot," she says. "Then we end up in a special election that costs the district a whole lot of money that we don’t want to spend."
The parents estimate that a special election would cost half a million dollars. "We got lots and lots of extra signatures," McCord adds. "So there wouldn’t be any valid protest. It would be frivolous."
Board president Ken Witt (right) is one of three board members who are the subjects of a recall campaign.
Barring any protest, the recall election will be held thirty to sixty days after the protest period ends. If all goes smoothy, the parents say that timing will coincide with the general election on November 3. If it does, the clerks will add the recall questions to the ballot, and voters will choose whether to recall Witt, Newkirk and/or Williams and who should replace them. The other two seats on the five-member board are also up for election, so there's a chance the entire board could change.
It took the parents just seventeen days to collect more than 110,000 signatures for the three petitions, McCord says. More than a thousand people carried petitions, she says, and they gathered signatures at festivals, sporting events and parks. "I was sitting at a coffee shop one morning with a friend, actually talking about school board issues, and someone walked right up to us and said, 'Oh, do you have the petition? I’d love to sign,'" McCord says.
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Witt, Newkirk and Williams have been controversial since they first took their seats on the board in late 2013. As explained in our recent cover story, "Class Warfare," the three have been accused of ignoring parent input, wasting money, driving away dedicated teachers and staff, and pushing a conservative agenda that favors charter schools and a pay-for-performance salary schedule. Meanwhile, their supporters say the three are taking a critical look at Jeffco and addressing issues that have gone ignored for too long.
Despite collecting an abundance of signatures, McCord isn't ready to declare victory. She says she and the other parents have their work cut out for them. "Thirty-six thousand signatures is fabulous; it isn't going to win an election," McCord says. "Our goal is to keep educating Jefferson County voters: What are the real issues, what has this board been doing, and why are we better off moving forward with a new group rather than toughing it out for two more years."
Whether Jeffco voters agree with them remains to be seen.