Education Calls Out Tweeters Hating on Jeffco School Board Members

The battle over public education policy in Jefferson County has gotten ugly, as we explain in this week's cover story, "Class Warfare."

And the free-market Independence Institute is aiming to call out some of the perpetrators with a new website, The site, explains executive vice president Amy Oliver Cooke, collects tweets that attack certain Jeffco school board and staff members and asks the tweeters one simple question: Why you gotta be so mean?

"It’s just nastiness," Oliver Cooke says. The purpose of the website, she says, is to "sort of flip it on them."

Some of the meanest tweeters include @notkenwitt, @notjohnnewkirk, @notjuliejeffco and @notlisapinto. All four are anonymous fake accounts based on real people — namely, school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, and Jeffco Public Schools's chief communications officer Lisa Pinto. Witt, Newkirk and Williams were elected to the five-member board in November 2013. The three campaigned as fiscal conservatives in favor of school choice and data security. In their year and a half on the board, they've voted together on several controversial issues, including the hiring of board attorney Brad Miller, the allocation of more funding for charter schools and the adoption of a new pay-for-performance plan for teachers. Pinto, who previously worked for Republican Arapahoe County district attorney George Brauchler, was hired early this year after the former communications chief resigned.  

Not everyone is happy with the decisions Witt, Newkirk and Williams have made — and they haven't been shy about showing their displeasure. Teachers have staged sickouts. Parents have formed watchdog groups. Students participated in walkouts last fall over a proposal to review the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum to ensure that it promoted patriotism and downplayed civil disorder. And then there are the mean-spirited tweets.

So what do they say? Here's a sampling:

The mean tweets, Oliver Cooke says, "are meant to be a psychological bullying and intimidating that the other side would never tolerate, nor should anyone tolerate." She points to the tweet from @notlisapinto about hiring "a burrito guy" as a particularly egregious example. "Do you think they would have directed that at her had she not been Hispanic?" she asks.

"It’s one thing to disagree on an issue. It’s another thing to take issue with people personally."

The Independence Institute stepped in to create because no one was calling attention to the situation, Oliver Cooke says. 

It's worth noting that the free-market think tank supports many of the board's recent policy changes. Ben DeGrow, an education policy analyst with the Independence Institute, points to equitable funding for charter students, open contract negotiations and a salary plan that pays teachers based on performance as examples of positive changes. "What I don’t see as positive is the reaction some groups had to the new board," he says. "They were threatened by a loss of power, and a lot of the misinformation and fear tactics used have been disappointing."

Not to mention mean.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar