For more than a year, the Jefferson County School Board — and specifically a voting bloc consisting of members Julie Williams, Ken Witt and John Newkirk — have been a lightning rod for controversy
The trio's alleged efforts to turn Jeffco's history curriculum in a more "patriotic" direction, coupled with complaints about teacher compensation and more, inspired student walkouts and a vigorous recall effort that made headlines nationwide. The Washington Post recently dubbed the recall battle a de facto proxy war, with teachers unions backing the recall and the conservative Koch brothers, aided by Denver's own Independence Institute, supporting the opposition.
Now, it's Williams, Witt and Newkirk who are history — at least when it comes to membership on the next Jeffco board. The recall for each passed easily, with a new cadre of board members winning approval from voters.
Here are graphics representing the latest numbers courtesy of 7News:
Some observers worried that a complicated procedure requiring two votes — one for the recall and another for candidates who would replace the board members in question if the ouster efforts were successful — would confuse ballot-casters.
But no: The candidates supported by organizers of the recall effort all earned majorities.
The incoming board members are Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens and Ron Mitchell.
Given Jefferson County's enormous size, it was tough to get a read on the recall's momentum. In my neighborhood, near Chatfield High School, which has lost a slew of teachers amid complaints about increasingly politicized, agenda-driven policies, a large number of yards bloomed with signs boosting Rupert and company. During a recent visit to Arvada, however, signs urging a "no" vote on the recall dominated.
In the end, however, the energy of the recallers, exemplified by door-to-door campaigning by a vast network of teachers, parents and students, overwhelmed the money offered up by Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs's operation. And the wave appears to have spread to Douglas County, home to the metro-area school board that started the rightward trend several years before Williams, Witt and Newkirk took office.
Dougco school board incumbents Kevin Larsen, Richard Robbins and Craig Richardson — the self-styled reformers on the body — all appear to have lost in their reelection bids. Here's a graphic from the Douglas County elections page showing the latest digits:
The reaction to the Jeffco results have been predictably varied.
In a statement released after the vote became final, middle-school teacher and Jefferson County Education Association president John Ford said, “We couldn’t be more pleased with the election results tonight because it means a return to a culture of working together to improve teaching and learning for all kids. Quite honestly, the old board lost their seats because they didn’t respect the community’s voice and rammed through an unpopular agenda.”
In contrast, the Colorado Peak Politics site blasted what it called the "revenge of the unions." Here's an excerpt from its post:
The die was cast in Jeffco approximately two years ago when the conservative reform majority surprised the union by taking over the school board. Since then, the Jefferson County Education Association has been working to take the board of the state’s second largest school district back. So, yes, tonight, the unions won, but not because of the public’s repudiation of reform ideas, but because of the union’s disgusting tactics in every district in which it played.
If this was a call to action for conservatives, it’s a call to organize. To run disciplined and ruthless campaigns. To undercut the union at every turn and to expose unions as the liars they are. To bring boots on the ground and run a 24/7, 365-day-per-year campaign.
The CPP piece concludes with this: "Have a few beers and chin up, happy warriors. We win some, we lose some, but it’s time to get ready for 2016."
Yes, this battle has concluded — but the war for the hearts and minds of students in Jefferson County and beyond is far from over.