DENVER – Two union-backed candidates in the hotly contested Douglas County school board race, Barbra Chase Burke and Julie Keim, are trying to shake the union label. As the campaign enters the homestretch this week, the pair insisted that they didn’t ask for the endorsements, and sought to distance themselves from the union.
Chase Burke, who campaigns as Chase took to the Facebook page of the pro-union group Speak for DCSD to respond to the “mischaracterization” that “I am a UNION candidate. I am NOT,” declared Chase.
“I am not too liberal and I have nothing to do with the union,” insisted Keim.
But the fact remains that Chase, Keim, Ronda Scholting and Bill Hodges were endorsed by several unions including the Colorado Education Association and Douglas County Federation of Teachers. The slate of four aims to win four board seats – and roll back reforms enacted by the current school board.
“(The unions) simply stated they support us over the others,” said Keim of reform candidates Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn, who are seeking reelection, and Judi Reynolds and James Geddes.
“I have never had any direct contact from the union about an endorsement, nor have I received any written documentation to support an endorsement,” asserted Keim. “I do not reference this endorsement when asked, because as far as I’m concerned, it does not exist.”
But Douglas County Republican Party Chairman Craig Steiner isn’t buying the collective surprise or indignation expressed by the union-backed challengers.
“It seems strange that each and every candidate the union endorsed claimed to be ‘surprised’ to be endorsed,” Steiner recently told The Observer. “If they were all surprised to be endorsed, does that mean the union made endorsements without talking to a single candidate?”
“You’d think the union would want to get to know the people they’re endorsing before doing so,” Steiner added. “For them to endorse candidates without knowing them and without reaching out to consider other candidates in the race seems pretty reckless.”
The Douglas County Federation of Teachers endorsed the Chase, Keim, Scholting and Hodges slate in early September according to Our Colorado News, a publication that has repeatedly pummeled the current school board and the administration.
Perhaps Keim missed the memo, but CEA President Kerrie Dallman issued a letter endorsing her and the union friendly slate on Oct. 11, and was published on the Colorado Peak Politics website.
“I am writing to you in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers,” wrote Dallman. “The educators are in the fight of their lives.”
“The educators of Douglas County Federation of Teachers (AFT, American Federation of Teachers) and the community as a whole need your support,” said Dallman. “…They are supporting Ronda Scholting, Julie Keim, Barbra Chase, and Bill Hodges to represent them on the Douglas County School Board.”
“In solidarity,” said Dallman in closing.
Geddes, Chase’s District B opponent, said that teachers unions “breed mediocrity” because they care more about educators than the students and parents. Through collective bargaining, he said, the unions work to optimize salaries and benefits for teachers based on seniority – not pay for performance – and that results in rewarding teachers who are ineffective instead of those striving for excellence.
“A union free Douglas County School District is currently released from the stranglehold of the Federation of Teachers Association union, an AFL-CIO affiliate,” said Geddes.
“The stage is now set for substantial improvements in K-12 education quality,” he said.
Geddes, Reynolds, Benevento and Silverthorne oppose Amendment 66, a nearly $1 billion-a-year tax increase promoted by Colorado Commits to Kids and the unions.
Union-endorsed candidates Chase, Hodges and Scholting support the statewide tax hike for public education even though more than half of the increased Douglas County taxpayer dollars will go to other school districts in Colorado.
“I have not decided on Amendment 66,” said Keim. “I have some reservations about another constitutional amendment impacting state and local funding.”
“We have already seen the many unintended consequences of the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) and Gallagher Amendments,” she said.
But critics have questioned Keim’s contention that she is undecided on the $1 billion tax hike, noting that she, along with fellow union-endorsed candidates Scholting and Chase, signed a petition in support of Amendment 66 earlier this year.