DENVER – This was an “enough already!” election year in Jefferson County, where voters previous gave a thumbs up to union-backed school board candidates and backed generous increases in spending like the $99 million bond issue and $39 million levy override in 2012.
Voters slammed on the brakes last week, rejecting Amendment 66, a $1 billion across-the-board income tax hike, and three heavily-subsidized union school board candidates. Instead, voters gave reform candidates the green light.
Jeffco voters elected three conservative school board candidates Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt – all of whom opposed Amendment 66.
Williams, Newkirk and Witt, who campaigned as the “WNW” ticket, will now hold a majority on the five-member school board that includes union-cozy incumbents Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, whose terms end in 2015. The new trio is expected to take office on Nov. 21.
Forty-eight hours after Tuesday’s election, Jefferson County School District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson emotionally announced her resignation after serving 12 years, effective July 30 at the end of her annual contract.
Reform candidates Williams, Newkirk and Witt campaigns managed on a shoestring budget compared to their opponents Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne and Gordon “Spud” Van de Water, whose campaigns were fueled by unions to the tune of more than $42,000.
In district 1, Williams eked by with less than $6,850 compared to nearly $30,000 in the campaign coffers of Aultman-Bettridge. In district 2, Newkirk ran on less than $5,000; his opponent Montagne had nearly $56,000. In district 5, Witt raised roughly $11,000; Van de Water garnered about $37,500.
The “WNW” ticket also had to combat an aggressive whisper-and-twitter campaign that aimed to instill fear into voters.
“Vote for the LONG names… they will go a LONG way for Jeffco kids!” posted “Tammy S.” on the Moving Mountains Colorado website that listed candidates Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne and Van de Water.
“At the Evergreen forum, September 24, Witt, Newkirk and Williams all agreed it was okay for teachers to carry firearms into schools and classrooms,” warned Tammy, citing an email from Van de Water. “It brings about a disturbing visual of children and firearms sharing the same space on a daily basis.”
She recalled a Lakewood forum when the conservative reform candidates refused to take a pledge against vouchers because it could impede the goal of ensuring Jeffco parents have school choice.
“It does not take a rocket scientist to see where this is headed,” declared Tammy.
Though she did not object to union involvement in the school district race, Tammy alerted readers that Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family and Americans for Prosperity “have taken an interest in the race.”
In response, “Cynthia” wrote, “This makes it clear why we ALL must VOTE to protect Jeffco’s Schools. We don’t want to be teaching Creationism in Science class! We don’t want PUBLIC money siphoned off to PRIVATE and Parochial Schools.”
Moving Mountains Colorado is described as “Democrats, progressive and progressive-minded independents committed to civic engagement” – self-described volunteers who became activists who became involved with Organizing for America to elect President Barack Obama in 2008.
“I’m keeping an open mind,” said Newkirk, who has no predetermined goal to remove the evolution theory from science classes or institute a school voucher program like the Douglas County School District.
“That seems to fit the Douglas County School district, but Jefferson County is different,” he said.
Critics complained that the Jefferson County School District had worked too closely with the local and state teachers unions, Jefferson County Education Association and Colorado Education Association.
“There are a lot of traditions that have made this district very strong and we look forward to working with the board members to continue those traditions,” JCEA President Ami Prichard told 9News.
“We know we have a great collective bargaining agreement… we see that as a collaborative document that helps all stakeholders,” said Prichard. “It’s the rules of the road for everyone and it protects everyone.”
Ben DeGrow, a senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, told 9News that the board will likely reassess “some of the items in the collective bargaining agreement that are serving union interests rather than working to help kids in the classroom.”