DENVER – Administrative Law Judge Hollyce Farrell dismissed five of six claims filed against Douglas County School District by failed school board candidate Julie Keim. The ruling Friday stated repeatedly that there were no grounds to support Keim’s allegations – with one exception which the school district will appeal.
The court ruled against the district on releasing an assessment of school reforms. The report had been contracted in February months before candidates emerged in the races for four school board seats.
“The Administrative Law Judge ruled in the District’s favor on five allegations under the campaign finance act, finding that there was absolutely no basis for those complaints,” said DCSB President Kevin Larsen in a statement.
“Because the Judge’s rejection of those allegations was so emphatic, the district intends to ask for an award in its litigation costs,” he said.
Keim’s expense of fighting the appeal and potentially paying the district’s legal costs would seem to dispel rumors of launching a campaign to recall school board members.
Judge Farrell’s ruling followed two lengthy hearings in December of Keim’s complaints accusing the school district of discriminating against her in favor of four school board candidates who supported the district’s reform policies which included breaking ties with the local teachers’ union, Douglas County Federation of Teachers.
“In the lone claim in which the Administrative Law Judge found a violation, the district respectfully disagrees and will immediately appeal,” Larsen declared. “The Judge seems to have concluded that it is a violation of law anytime the district disseminates positive news involving its education policy agenda if there are also candidates for school board who support that agenda. The district does not agree with that interpretation of law.”
“This Administrative Law Judge’s interpretation is that the district cannot release information about the district if a candidate is running- or may decide to run in the future – and agrees with that information,” said Larsen.
“We do not believe this is what the law states, as it would silence all public entities for months on end. This would effectively muzzle all public bodies in the future,” he added.
The district has 50 days to appeal the ruling which was based on the “Hess Report,” an assessment of school reforms produced by American Enterprise Institute Director Frederick Hess and Max Eden, a researcher.
The report was shared with the public in early September – nearly two months before the school board election. The analysis which costs $30,000 was equally divided between a private grant and the district.
The court’s decision alluded to the report’s inference that a cohesive school board might ensure the viability of the district’s reforms.
Cited in the ruling, but separate from the report, was an article written by Hess and Eden published by National Review Online in September. The article quoted former school board president John Carson and concerns about the teachers’ union.
“This election presents a clear choice between union interests versus (what) is best for students,” Carson was quoted in the article. But he neither identified reform-supporter candidates or union-backed contenders.
“What do my quotes have to do with the ruling?” asked Carson. “That was an interview later and not part of the research papers. It shouldn’t have been in the ruling.”
Complainant Keim, who with three other candidates were endorsed by the union, distanced herself from any relationship with unions during court proceedings.
Yet, Douglas County Federation of Teachers enlisted new union members during fundraising events for Keim and her slate of candidates – and secretly organized campaign rallies under the auspices of groups of volunteer parents.
“It’s official!” exclaimed Keim on the Speak for DCSD website Friday. “My pursuit of this matter was tied to my belief that election should be decided on true and accurate information and that public funds should not be used to influence the voting public.”
Apparently the court’s findings were also based on “true and accurate information.” The judge dismissed five of Keim’s charges because they were not a violation of Colorado’s campaign finance law.
Dismissed allegations include: A research paper and speech by former U.S. Education Secretary Dr. William Bennett, delay of Keim’s request for more than 13,000 emails within 24 hours, a rumor of an audit of Keim’s previous fundraising activities, preventing her supporters from distributing campaign fliers on district property during school hours, and posting candidates’ forums that had excluded her on two school websites.
After the massive email request, Keim asked for 19 documents “many of which again asked for extensive and detailed information, including all of the District’s agreements with the teachers’ union from January 2000 to present,” noted the court. “The district produced close to a thousand pages of documents in response to these requests.”
“The District worked assiduously to respond to the Complainant’s first two requests and provided her and other candidates with information it gathered,” concluded the court. “Although the Complainant felt that the responses were untimely or insufficient, the District acted in good faith.”