CASTLE ROCK – Anti-reformers raged against Douglas County School District’s decision to appeal a ruling in a case filed by union-backed candidate Julie Keim who lost her bid for a school board seat in November.
Keim’s complaint alleged that the school district had committed six violations of the campaign finance act, but Administrative Law Judge Hollyce Farrell ruled in favor of the school district on five of the allegations on Dec. 24.
On the SPEAK for DCSD Facebook page, Keim stirred anti-reform compatriots to protest the appeal as a “waste of public funds” at the Tuesday meeting of the Douglas County School Board.
“I am confident that this decision will stand up under appeal, and then the decision will become case law that will apply to other entities in the state,” declared Keim. “The heart of the issue for me has always been the use of public funds to produce a biased report intended to influence an election.”
At issue is a report written by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute that praised the school district’s reforms but also noted they advanced because of a cohesive school board. The Hess report, paid for by the district and the nonprofit Douglas County School District Foundation, was cited in a September newsletter promoting the district’s accomplishments.
But Farrell ruled that the district had spent $15,000 in public funds for the Hess report to influence the outcome of the election.
School Board President Kevin Larsen disagreed with Farrell’s interpretation of the law, and said the decision would have a chilling effect on free speech.
Larson said the ruling would prohibit the school district from disseminating “positive news about its education policy agenda” if school board candidates support the policies.
“I agree that public entities should be able to share news and report out to their constituency in a factual and evenly balanced manner,” said Keim, who contended the Hess Report was biased.
A handful of parents and teachers heeded Keim’s call to action Tuesday and ranted loudly during the public comment period against Douglas County School Superintendent Liz Fagen and board directors.
Calling for justice to be served, Anne-Marie Lemieux demanded the termination of individuals – including Fagen – “for their participation in misusing tax dollars and district resources.”
“Rather than holding lawbreakers accountable, this board has decided to appeal the lawsuit,” Lemieux asserted.
“We request one more time to drop the appeal,” Lemieux said, then reeled off a list of expenditures by the board for communications and legal services.
Echoing the mantra of several anti-reformers, Lemieux vowed, “We are not going away!”
At the core of the school district’s reform policy is school choice – including vouchers to offset the cost of private school, which has been challenged in court.
Charcie Russell, a board member of the nonprofit Great Choice Douglas County, commended the school district’s reforms. Russell encouraged the board to appoint a person who believes in school choice to replace school board Director Justin Williams who resigned last month.
Anti-reformers demanded that a person aligned with their pro-union values fill the vacated seat.
In 2012, the board declined to renew the contract of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers – a move that spurred protests and campaign stunts on behalf of union endorsed candidates, including Keim, in the 2013 election.