DENVER –- Jefferson County School District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson knew the truth but refused to denounce rumors that the school board had slated an executive session to discuss firing her. Instead of holding Stevenson accountable, pro-union activists were whipped into an angry fury, demanding recall of three newly elected conservative-leaning board members.
Stevenson confessed Saturday that she had asked for the discussion of her “personnel matter” – not the school board. Her request was made a day after the Colorado Education Association union’s Chalkbeat website announced Stevenson secured a new job with Colorado Association of School Executives.
“I can’t make decisions, I can’t lead and I can’t move the district forward,” said Stevenson during a tearful speech Saturday. “Consequently I did approach the board — it was my initiative — to say we need to do something.”
Stevenson, who led the district for 12 years, wanted to exit early to take the new position in March. The school board might have been caught off guard – it had planned to contract a nationwide firm to find her successor on Feb. 26. But, the board agreed that Stevenson’s last day as superintendent will be Feb. 21.
After the November election of three reform school board members who defeated union-backed candidates, Stevenson proffered her resignation effective June 30. Last week, she asked the board to let her quit in March and negotiate a severance payment settlement.
The rumor that Stevenson was being fired was leaked to reporters from a source in the administration close to the superintendent – and hyped on several pro-union websites – fueled hysteria to turn out more than 250 irate pro-union activists who protested Stevenson’s departure Saturday. Alarmed by the uproar, security personnel ended the meeting in less than 14 minutes.
The union-backed protestors’ shouts of “Respect, respect, respect” for Stevenson turned swiftly into chants of “Recall, recall, recall” of the school board majority members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams.
The unionist websites claimed that the conservative trio “stormed” out and held a secret meeting in violation of Colorado’s Sunshine law.
The allegations were false — school board president Witt had called for a 10-minute recess to allow the boisterous crowd to control their behavior so the meeting could continue to the next agenda item, the school budget.
The adult tantrums escalated, encouraged by minority board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who criticized their three conservative peers.
Stevenson calmed the chaos when she offered to talk personally to groups about her decision to move on and discuss future actions to protect the district’s achievements over the next two years.
“We are all madder than h*ll right now,” proclaimed Jeffco School Board Watch, which shares website and Facebook links with so-called parent and teacher groups such as Transparency Jeffco and Support Jeffco Schools.
The websites promote several unions including American Federation of Teachers, National Educators’ Association, Colorado Educators’ Association and Jefferson County Education Association, whose slogan is “United We Bargain, Divided We Beg.”
Transparency Jeffco posted a video of Saturday’s uproarious meeting on YouTube, and in response some followers declared Stevenson’s resignation is a “travesty” and others demanded the recall of the Witt, Newkirk and Williams.
“Recall!!!” demanded Lynn Debroder-Owens. “I did not vote for those 3 people, they are unbelievable,” posted Shanyn Jones-Mitchell. “I too am for recall.”
Daring to differ, Jessica Krankota Branaugh wrote, “(Stevenson) is not a victim. She brought this on herself.”
The seething anger Saturday demonstrated by union members and supporters was also triggered by the board’s intent to renegotiate parts of the teachers’ union contracts, retaining attorney Brad Miller, and a budget proposal to award bonuses to achieving educators and administration staff, provide more funding for charter schools, and allocate funding to reduce mandatory fees paid by parents for their children to participate in school sports, activities, classes and bus transportation.
“Today saw our superintendent resign because of a deliberately hostile, abusive and just plain mean work environment,” alleged Jeffco School Board Watch. “Almost all of us are furious.”
“But what can you do right away? How about filling out a (budget) survey? No, we are not kidding!” said the pro-union group, signaling that supporters might skew the survey that will help shape the district’s budget for fiscal year 2014-15.
The survey is open to anyone with an interest in the future of the Jefferson County School District, but must be filled out by Tuesday Feb. 11.