Boy, it sure would be nice if everyone could buy a political mouthpiece with taxpayer money like the board majority of JeffCo’s school board has.
Lynn Setzer, JeffCo’s Chief Communications Officer, left JeffCo last November. As has been the process, an interview team of staff members assembled to bring forward a list of qualified candidates to replace her. JeffCo’s superintendent ignored all of their recommendations and went for a candidate whom the interview committee had deemed unqualified. She did not go to public school, sends her kids to private school, and has no experience in communications for any public school system. In fact, two of the five board members questioned hiring her. They, too, were ignored, and she was hired for more money than her experienced predecessor.
Kind of like this superintendent, hired despite his lack of experience and despite the legitimate questions of two of the five board members and paid more than his far more experienced, far more educated predecessor.
What made our new Chief Communications Officer, Lisa Pinto, so attractive to this superintendent and board majority? She is a graduate of the distinctly political Leadership Program of the Rockies, a tea-party-run organization with an explicit political agenda and to which two of the board majority are tied. In short, they now get to use taxpayer money to publicize their agenda.
Take the first issue of JeffCo’s Chalk Talk parent newsletter published under this new communications officer. Granted, this message is ostensibly from Dan McMinimee, but it is telling that this is a more definitively political message than those in previous issues. It is most likely a taste of things to come.
Let’s take his assertion that “We are trying to…develop and implement community based solutions to give students all the resources and the systems they need to succeed. Unfortunately, this cannot happen overnight and it cannot happen if we are distracted by disruptive outside forces.”
What are these “disruptive outside forces”? Over the next few months, Lisa Pinto and Dan McMinimee will try to convince you that parents, business owners, students, teachers, and other taxpayers who believe that class sizes should be limited, that teachers should have adequate planning and collaboration time, that promises made to tax-payers concerning bond issues should be kept, that JeffCo should have enough buildings for all students and should not leave 5,000 children without neighborhood schools are “disruptive outside forces.” The very idea that they believe JeffCo residents will, by-and-large, buy such a destructive message is insulting.
Now, let’s look at this part of his message in Chalk Talk: “Students, teachers, parents, administrators, President John Ford of the Jefferson County Educators’ Association and community members have all expressed concern that students are being over assessed and that the number of assessments and time required by state standardized tests has become excessive. On Thursday, Jan. 15, your school board voted 3 (for) -1(against)-1 (abstained) (with Mr. Witt, Newkirk and Ms. Williams voting in favor) to request waivers from the State Board of Education from the Performance Based PARCC assessments.”
For a moment, the English teacher in me will try to get past the God-awful sentence construction Ms. Pinto allowed in this publication upon which the community forms its impressions of the district.
Note what follows, though: “As reported by CDE on Jan. 8, the State Board of Education voted to direct the commissioner to grant waivers for school districts that do not want to test the performance-based portion of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) tests for English language arts and mathematics in March. The commissioner has requested guidance from the Attorney General’s Office ‘to determine the legality of the directive.’ CDE has informed districts ‘to continue to implement existing state and federal law,’ until the attorney general’s decision is provided.
If the board knew (and clearly, it did) that this vote was premature and quite possibly useless, why take this vote and publicize it this way? To attempt to convince JeffCo citizens that the board majority is listening to the community. The truth is this useless gesture is an attempt to mask all the ways the board majority is ignoring the community. Maybe we’ll all be so excited over their fool’s errand that we’ll forget that they are reneging on bond issue promises and being extremely cavalier about serious facility issues. Maybe we can be misled into thinking this is some kind of advocacy on behalf of students so that when they fight against the community for things that really can be done to “give students all the resources and the systems they need to succeed”—like limiting class sizes and attracting and retaining excellent teachers—you will believe that they are motivated by something other than politics.
Now, one can certainly argue that there are other political forces at work in JeffCo, including liberal ones, and that is assuredly true. The thing is, those groups are not using district publications funded by taxes to convey their messages. When Lynn Setzer was CCO, she did not allow messages painting the political alliances of the board majority as “disruptive outside forces,” though the argument could be made that they are. Under Ms. Setzer’s leadership, Chalk Talk was what it should have been, a publication that informed parents without editorializing about district employees. I have no doubt we’ll see more propaganda under Ms. Pinto.