We’re gearing up for a really important election in Jefferson County this November. Hopefully no one will challenge the 37,000 recall signatures per school board member that Jeffco United for Action gathered. It would be a frivolous challenge that would steal a half a million dollars from kids by delaying the recall and requiring a separate election. JUFA worked so hard to make sure our kids didn’t pay for the mess Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams have made. Let’s hope their supporters care as much about kids.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of an entirely new board, and trying to crystallize what I want from the new candidates. It’s very simple; I want candidates that focus on kids.
I don’t need candidates that are ideologically or politically just like me. I’m not the sole reflection of the entire community. Our community (of which I am part) just needs candidates that are transparent about their ideology, candidates who explain clearly and honestly why their philosophies are best for kids. That way we can make the best decisions for the kids who depend upon us.
If candidates want or don’t want a teachers’ union, I want them to say so, and their reasons had better revolve around kids. Just being ideologically in favor of or opposed to unions doesn’t cut it. Witt, Newkirk, and Williams clearly wish to dispense with JCEA; they just won’t say so. Why won’t they? Here’s what I know: Statistical analysis of state SAT/ACT scores, published in the peer-reviewed Harvard Educational Journal, controlled for factors like race, median income, and parental education. They found that the presence of teachers unions in a state did have a measurable and significant correlation with increased test scores — that going to school in a union state would, for instance, raise average SATs by about 50 points (Angus Johnston). That looks good for kids to me. Similar results can be found studying the findings of the internationally recognized Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which administers the PISA test—an exam that has been used for years to compare student achievement among countries. A school board candidate that wishes to cease negotiating with JCEA would need to be honest about that, explain why this is best for kids, and produce compelling evidence. The community must know what it’s getting.
I want candidates to respect the whole community. Jeffco has done a number of surveys about what people want, and any new candidates need to promise to honor those wishes and deliver on the promise or explain why veering from the community’s wishes is best for kids. Witt, Newkirk, and Williams seem to believe they need only respect a limited constituency of their choosing. I do realize that numbers alone may shrink the voice of charter parents, but not their importance. I’m not asking for a tyranny of the majority. All I ask is that, if candidates want to give more to charters, they explain how it benefits kids, and not with vague statements like “choice is always better.” For the sake of our kids, we can’t just focus on the quantity of choices; we have to focus on quality. If the reason for allocating more money to charters is kid-focused and compelling, I think most Jeffco citizens would get on board. But if candidates want to take money away from kids attending existing neighborhood and option schools and homegrown charters in order to invite in new charters, they must explain exactly what unfilled need Jeffco kids have that the new charter would provide. If, as has been the case with Witt, Newkirk, and Williams, they can’t articulate how a particular new charter would help kids who currently need what that charter has, then they should respect the community’s wishes that we simply support our current schools and the kids in them.
We need candidates who aren’t afraid of accountability. When asked to produce documents like a lawyer’s bill with reasonable limits on redaction of information, they should be happy to produce it. Then they would explain how this lawyer’s work is improving kids’ education in Jefferson County. They would make all of their discussions open and public, and that would be obvious, because those of us sitting in board meetings would never feel like we’d come into the conversation halfway through from the moment they open up discussion. They would articulate why each decision was best for kids. This simple step would most likely reduce the number of documents requested under the Colorado Open Records Act, but the new candidates must flat-out agree that whenever documents are CORAed, they should be produced in a timely fashion at minimum expense. They must promise NEVER to tell their supporters to text their personal phones about school board business in order to avoid having to make that communication open to the public, as Julie Williams did. That way, we could decide for ourselves whether or not the items under consideration would benefit kids and we could hold the board accountable to that goal.
So far, I’m impressed with Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell. You’ll have to decide for yourselves. All I ask is that, when you listen to all the new candidates in candidate forums or read what they have to say online or in papers, you always look for what they have to say about how their decisions will affect kids. That’s what it’s all about.
(Sorry about the Caulfieldesque use of italics.)