Last night, a marathon public session of the Jefferson County Board of Education illustrated the controversy being stoked by three new conservative board members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, who are forging ahead with a stridently ideological agenda–and perhaps doing major harm to the district's reputation in the process. 9NEWS reported on events last night:
Charter schools have to take money out of the classroom budgets to pay for building expenses. Charter schools have to pay the Jefferson County School District fees for various services taking away from the estimated $7,000 per pupil district schools typically receive to use for classroom expenses…
The school board is considering adding an additional $100 per pupil to charter schools to help make up the difference in funding between charter and district schools.
[Parent Nicole] Dominic says this is an exciting new direction proposed by newly elected school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams.
As this story explains, charter schools are obligated to pay for a variety of services provided by the district. That makes sense given that those services cost the district money, and doesn't mean that a net difference between neighborhood schools and public schools is "unfair." For one thing, charter schools commonly receive lucrative grants to offset their expenses that neighborhood schools can only dream of. But there's a much more basic reason not to divert this estimated $3.5 million from neighborhood schools to charter schools: it breaks the promises the district made in 2012 to persuade voters to raise property taxes.
School Board Member Jill Fellman does not agree with her new counterparts about charter school funding. She wonders where this money will come from.
"Charter school kids represent about eight percent of our population," Fellman said. "I represent 85,000 children."
Fellman says it is not right to take money from the approved mill levy override from 2012 3A vote. [Pols emphasis]
This is actually a very serious question, on which the credibility of the district depends when it comes to any future tax increases that may be proposed for Jefferson County Public Schools. Measure 3A came with a long list of promised line-items the money would be spent on, and writing "equalization" checks to charter schools wasn't among them. Can charter schools make the case that they need more money? Sure, just like every school in Jefferson County, Colorado, and most of the nation. But to take money that voters approved for a specific purpose and divert it to other favored uses is a sure way to convince voters to vote "no" next time.
Above all, there's a growing sense that the new right-wing majority of the Jeffco school board fully intends to ram through their agenda while ifnoring public input. The video at top very plainly shows board president Ken Witt forcing parents on an unrelated issue to stand and speak together, claiming "we can't have 25 different individuals speaking on a single topic." Unless, as you see right after, that topic is more money for charter schools!
As we've said before, the attempt to push a conservative agenda in Jefferson County is proceeding very differently from similar conservative activist takeovers elsewhere, such as Douglas County's now-famous union busting and outright funding of religious schools. Jefferson County is far from an ideological right-wing stomping ground. As the new board takes these unpopular actions, large numbers of public education stakeholders are turning out to oppose them. It's still possible that the board's conservative majority will figure out that they are pushing too hard, too fast, and back off their headlong pursuit of radical "reform."
That, or they're going to teach Jefferson County voters to never ignore school board races again.