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July 09, 2015 04:14 PM UTC

As Jeffco Recall Heats Up, So Does The BS

  • by: Colorado Pols

The recall campaign against conservative majority members of the Jefferson County school board is almost certain to be one of the biggest political stories of the year in Colorado politics, and subject to tremendous amounts of money and energy from both sides of the aisle–think of it as a “proxy war” for much larger opposing factions in American politics, like Vietnam was to the Cold War.

The application of big-ticket political tactics in a school board race means usual suspects involved in state legislative and federal races in Colorado are now bringing their operations to the Jeffco school board. We noted back in April a fundraising letter from the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, in which Caldara promised to bring the full resources of his organization to bear on Jeffco Public Schools. Since then, the Independence Institute’s closely-related news site Complete Colorado has been heavily focused on Jeffco, with a series of stories by Independence Institute “education reporter” Sherrie Peif. Yesterday, Peif published a lengthy story claiming that petition language for the recalls is incorrect on the matter of superintendent Dan McMinimee’s salary:

If you listen to those backing the recall effort, McMinimee is the highest paid superintendent in the state making $280,000 a year in base salary, “$80,000 more each year” than his predecessor. But that is a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges comparison…

Once McMinimee was selected, his base salary was finalized at $220,000. Additionally, McMinimee was given fringe benefits similar to many if not most superintendents across the state. Those include a performance bonus of up to $40,000 per year – not guaranteed and not awarded to date – Public Employee Retirement Account (PERA) reimbursements; sick, personal and vacation time; insurance; and other reimbursements for professional organization fees.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

In short, Peif argues that the petition language is falsely stating McMinimee’s compensation. Now, we could revisit glaring inaccuracies in the petition language used in 2013 to recall Democratic Senators over the gun safety bills, like claiming that Evie Hudak “voted for legislation to raise taxes” (we’re a TABOR state, you can’t do that) or that Angela Giron didn’t “respect” the “fundamental right to the private ownership of firearms” (which doesn’t exist, sorry Dudley Brown).

But none of that really matters, because Peif isn’t telling you the whole story. The Denver Post’s Zahira Torres reported in June of 2014 on the finalizing of McMinimee’s contract:

The state’s second-largest school district would pay McMinimee an annual base salary of $220,000, offer him up to $40,000 in performance pay and reimburse him up to $20,000 for his personal contributions toward retirement benefits.

A previous draft of the contract would have given McMinimee a $280,000 base salary but not provide performance pay or reimbursements for retirement benefits…

The board’s minority argued that the pay was too high for McMinimee, who has never been a superintendent and does not have the doctorate degree like his predecessor.

“Nice shell game with taxpayer money,” said Lesley Dahlkemper as she argued that the majority on the board reduced the base salary but added other benefits, leaving the district spending the same amount. [Pols emphasis]

The original compensation figure quoted by the Denver Post and other media outlets for McMinimee was indeed $280,000. In response to objections over this sum, the board majority changed the terms of McMinimee’s contract to a smaller base salary–plus $40,000 in performance pay, and $20,000 in benefits and reimbursements.

Which totals up to–wait for it–$280,000! This is why Lesley Dahlkemper called the revised contract a “shell game,” and it looks like the board majority’s defenders are utilizing said “shell game” exactly as intended: to confuse the real issue. The actual petition language makes no distinction regarding “base salary” versus other compensation, which is what Peif relies on to make the case that the 280,000 figure is incorrect. As for the claim that McMinimee made “$80,000 more” than his predecessor, the much more experienced and educated Cindy Stevenson, it apparently depends on the year cited–but for 2012-13, the district budgeted $201,000 for her compensation. Given the exaggeration and sleight of hand that so routinely factors into talking points of this kind (see above), that’s certainly good enough to pass muster.

Bottom line: McMinimee’s salary is not the reason this recall election has momentum, and everybody knows that. What you have here is the first of what we expect will be many attempts to distract voters from the real issue at hand: a school board that is out of touch–even outright hostile–to the community it serves, working to “fix” a school district that isn’t broken, and driving teachers and staff away due to their mismanagement and ideological obsessions trumping the district’s core mission of educating students.

So, as the saying goes, keep your eyes on the prize.


20 thoughts on “As Jeffco Recall Heats Up, So Does The BS

  1. I think Peif used to work for the Greeley Tribune. I'm curious to know why she isn't there anymore. Hack crap like this could explain it.

  2. The mass exodus of teachers, as previously reported, would seem to be the most compelling issue that would be of concern to the average voter, IMHO.

    1. The most compelling issue for this average voter will be any talk of raising taxes. There is too much adverse history from the other side; those supporting the recall in this matter; or shall I call it baggage. The mis-allocation of funds was a big reason why the Witt 3 got my votes in 2013. The ineptitude of the candidates who ran against the Witt 3 was another factor. We'll see where this effort goes and if the anti-Witt 3 have learned anything.   C.H.B.

      1. Hi there–I think this is my first comment on Pols. CHB, I appreciate many of your perspectives, and I read them often. This is true even if I only sometimes agree. However, I can't let one more comment about my ineptitude go without asking for some evidence of it. If you're more comfortable communicating privately, let me know. No one ever runs a perfect campaign, and in retrospect, I would do some things differently, but some of your charges about my candidacy have used pretty strong words. Even Mr. Newkirk and many of his allies, repeatedly told me that I ran a good campaign. I've had a lot of people who voted against me say that my campaign was quality nonetheless–they just didn't agree with my stance on 66, etc. That's obviously different–in my mind–than raw ineptitude. Care to share? Thanks for taking this in the right spirit.

        1. Jeff, will you run again? The field is wide open. I'm a little concerned that we're not recruiting quality candidates yet. Amanda Stevens looks good, but we need four more just like her.

          Actually, school board candidates don't have to be liberal or progressive – moderate and actually interested and knowledgeable about education works for me. I'd take a Marcia Neal over a Julie Williams any day.

          1. Not if I learn that I can't get past my ineptitudes, incompetencies, and whatever else has been alleged. 🙂

            Seriously, thanks for asking. Ali Lasell had her kickoff event tonight to run for the seat that Jill Fellman currently occupies now. I don't know Ali but I've heard positive things.

            I won’t be running for this seat, but I do know that there are a lot of smart, quality folks in the district.

        2. Mr. Lamontagne: your campaign was the end of how things had been developing over a number of years. In 2004, I fell for the line "do it for the kids," voted for a tax increase and bond issue, and vowed never again. Next thing I knew, the middle school near my house on Green Mountain, which needed an addition, was completely gutted and a new edifice put up. Same thing happened with Golden High School. In the heights of the Great Recession, when staff was being laid off, former superintendent Stevenson called meetings with the Board, union, parents, other employees, to try and work things out. News flash: I've lived in JeffCo now for 20 years (13-14 years then) & have never had a kid in the school system. Where were other citizens? Aren't the taxpayers who pay the bills, but who don't use the system, entitled to a voice? In Stevenson's world, apparently not. Also when layoffs were happening, teacher, bus driver, janitor positions all got cut. Admin staff took a small pay cut and called it good.

          And yes, 66 was a major boondoggle and deservedly went down in flames. Your race was the closest of the three, but still almost 8 points. The other two lost in big landslides. As I read the position papers from all the candidates, it was clear to me that those running against the Witt 3 were promising more of the same b.s.  If that represents ineptitude and a failure to be more open and creative, then so be it. I have not been totally happy with the performance of the Witt 3, but as of fall, 2013, the Witt 3 represented a breath of fresh air from a stagnant status quo.

          My impression of the recall effort thus far is that there is a lot of sore loser/sour grapes contained within it. As I talked around with people I know back then (2013), I found there was an underlying feeling of discontent with how things were going. The margins of the Witt (16+%) and Williams (22%) wins speaks to that discontent; it wasn't all right wing propaganda as some of the fellow posters here have opined. The big question in my mind is have the recallers actually learned anything from 2013. We'll see. 

          Oh, and there are lots of opinions on this matter floating around this site. When I have time, I read them all. What does impress me is that not many of them actually live in JeffCo.   Regards,  C.H.B.

          1. Well, I asked for the feedback and appreciate your giving it. I'd only put out a few things to think about:

            –your definition of ineptitude is quite different than mine–and outcomes don't necessarily equate to competent campaigns, as I can recall many Republicans that were beaten by inept Dems!

            –I observed Cindy Stevenson seeking parent and community input regularly; that doesn't mean that there weren't instances where she could have done better, of course, and perhaps you observed one or some of those instances;

            –To that end, I don't think that the margins of the victory speak to the discontent as much as you do; I'd assign other factors to it in addition to the discontent (which was no doubt part of it), but that is certainly a matter of opinion as well;

            –I think that the sour grapes piece is a lot less of a motivator/element in all of this than you do, just based on a lot of conversations with people who aren't sour grapes types in any other context;

            –With respect to "creativity" versus "the same BS" — that was indeed frustrating for me and it may just be worth hearing my experience. I didn't love 66 and offered qualified support for it, because I think it could have been formulated much better. But, one needs to take a yes or no approach in the end and the "yes/no" is what ends up in the media rather than the "I'd like to see it improved a lot,"–and of course for a variety of reasons sometimes one can't wait until an idea is perfected before supporting it…or one would never support much of anything. That's a nuance I know but just a little insight for what it's worth.

            As for the "same old BS," I included in my campaign many times that I was really supportive and even excited by well-run charters, and that they need more support; that in some respects schools should be run more like businesses (though I don't like that as a blanket statement); and that we need to keep exploring how teacher pay should be tied to performance with feedback from BOTH teachers and the community, and then start implementing it. Yet glossy mailers went out all over Jeffco saying very strongly that I didn't support charters or pay for performance, which couldn't have been farther from the truth.  I made some pretty strong statements right on my website, on my FB page, and at many of the public forums.

            When I look back, I think about what I could have done to get my actual message out better rather than having it obfuscated (in my opinion), but that's pretty difficult in some circumstances in local elections. Anyway, I don't want to go further down that road but I have friends on both sides of the aisle that have suffered the same unfortunate frustration. I know Mr. Newkirk feels like his true opinions aren't what's portrayed in the media either, and it is indeed hard for voters to see through massive messaging from third parties. Anyway, not something I've posted online before and I don't feel comfortable carrying it farther than this, but I thank you for your sharing, and appreciate your listening to mine.

            Thank you.

      2. I love the tax discussion, from those living in one of the least taxed states, in one of the least taxed countries in the free world.

        I actually long for a community that provides a well rounded education for all students, not just those that can afford the fees for full day kindergarten, the fees for arts, the fees for sports, the fees for transportation.

        I long to live in a community where a good education is available to all students and that opportunities to get a college degree are accessible through low cost state funded colleges and federal help through Pell Grants and work study programs, and doesn't burden a student with loans that will cripple them for years.

        I get it, not everybody wants to live in a community that affords opportunity to all, they prefer those opportunities only go to those that won the birth rite lottery.  It's just not the community I want to live in.


      3. So the quality of the education available in the district is just a side issue for you CHB?  OK. You may be surprised to know that's a major concern for a lot of parents.

        1. Did I actually say anything about quality of education at all? Really, BlueCat, I've come to expect better from you. Education is critical in our society, especially getting more students into STEM. We also spend far too much time arguing about religion in our schools. I find it amusing that young students in Canada, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. aren't subjected to the hang-ups about religion that our society seems to have. But education bureaucracies can also be a "black hole" in that the more money they get, the more they want. What I look for is a balance.

          1. Really, CHB,expect better of you. That was exactly my point.  You say your top priority issue is taxes in the comment to which mine responds. You make no mention of quality of education as entering into your decision making process on where you throw your support. Not a word. Your not so much as mentioning anything to do with quality of education as an important consideration was… duh… my point.

            1. PS: Since following the nested boxes can be challenging this is the comment to which I clicked on reply. You can trace it back through the nest but I'll make it easy.

              The most compelling issue for this average voter will be any talk of raising taxes. There is too much adverse history from the other side; those supporting the recall in this matter; or shall I call it baggage. The mis-allocation of funds was a big reason why the Witt 3 got my votes in 2013. The ineptitude of the candidates who ran against the Witt 3 was another factor. We'll see where this effort goes and if the anti-Witt 3 have learned anything.   C.H.B.



              1. Read all my stuff. I stand by my statements. As a taxpayer with a strong feeling of being "fleeced" in the past ("do it for the kids" in 2004; the open-ended initiative 66), yes, I am interested in potential tax increases. 

                1. Fine. One more time, I'll try to type slowly, that's exactly what I was responding to. I'm certainly not going to try to respond to “all your stuff” at once. You say taxes are your top priority. I take you at your word and note that many would have a different priority. Don't see anything in that to justify you're indignant, touchy reaction but you sure seem full of those lately. 

      4. BC, you really need to listen to what CHB is saying. It is value given for value received. If you promise to improve education given an increase in funding and instead only build new monolithic school buildings, you are not fulfilling your promise. Perhaps more, smaller schools are part of the answer. Teacher pay and support are necessarily part of the improvement. When these are sacrificed for another industrial plant with a 10 to 1 ratio of athletic facilities to STEM classrooms, the promise isn't being fulfilled.

        While I don't live in JeffCo, I hear echos of their problems here in the St. Vrain school district. We've got an especially obnoxious loudmouth who thinks that the only way to improve education is to spend less on it.

        I think it's fair to emphasize content in both the sciences and humanities. High school, after all, is just the introduction to these subjects. The failure is when students don't acquire the needed skills to continue learning. Some of the problems are societal, not educational. When 43% of parents think that all humanity is descended from one incestuous family 4200 years ago, I'm not sure what you can do.

        To the extent that JeffCo voters wanted was a change in the apparently ossified administration of their schools, their selection of the Wit 3 makes sense. If these three had tried to fulfill the expectations of the voters, things would have gone well. However, they seem to think they're the missionaries of the Texas BOE. I hope the new candidates can address the current problems and not rely on the old way of structuring our educational system.


        1. I responded to his own statement of his own priorities which he has, in fact, expressed before and repeated since. I don't have to do a damn thing.

          You can explain and elaborate all you want.  I would never support, for any trains running on time reasons, a board that sought to "revise" history in the way this board's majority sought to do or teach non-science as science and is so hostile to teachers and to what I value in public schools. It's hard to imagine how this board could promote anything resembling first rate education to students in the system regardless of how much or how little money is allocated to the task. 

          Nothing in your explanation or CHB's persuades me that I'm mistaken in believing that those are not CHB's top priorities based on his own perfectly clear statements about what his top priority is. I take him at his word and it's hardly surprising that his priorities as a self described conservative and libertarian would be different from those of many of the parents who want the board majority out and who wouldn't describe themselves as conservative or libertarian.

          Would it be nice for a system to be both the most efficient possible and deliver the highest possible quality of education? Of course. In a less than ideal world we all have to order our priorities. I see little evidence that the candidates CHB supports share my priorities or are doing a more efficient job of investing in quality education, though the highest quality education would always be my first priority.

  3. If you listen to those backing the recall effort, McMinimee is the highest paid superintendent in the state making $280,000 a year in base salary, “$80,000 more each year” than his predecessor.

    Peif was just on KLZ with John Rush making the same statement, except she claimed to be quoting from the petition.  When Rush told her he was getting emails claiming she was lying she suddenly couldn't "remember the exact language of the petition". 

    This is evidently only the first in a planned series of articles in Complete Colorado.

  4. Hey Yankee – John Rush was responding to my Tweet that Ms. Peif and he were lying about salary.

    John Rush has a spotty relationships with facts and was true to form. I was sad to have missed Julie Williams segment because she is…entertaining…in media appearances. Alas, I was busy with recall petition and all.

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