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.
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.