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One mom’s defence of the Jeffco school protests and walkouts

I want to share my view of this past weeks student protests and why I allowed my daughter to participate. My daughter and I had a lot of discussion about what is going on in her school district.

I speak as a parent. The past two years I have been PTSA President of my daughters high school. The two years before that, I was the PTSA Vice President and the Accountability Chairperson of the same high school. I have spent a lot of time attending board meetings and budget meetings, and even in meetings with the former superintendent. I have met with parents and teachers. I have heard a lot of different view points. So, although I may not know everything, I think I have a basic understanding of some things.

I have issues with common core and AP US History (I have read the curriculum for it). I have issues with a new unproven superintendent getting massive compensation before he has even done anything. I have issues with the teachers union for allowing incompetent teachers to be moved around instead of being fired. Most teachers are awesome by the way. I have issues with a proposed curriculum review board, not because I am against reviewing curriculum, I think we should, but it should be done by a combination of educators and parents, and not for political reasons.

I was excited when a conservative board was voted in, as I am conservative. However, I have been very disappointed with this group. I am disappointed with the incivility and disregard that they have shown for their fellow board members, for the former superintendent, for parents, teachers and community members. Instead of trying to work with anyone, they are alienating everyone, including those of us who would have liked to support them.

The issues surrounding any school district are complicated, especially one as large and diverse as ours. We need to make sure that we address the needs of all children in our district and not just our own.

Which is why I am glad my daughter and her fellow students protested. It is their education at stake. Their protests have succeeded.

How do I know? Because, they have encouraged all of us to have this discussion and become better educated as to what is going on in our district.

Guest blogger Lisa is a mom of five and lives in Arvada. Photo: RJ Sangosti

Two Jeffco high schools close Friday after teachers call in “sick”

Discord over the direction of Jefferson County Public Schools spilled into classrooms and onto sidewalks Friday after an unusually large number of teachers either called in sick or claimed personal days at two high schools, prompting the district to cancel classes.

A total of 50 teachers from Standley Lake and Conifer high schools were absent, out of 117 teachers at both schools. Without enough substitutes, Superintendent Dan McMinimee made a “quick and difficult decision,” saying there wouldn’t be enough adults in the buildings to provide a safe and secure environment for students.

At a news conference in which he apologized for inconveniencing parents, the first-year superintendent called the teachers’ choice “unfortunate” while declining to speculate on their reasons.

“While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways we can work through these differences without putting kids in the middle,” McMinimee said.

The Jefferson County Education Association, the teachers union, said it did not organize

any action but understands the frustrations of teachers and others about what it described as a pattern of secrecy, wasting taxpayer dollars and disrespecting community priorities.

More disruption could be coming. An organized “sick-out” may be planned for Monday, district leadership wrote in an e-mail to staff Thursday that warned that such actions are illegal under state law.

Tensions in Colorado’s second-largest school district have been high since the November 2012 election of a conservative slate of three school board candidates who became the majority.

Acrimonious board meetings from last spring have spilled into this fall with debates over

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McMinimee describes rocky road to becoming Jeffco’s superintendent

Jefferson County Schools then-superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee sat impassively at school board meetings last spring as audience members inveighed against him, shouting out that he was unqualified to lead the state’s second-largest school district.

Critics decried his proposed annual pay as excessive, compared his professional bona fides unfavorably to his predecessor’s and said his 12 years with the Douglas County School District didn’t bode well for Jefferson County’s 85,000 students.

Even board member Lesley Dahlkemper stated that McMinimee’s proposed base salary of $280,000 — later reduced to $220,000 with $60,000 worth of annual performance pay and retirement benefits added on — “is not commensurate with experience.”

He was hired in May on a 3-2 board vote in one of the most contentious superintendent selection processes in recent memory.

But McMinimee, who completes his second week on the job Tuesday, said he never thought


Jeffco superintendent finalist “doesn’t have all the answers” at tough open house

Jefferson County Schools superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee faced a decidedly tough crowd Thursday, as dozens of people came to an open house at Wheat Ridge High School to set eyes for the first time on the man who more than likely will take the reins of the state’s second-largest school district.

Parents and teachers in this deeply divided district challenged McMinimee, who on Saturday was named by the board as the sole contender for the superintendent post, on a number of topics ranging from charter schools to teacher pay to community unity.

McMinimee, a 50-year-old father of two, is currently assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Douglas County School District. He has been with the district for 12 years.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said McMinimee, as a group of more than 50 people crowded in on him. “We all have to compromise — we’re not all going to get what we want all the time.”

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

Daniel McMinimee (Provided by Jefferson County Schools)

He said his main focus will be on listening to the community, team-building, and implementing policies that make students successful.

McMinimee still needs to be formally hired by the board, which likely won’t happen until next month. Thursday was his first public appearance since being named the sole finalist for the job held for a dozen years by Cindy Stevenson , who stepped down in February.

A former Jeffco teacher warned McMinimee that he is walking into a “hornet’s nest,” with a community riven since three conservative members became the board’s new majority.

McMinimee, himself, was chosen as the sole finalist on a 3-2 vote of the board and several audience members complained about the fact that after a $40,000 nationwide search for a new superintendent, the community was only given a single name.

“My hope is you can bring us back together,” the man said.

McMinimee said he too hopes he can bridge the gaps that have developed, but he said it will take the effort of the entire community.

“We have to develop trust,” he said.

Many in attendance at Thursday’s open house voiced uncertainty about their future leader.

Julia Morgan , a teacher at Pomona High School, said the priorities being set by the board are not teacher-friendly. She said she wants to know where McMinimee stands on the issue of teacher pay and whether he is as determined as the board majority to steer more funding toward charter schools.

“I want to see what he can offer and maybe he can bridge this divide,” Morgan said. “Because it is not good for us as teachers, it is not good for the kids.”

Things got off to a rough start at the meet and greet when McMinimee announced that he would take questions on a one-on-one basis only, prompting some in the crowd to ask how that bolstered transparency. He later sat down at a table and answered questions in front of everyone.

Parent Todd Friesen said while he still had a lot of questions about McMinimee, he appreciated his long and rigorous academic background, which includes stints as a teacher, principal, coach and administrator.

Kelly Johnson , who has two kids in Jefferson County schools, said for now she has to take McMinimee “at his word.” But she said he will have to make it clear to the community that he has the well-being of district’s 85,000 students foremost in his mind.

“It’s going to take someone who truly believes in these kids,” she said.

McMinimee told the audience that while he serves at the pleasure of the school board, he expects to have input in policy decisions rather than just rubber-stamping directives.

McMinimee will appear at another open house at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Lakewood’s Carmody Middle School, 2050 S. Kipling St.

John Aguilar

Jefferson County School Board Keeps Cuts Out of the Classrooms for 2012/2013 School Year

I have a fourth and a first grader who attend a Jefferson County School. It shouldn’t be a news flash to anyone that our school districts across the state have faced deep cuts to their budgets for the past several years. These cuts have been felt across the board as the economy has waned and the state budget crisis has intensified. I have realized that although I follow the surface information of these cuts and crisis, I haven’t dug deeper to really understand what is affecting our schools and the reasons behind them. This past year I have devoted time to really understanding what is happening with our schools.

Jeffco Schools is the largest district in Colorado with almost 86,000 students and 154 schools. It is also the largest employer in Jefferson County with over 12,000 full and part time employees. The district invests more than $1 billion annually into the county’s economy.

In early February, I attended a district budget update held by Superintendent Dr. Cindy Stevenson. Dr. Stevenson has more than 37 years in Jeffco as a teacher, principal and deputy superintendent. She has been superintendent since 2002 and is also a Jeffco alumni.

During her update, Dr. Stevenson said the outlook for the next two years is bleak, with hopes that things will start to turn upward again in 2014/2015. She was meeting with different teachers, principals and parents to share where the district stands and their visions to survive the next few years. The district also held several community meetings and many people attended School Board meetings.

I was really impressed with Dr. Stevenson. She seems genuinely concerned about ensuring the students of Jefferson County continue to receive a solid education, while also understanding the importance of keeping a quality of life for the district’s employees. She was very personable and allowed everyone in the room the opportunity to ask her an anonymous question, of which she answered every single one.

In mid-February I attended a meeting with Jefferson County School Board of Education President, Lesley Dalhkemper. She  spoke to a small group of parents at my children’s elementary school about the upcoming budget woes the school district faces. She said people have been coming out in droves to school board meetings to share where there passions lie and help protect those programs that they feel are most important.

In 2011/2012 teachers agreed on a 2% pay cut along with furlough days which amounted to 1% of their salary with a total of a 3% cut.

The school board recently released their plan for the 2012/2013 school year, saving cuts in the classroom and jobs. The district must cut almost $20 million from its budget for the next school year.

“We asked our community what they valued and it was teachers, along with music, arts, and teacher librarians.  I’m pleased to say that we listened and have saved those jobs for at least one more year,” said Dahlkemper.

Employees agreed to continue with furlough days and the 2% pay cut, which will save $5 million. The Board will also take an additional $5 million from the district’s savings account to help offset reductions. The remaining $7 million in cuts will come from central staff and administration.

Here is a list from the district’s website of what will happen in Jeffco in 2012/2013, keeping in mind, the system is in an ever-changing and evolving situation. Changes to state budget funding, individual employee status, individual school budgets and more will have an impact on where the budget will finally get approved in May or June.

  • There are no planned reductions to teachers, elementary music teachers, teacher librarians or counselors for the 2012-2013 school year.
  • Funding for the district’s Outdoor Lab schools will continue for one more year under a sustainability plan supported by the Outdoor Lab Foundation and the district.
  • Free full-day kindergarten will continue for some Jeffco schools.
  • The two furlough days implemented last year will continue for the 2012-2013 school year for all Jeffco employees.
  • In total, Jeffco employees have taken a three percent compensation reduction over the past two years.
  • The outcome of the summit is a tentative recommendation which is subject to approval by the Board of Education.

The two furlough days will result in a reduction of days that kids are in the classroom to 173.

Dahlkemper does warn that the worst is yet to come in the 2013/2014 school year. The district will have to cut up to $43 million with the potential of up to 600 jobs lost including those to teachers, teacher librarians, music teachers and counselors. The Outdoor Lab program will also be cut.

So what can we all do to help support our schools and ensure that all children receive a solid education? The answer is to get educated on these topics yourself then get involved. At the school level, community level, district level, neighborhood level or all four. We all have a voice and in Jefferson County, the school superintendent and school board are listening. We are all on the same page. The challenge is finding the funding and backing initiatives to support it.

Some in Jefferson County are asking the school district to explore a mill levy in November 2012. A mill levy will help offset budget costs, but will take a financial backing to get it off the ground and then a strong voter support to push it through. If you think a mill levy is the answer, get out into your neighborhood and start garnering support. The last mill levy in 2008 was defeated by voters. The last time voters passed a mill in Jefferson County was in 2004.

The school board has done a solid job in keeping the cuts out of the classroom so far. Some say they have yet to feel the affect of the cuts and the reductions are just making the district lean and efficient. But are the cuts really just tightening the belt or are they being felt across the board? Step into any school in Jefferson County and you will see how the cuts are directly affecting students, parents, employees and the classroom. In my next post, I will explore how the already $55 million in reductions are taking their toll.

Important note: Want to make a difference? Don’t miss the mill levy meeting at the school board on Thursday.