The five newly elected Jeffco School Board members took office at the Nov. 19 meeting, replacing outgoing board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman who had completed their four-year terms, and replacing Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who had been recalled by voters halfway through their terms. After taking oaths of office, the five new board members selected officers and heard public comment from the community.
Ron Mitchell will serve as president and Ali Lasell will serve as first vice president. Susan Harmon will serve as second vice president, Amanda Stevens will serve as secretary and Brad Rupert will serve as treasurer.
Board members also made brief statements and outlined their priorities. Every board member mentioned the importance of listening and working together.
“In order for us to move forward as a district, I believe we must accept that we do not all agree upon the priorities, the pathways or the definition of progress,” Harmon said. “But I also believe that when we find a way to support each other in the process, great things will be accomplished.”
Lasell echoed her comments. “The majority of the people in this community haven’t felt listened to in the past couple of years and that is why we were elected,” she said. “But I want to be clear: even if you did not vote for me, you have my ear. I want to hear all perspectives. Understand that in the end, each decision I make, will be what I believe is in the best interest for all kids.”
“It is community-wide work and we need to make alliances rather than create new fronts in a battle our kids can’t afford to have us wage against each other,” Stevens added. “We will disagree at times, but we can listen and consider diverse opinions in a respectful manner,” Mitchell said. “Collectively, all of us, including the citizens in this room, can work together to make this climate a reality and our schools will be better served.”
Board members also said they were each in the process of scheduling visits to neighborhood, option and charter schools in each member’s respective district. They plan to work with district staff to schedule community forums in the coming months.
Other priorities including addressing the opportunity gap, managing district resources, and connecting with the newly formed District Accountability Committee (DAC). Stevens also suggested the board look at the composition of the DAC to “fill any holes that might have been left by a hasty process.”
Harmon said she would like to address growth in Jeffco with responsible facility planning. Rupert requested a presentation from district staff with suggestions about how the board could move forward to address overcrowding and growth. Facilities maintenance, much of which has been deferred for years as a result of budget cuts, was also mentioned as a priority.
Addressing teacher compensation and the 10-month teacher contract were also mentioned as priorities. “I would like to see Jeffco be a destination district once again,” Lasell said.
Stevens also requested an update about the five-year strategic compensation pilot the district has been conducting in order to use results from the pilot to inform decisions about teacher compensation and meeting student needs. The findings from the pilot, although ongoing during the term of the previous board majority, were not considered in the formation of the current compensation plan, introduced by former board president Witt after the former board majority rejected a third-party fact finding report about contract negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association in Fall 2014.
Board members also accepted the resignation of former Jeffco School Board attorney Brad Miller, who had been a controversial figure since he was hired on a 3-2 vote with no disclosure of his salary or scope of work at the previous board’s first regular meeting in December 2013. Miller’s resignation will be effective Nov. 30.
Superintendent Dan McMinimee recommended that board members rely on the services of Fred Hess, Jeffco Schools chief legal counsel, and Jim Branum from Caplan and Earnest as necessary. McMinimee also recommended the board rejoin the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), which would provide additional legal resources to board members through CASB’s legal resource team. The Jeffco School Board had been a member of the organization until June 2015, when Witt, Newkirk and Williams refused to approve membership for the 2015-16 school year.
Stevens asked whether the current board members would have access to unredacted versions of past invoices submitted by Miller. Hess said that they would have access to those and other work that Miller has done for the previous board.
The board’s first regular meeting will be Thursday, Dec. 10. They will meet at 5:30 for a special meeting, and the regular meeting will start at 6:30 in the boardroom at the Education Center. The meeting will be streamed live.
The Jeffco School Board members have also scheduled a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 30 to discuss how community engagement can be used in making decisions during a special board meeting scheduled and to discuss the upcoming work calendar. That meeting will be also be streamed and archived for later viewing.