An effort to recall three candidates who constituted the Jeffco School Board’s conservative majority succeeded by large margins Tuesday night. Voters recalled Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams by nearly two-to-one margins and elected all five “clean slate” candidates instead.
Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens won in Districts 3 and 4 where the board seats were already up for regular election. Successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell will take the place of the recalled board members.
The mood was jubilant at the election party where recall supporters gathered to watch election returns Tuesday night. “It appears to me public education in Jefferson County is not for sale,” Lasell told the crowd. Mitchell added it was time to end the disrespect that teachers and the community had suffered under the board majority during the previous two years.
All five emphasized that the election was not about them, but about the community standing up for Jeffco Schools. The election was dubbed the number one election to watch in the nation by Ballotpedia, in part due to the amount of support and funding the recalled candidates received from the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity and as a barometer of school reform efforts.
Recall supporters cited a lack of transparency, accountability and respect when they filed the recall petition. Among their complaints: alleged violations of state open meetings laws, hiding expenses from the public through completely redacted invoices, and an attempt to censor U.S. history classes, resulting in walkouts and protests that garnered national attention.
Recall opponents shrugged off the accusations. Witt stated repeatedly that “change is hard” and told media outlets that he thought the reforms the board majority pushed through would have a lasting impact. As an example, Witt cited a controversial 2014 pay-for-performance plan that was approved in contradiction to an independent fact-finder’s recommendations that the current teacher evaluation system was flaws and should not be used to determine salaries without major revisions.
According to Wednesday morning’s election results, Lasell edged out opponent Kim Johnson i District 3 by a 57.7 to 42.3 percent margin. In District 4, Stevens received 66.4 percent of the vote while former Jeffco School Board member Tori Merritts received 33.7 percent.
On the recall side, 64.2 percent of voters voted to recall both Williams and Witt, and 63.6 percent voted to recall Newkirk. Rupert ran unopposed for the District 1 successor seat, and Harmon edged out fellow successor candidate Matthew Dhieux, 82 to 17 percent.
In District 5, three candidates ran for the successor seat. Former Jeffco Schools principal Ron Mitchell won 69.7 percent of the vote, with former Jeffco School Board member Paula Noonan receiving 19.8 percent and Regan Benson receiving 10.5 percent.
Approximately 45 percent of Jeffco registered voters turned out for the election, and nearly 98 percent of those voted on the recall questions. The landscape looked considerably different in 2013 when Witt, Newkirk and Williams were elected.
In 2013, only 33 percent of registered Jeffco voters selected any candidate for the three Jeffco School Board seats. This Tuesday, nearly 45 percent of registered Jeffco voters had their say on the three recall questions, and approximately 40 percent weighed in on the District 3 and 4 seats this year.
The five newly elected school board members will be sworn in later this month, after election results are certified. The five current school board members will hold their next regular meeting Nov. 5, where they are expected to vote on a proposed charter school application from Doral Academy of Colorado, among other business. The meeting will be streamed.