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School board recall organizers reach signature-collection goal

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By Gabrielle Porter

The group trying to recall Jeffco’s three conservative school board members has collected the signatures it needs to move forward with a recall election, a spokeswoman said.

Jeffco United for Action over the weekend stopped gathering signatures to recall John Newkirk, Ken Witt and Julie Williams, according to spokeswoman Lynea Hansen. The group announced Tuesday afternoon that it had collected more than 110,000 signatures.

The group needs 15,000 valid signatures for each board member it wants to unseat for a recall election to move forward.

“People are very, very excited,” Hansen said. “I think many people thought we would do it, but I don’t think many people thought we would do it this quickly and with this many.”

The signatures next will go to Jefferson County Clerk Faye Griffin to be verified line by line. Recall organizers began collecting signatures July 8, and it took less than three weeks to amass the 110,000 signatures.

Petition language for the recall criticizes the board majority for wasteful spending, a lack of transparency in decision-making, and a lack of respect toward students and teachers. Among other issues, the petition specifically cites:

• The board’s hiring of Superintendent Dan McMinimee at a higher salary than his predecessor. McMinimee has been criticized by board opponents for his previous work at the Douglas County School District, which has seen a conservative board make sweeping reforms in recent years.

• Allegations that the board has made decisions behind closed doors in violation of Colorado sunshine laws, although no specific incidents are mentioned on the petition.

• The board majority’s controversial proposed committee to review Advanced Placement U.S. History, which prompted student protests and teacher sick-outs last fall before the board abandoned the idea.

More than 1,200 volunteers helped collect signatures, Hansen said.

All three board members have said they will not resign.

So far, the only organized opposition to the recall has come from the national organization Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group funded by well-known conservative brothers and billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Michael Fields, the group’s Colorado director, said AFP activists are continually involved in door-to-door canvassing and have been talking about issues at Jeffco Public Schools for more than a month.

“We are using this opportunity to help educate people about the positive reforms that have been implemented, including equalized funding for all public schools, increased choice in education, a strong pay-for-performance system, a fiscally responsible budget — while giving teachers raises,” Fields wrote in an e-mail. “These reforms benefit students, and we will work to keep them in place regardless of who is on the board now or 10 years from now.”

The local group Jeffco Students First has also voiced opposition to the recall but has so far not planned any public events.

The recall process

Jeffco United for Action is attempting to place the recall question on this November’s ballot. Next steps in the recall process are:

• The county clerk and recorder’s office verifies the signatures within 15 business days.

• There is a 10-day period during which the petition can be challenged.

• The district schedules a recall election between 30 and 60 days after signatures are verified and the 10-day waiting period ends, unless it is 90 days or less before the November election, in which case the question goes on the general ballot.

If the signatures are approved and the board majority members resign voluntarily within a few days of the approval, a recall election could be avoided.

If the signatures are not approved quickly enough, Jefferson County might have to schedule a special election, which could cost taxpayers upward of $500,000.

Hansen said Jeffco United for Action volunteers will still be talking to voters.

“We’ve stopped gathering signatures, but we won’t stop campaigning,” she said. “Assuming that the same 30,000 signed all three petitions, we still are looking for a lot more voters … to be successful.”