Three conservative school board members were pushed out by voters in Jefferson County, Colorado this week. The trio had changed the way teachers are paid, promoted school choice and had moved to increase patriotism in the state’s US history curriculum.
In an overwhelming vote, Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk were recalled after being elected into office in 2013. The three had made up the majority of the five-member board in the second largest school district in the state. Their replacements have already been selected by voters, as have two additional board members, who are replacing two members that have vacated their positions.
When the trio came into office two years ago, they immediately set forth on their campaign promises by implementing reforms that included putting more money into charter schools and linking pay increases for teachers to performance in place of seniority.
National attention focused on the school board as it argued over an idea brought up by the three members in question that would emphasize patriotism for the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum, saying that “materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder [or] social strife.”.
Students protested the idea by walking out of school, while teachers staged sick-outs.
The College Board changed the curriculum for the 2014-15 school year in a way that angered conservatives, who argued that it portrayed the country’s culture in an unflattering way and undervalued a number of concepts including “American exceptionalism,” writes Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post.
In the end, curriculum for the class remained the same. The elective course had previously been under criticism by the Republican National Committee as well as the Texas State Board of Education because the course focused too much on the native people of North America who populated the continent before colonization.
In an effort to force the recall election, parents and educators created a group called JeffCo United for Action. The group discussed the push for new curriculum as well as the issues over teacher pay, in addition to suggesting the three members had held private meetings before those scheduled. The trio continues to deny this accusation.
The group went on to say that a new superintendent had been hired by the board members and was given a much higher salary than his predecessor had received despite his lack of experience.
A number of parents who supported the recall said it had to do with accountability.
“Unfortunately a school board is only accountable to the community so this was our only option because after two years they wouldn’t listen to us,” said Shawna Fritzler, a supporter of the recalls.
The recall was a complete turnaround from the election in which the trio won in 2013 by overwhelming margins.