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Colorado board’s history class review leads to recall effort

Jefferson County election staffers Sharona Thompson, far right, and Joy Tirrell, second from right, count and stamp petitions collected by a group of parents and educators, called Jeffco United for Action, whose aim is to remove Jefferson County School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, inside the Jefferson County Clerk's Office, in Golden, Colo., Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Critics of the suburban Denver school board that pushed for reviewing class curriculum to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history are turning in signatures to force a recall election for the three conservative members responsible for the effort. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Critics of a suburban Denver school board that considered reviewing a U.S. history course to emphasize patriotism turned in signatures Tuesday to force a recall election for three conservative members responsible for the push.

The clash in Colorado’s second-largest school district — and one of the state’s fiercest political swing counties — has parents and educators citing a long list of complaints against the board members targeted for the recalls, including accusations of secret meetings and criticism over the new superintendent’s pay.

One board member facing recall, however, said what opponents are really upset about is a new system for salary increases that is based on teacher performance rather than seniority.

A group of parents and educators called Jeffco United for Action are behind the recall effort and submitted dozens of boxes with signatures to the county clerk’s office, which now has 15 days to review their validity.

The goal is for the vote to happen during the general election on Nov. 3.

To force a recall election, 15,000 valid signatures from Jefferson County voters are needed for each board member the group is trying to oust. For each member, the group got more than 30,000, said Wendy McCord, 47, one of the organizers.

“They really are driving away our teachers by showing a great amount of disrespect for them,” she said. “They are dismissive of students and parents who have concerns and try to express them as well.”

Last year, the three conservative members who make up the majority of the five-member board angered some students and parents because they considered reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum. Students staged school walkouts in protest.

The board ultimately did not make or consider any changes to the new AP history class, an elective course that has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education. The course gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans.

“When you attack public schools, you are attacking democracy right there,” said Kristine Kraft, 63, a retired Jefferson County teacher. Kraft was present for the delivery of signatures at the clerk’s office.

John Newkirk, who is facing a recall, said the real uproar is about teacher compensation, and that the board was simply doing what they are tasked with — regularly reviewing curriculum.

“Somehow the opposition was able to turn that into a censorship theme,” Newkirk said.

Recall organizers are also upset that the board approved a $220,000 base salary for the superintendent it hired, Dan McMinimee, with up to $40,000 in additional merit pay. The previous superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, had a $205,000 base salary. She left last year after butting heads with the new conservative majority, which was elected in 2013.

Board President Ken Witt says the salary is comparable to what other superintendents make in similar-sized districts. He also said the concerns about clandestine meetings among board members are unfounded, noting that the board’s actions are streamed online.

But McCord contends that the Witt, Newkirk, and Julie Williams, the other board member facing recall, meet among themselves and agree on policy before formal board meetings.


This story has been corrected to show McMinimee’s base salary is $220,000, with up to $40,000 in additional merit pay, instead of a total of $280,000.

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