Fact-Challenged (or Math-Challenged?) Jeffco Recallers Send Wrong Messages

You can learn a lot by observing people’s actions, not just their words. How do you “get politics out of our schools”? More politics. How do you “restore democracy”? By trying to overturn the will of the voters. How do you “fight to save education”? By feeding people lies and misinformation rather than encourage critical thinking.

So it goes in the overheated rhetoric of Jeffco School Board Recall Land. A land where Chalkbeat tells us that “thousands” of people turned out for Wednesday evening’s recall kickoff party in Golden, while Channel 7 reports 1,200 were in attendance. I get it: a lot of people were there.

But the size of the crowd doesn’t matter as much as the factual basis (or lack thereof) for trying to remove three elected school board officials. The group that shares a spokesperson with the union and has the Colorado Democratic Party’s attorney as its registered agent is well within its rights to attempt a recall election.

As my Grandpa says, though, truth often isn’t a “high priority” in the world of politics. The Jeffco recall looks like a prime case study. On the actual petition form, organizers list as the first reason for initiating a recall:

The Board Majority wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, including hiring a novice Superintendent for $280,000 — $80,000 more than the previous nationally recognized Superintendent of 12 years….

Wow, that sounds kind of bad. Except that it turns out to be completely untrue. Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif did the hard work of actually getting a copy of the superintendent contracts, reading them, and asking the right questions. What did she find?

If you listen to those backing the recall effort, McMinimee is the highest paid superintendent in the state making $280,000 a year in base salary, “$80,000 more each year” than his predecessor. But that is a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges comparison.

Apples and oranges, indeed. Maybe they just have remedial math problems, you say?

Perhaps. Recall organizers actually counted just the base salary of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, while including all the benefits and possible performance bonuses for the new guy, Dan McMinimee — who, according to Peif’s story, is the state’s 11th-highest paid superintendent in the state’s 2nd-largest school district.

Yeah, the truth kind of wears off the shock value. But didn’t I make a similar point when this recall was first announced? That’s how smart little Eddie is.

If you want to find out more about what recall backers are claiming, please stay tuned. Complete Colorado promises more fact-finding stories in the near future that will take the shine off the political fervor.

Given the importance of this well-researched piece of a high-profile story, I sincerely hope Chalkbeat would add a link to Peif’s article tomorrow after omitting it from this morning’s short list of pieces for “Rise and Shine”. An interesting development to watch, since three of the online news site’s leading sponsors are the iron triangle of the Colorado Education Association, CASE, and CASB.

Update, July 10: Chalkbeat ignored it again. In seeing different sides of the debate, and the views of different messengers, clarity is important.

Nonetheless, Chalkbeat’s senior reporter was busy on the scene last night, taking in the sights and smells:

Which prompted a response this morning from one of my Education Policy Center friends:

Remember the Denver Post editorial stating the view that the justification for a political recall in Jeffco was “not close”? That was BEFORE the first revelation of inaccurate information being used to justify this course of action. I wonder what they would say now.

The lesson that students and little tykes like me should be taking away from all this is the importance of doing your homework first. If big people are going to argue about removing school board members who have established and pursued goals to raise academic achievement, then the least political opponents should do is not send subtle messages that undermine the chance for kids to succeed.

Thankfully, in this case, the people of Jeffco have Complete Colorado to help them with their homework. As some of my grown-up friends have started to say lately: “Know before you go.”