Superintendent Subterfuge: Broken Promises, Empty Words, and the Crystal Ball in Jefferson County

Remember that recall thing that happened in Jeffco back in 2015? Of course you do. We all do. In fact, a fair number of folks are still suffering from the edu-PTSD that nasty fight caused. Many speculated as the dust settled that the dishonesty underlying the Jeffco recall portended broken promises and bad behavior by the new 5-0 anti-reform board. And based on the board’s recent selection of Eagle County’s legendarily anti-reform Jason Glass as its new superintendent, it would appear those predictions have come true.

It became clear pretty quickly following the 2015 election that recall proponents were somewhat… erm… less than honest about their motivations and backers. That’s a nice way of saying they lied through their collective teeth. First, it emerged that the teachers union began working against the conservative reform majority “from the moment the polls closed in 2013” despite statements to the contrary from just about everyone on the pro-recall side. Then, we discovered that the “parent-led” recall effort was, in fact, directly funded by the National Education Association. When that revelation blew up a legal attempt by the pro-recall Jeffco United to conceal its donors, it was revealed that things were even worse than they seemed. The organization received literally 99.9 percent of its money from teachers unions.

And, of course, those are only the worst examples of deliberate lying in the Jeffco recall. There were numerous other claims made that were roundly proven to be either inaccurate or flatly false. One of the largest and most heavily publicized of these claims dealt with the selection and contract of Dan McMinimee, whom the Jeffco school board’s conservative majority hired as the district’s chief in 2014. Back then, the same group of people who would later become the faces of the Jeffco recall effort argued that McMinimee’s salary was unjustifiably higher than his predecessor, Cindy Stevenson. As it turns out, that was a lie. Meanwhile, progressives and other opponents of the board’s conservative reform majority castigated them for engaging in a less-than-transparent selection process that presented only one sole finalist to the public.

The shrieking about McMinimee was at least part of the reason the pro-recall side prevailed in 2015. But their outrage apparently died with the old majority. The new anti-reform board has had few qualms about breaking its own rules in order to fill Jeffco’s superintendent position—a position, by the way, that is only open because the board pushed McMinimee out without offering even the semblance of a compelling reason. The previous board majority was lambasted for supposedly working to push out previous superintendent Cindy Stevenson in 2014, but no such outrage surfaced for McMinimee.

Neither was there much of an outcry from these champions of fairness and transparency about the shady process behind Glass’s selection and presentation as the district’s “sole finalist.” From an editorial by the Arvada Press:

[Compared to McMinimee’s selection] The only variables that were different in the district’s superintendent search this year that resulted May 1 in the naming of lone finalist Jason Glass, currently the superintendent of Eagle County Schools, is that the five-member board is entirely different and it interviewed six candidates instead of five.

Twice, the Jeffco school district denied requests from Colorado Community Media to release the names of the six candidates who were interviewed. “Dr. Jason Glass was the sole finalist made public pursuant” to the statute, stated the district’s May 4 response to our second request. “The remaining applicants are not considered finalists and their names and current positions will not be released.”

…It was interesting that this time around, the public, including the teachers’ union and several parents’ groups, didn’t find the board’s decision to conduct its interview and selection process in private as outrageous as it it did in 2014. Was it because the present school board is much more popular in the community than the previous board? In November 2015, the community successfully recalled the board majority, which had garnered strong opposition and distrust among teachers and many parents for its policies and direction. The result of the election was an entirely new board because the other two members did not run for re-election.

Lesley Dahlkemper, a member of the 2014 school board who had voted against McMinimee’s appointment and who chose not to run again, said then: “I think the process is flawed because this board refused to allow two or three finalists to come forward.”

This time Dahlkemper said, before Glass’ selection, that the board has done a much better job of listening to the community. “I think they did very good work there and I think it’s a big difference.”

John Ford, president of the Jeffco teachers’ union, who in 2014 was critical of McMinimee’s hiring process, felt differently about the selection process this time, too.

Just in case the hypocrisy isn’t suffocating enough already, the board rounded out the search by offering Glass a veritable treasure chest to leave his post as superintendent in Eagle County. He will not only will be making more than his predecessor—yes, the same predecessor (incorrectly) crucified for making more than his predecessor—he will be making more than any other superintendent in all of Colorado’s 178 school districts. And that’s before you factor in fringe benefits and other compensation. Add those things in, and his total compensation soars to almost $400,000.

Normally, I’d finish this post with some type of quip or snarky comment implying that these folks are a bunch of cynical political operators more concerned with enacting their handlers’ agenda than with keeping their promises to the Jeffco community. Honestly, though, the hypocrisy is so hideously clear to everyone that I’m not sure it requires any further reinforcement.

I’ll just leave you with this: Students, parents, and community members in other districts around the state eyeballing major school board races—looking at you, Dougco—have a crystal ball in the form of Jeffco’s board. They should pay attention. And they should take this cautionary tale to heart if they want to avoid the same fate.