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Thousands pack rally to launch Jeffco school board recall effort

Organizers of an effort to recall three members of the Jefferson County school board addressed about 2,000 residents at a kick off event July 8.
Organizers of an effort to recall three members of the Jefferson County school board addressed about 2,000 residents at a kick off event July 8.
Nicholas Garcia

GOLDEN — Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed the local fairgrounds Wednesday night to learn what they could do to recall three members of their school board whom they believe are wasting taxpayer dollars, skirting open meeting laws, and disrespecting teachers and community members.

The mood in the barn ranged from curious to outright giddy, with some recall advocates jumping up and down, hugging each other, and dancing to a galvanizing playlist that included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ and Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

“There’s been a lot of hard work leading up to this moment,” said recall organizer Wendy McCord. “But the fight has just begun.”

Critics of the three board members — Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — began exploring the possibility of a recall almost as soon as the board majority was elected in 2013. The trio was bent on pushing a conservative free-market education reform agenda in Jefferson County, the critics charged.

The intervening 18 months have only solidified their concerns, as some board members sought to censor an Advanced Placement class, approved a charter school linked to a Christian university, and changed the way teachers are paid.

Now, if all goes according to the recall organizers’ plan, Jefferson County voters will get the option to recall Witt, Williams, and Newkirk on this November’s ballot. But as opponents of the recall have pointed out, that plan is far from assured.

Organizers have only a short time to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. In the coming weeks, volunteers will canvass neighborhoods, parks, and businesses to round up support, organizers said.

Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed a barn at the local fairgrounds to learn about an effort to recall three of the county’s school board members.
Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed a barn at the local fairgrounds to learn about an effort to recall three of the county’s school board members.
Nicholas Garcia

If Wednesday night’s event was any indication, they are likely to find traction.

The crowd of approximately 2,000 included plenty of teachers and parents familiar with the ongoing dustup in Jefferson County, as well as fresh faces and political figures.

It also included many students, who have been a powerful force in lobbying against the board members. Before recall organizers took the stage, students from Jeffco Students for Change led the crowd in chants of “Recall! Recall!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Not everyone in Jefferson County is excited about the prospect of a recall.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First and a supporter of the board majority, said she believes the recall campaign will end up as a waste of time and money.

“For right now, I’m just focusing on highlighting all the great things this board has done,” she said when asked what role her organization might play in defending Witt, Williams, and Newkirk if voters do face a recall choice in November. Atwell raised money for the board majority during the 2013 campaign.

There are signs that the recall effort is mobilizing families who more typically would stay on the sidelines.

Back at the barn, Jeffco Public School parent Loreli Bratton, who will organize petition gathering in Wheat Ridge, said she was initially reluctant to join the recall effort.

“I would much rather be in my garden or reading a book,” she said amid mud and the scent of wet cow manure. “But when people start messing with my child’s education, I’m forced to get involved.”

Dozens of young Jefferson County residents ran through the barn and climbed on rails during a campaign rally July 8.
Dozens of young Jefferson County residents ran through the barn and climbed on rails during a campaign rally July 8.
Nicholas Garcia

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