In November of 2013, the people of Jefferson County, Colorado elected me to represent their interests on the Board of Education. My goal was ambitious, but straightforward: help turn our 83,000 student school district, where I attended elementary through high school, into the nation’s leader in public education. But with one out of two Jeffco graduates rated “not ready” for college or career in basic math, science, and reading skills, I knew this goal would require equally ambitious reforms from our five-member board, including accountability in teacher performance, fairness in student funding, broader choices for parents, and transparency in policy governance.
As it so happened, two other reform-minded candidates also won their elections, thereby creating — for the first time in recent memory — a Jeffco board majority that was not supported by the teachers union. The union’s reaction was swift, and as they freely admit, efforts to unseat the newly elected board majority began “the moment the polls closed in 2013.” Jefferson County thus became the focus of the largest labor union in the United States: the National Education Association and its local affiliates.
“We organize, we organize, we organize!”
The unions promptly sent in a full-time organizer from Detroit, forty-eight embedded operatives from eighteen states, as well as a specialist to help coordinate “blitzes, marches, rallies, and other direct actions,” all intended to agitate and disrupt our community. A Seattle-based strategies firm was hired to “beat these [conservative] b—stards,” and children were encouraged by their teachers to walk out of classes in protest. My daughter’s school was marked up with hate graffiti, our board meetings were constantly interrupted by bellicose catcalls, and on more than one occasion we required police escorts to and from our cars. Those listening to union talking points began to believe the new board was taking the district to hell in a handbasket, though the facts told a far different story.
Somehow, amidst this noise, our board majority managed to move forward and take on a number of tough, long-neglected challenges. We initiated meaningful improvements in student achievement, pay for performance, student data privacy, school choice, and minority issues. We resurrected Jeffco’s innovative building trades program. We raised teacher compensation by 8% and authorized 1,600 new seats in three new schools without new taxes or debt. Under our leadership, cash reserves increased by $55 million, debt decreased by $54 million, and teacher turnover rates beat the state average by 12%. Graduation rates increased, dropout rates decreased, test scores ticked up, and after over a decade of declining enrollment, our student population began to grow again.
Release the Kraken!
Ignoring this upward trajectory, a group calling itself Jeffco United began an aggressive campaign to intimidate, disparage, and overthrow the new board and emphatically insisted that it was a “parent driven, grassroots” effort. “The union is not behind this,” they claimed, as dozens of paid signature gatherers disingenuously assured petition signers that a recall election wouldn’t “cost the district anything.” Their campaign of contradictions was wildly successful, and Jeffco’s duly elected Board of Education was ousted midterm and replaced by a single, unified slate of five union designees.
The Truth Comes Out
What Jeffco United celebrated as a triumph of the people was condemned by the Denver Post, which wrote the recall was firmly based on “falsehoods.” The local NBC news affiliate issued an unprecedented on-the-air apology for its role in misleading voters, and Colorado Government Watch filed an ethics complaint with the Secretary of State.
A Colorado court ruled that the recall organizers had broken the law. Jeffco United was fined and forced to disclose its source of funding, which compelled founders Wendy McCord and Michael Blanton (both of whom are attorneys) to grudgingly confess that 99% of their financing came from labor unions.
Flush with victory, the new leadership proposed a $5 million post-recall bonus to teachers and staff (cynically criticized as paying off an “election bribe”) along with $40 million in new debt. Adding insult to injury, the district found itself staring at a bill of nearly a quarter million dollars to cover the cost of an untimely election forced by the teachers union — and paid for by your federal, state, and local tax dollars.
The Immoral of the Story
A recent study by the Josephson Institute reveals that 51% of students now believe lying and cheating are acceptable means of achieving a goal. This statistic becomes all the more understandable when considering the unblushing dishonesty demonstrated by the teachers union in their desperate quest to cling to power in Jefferson County, Colorado.
Honesty, character, and integrity are every bit as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic in the education of our future leaders. The National Education Association’s no holds barred, win at all costs mentality not only sets a profoundly poor example for our students, it is conduct unbecoming of America. Civil discourse is good. Deliberate deception is bad. But exploiting children for political purposes is nothing short of despicable.
One way to disabuse good people of a bad idea (and granting absolute power to any single, factional slate is a very bad idea) is to give them exactly what they asked for, then sit back and watch the inevitable train wreck. In the case of our children, however, we cannot and should not tolerate this. As America slides toward 30th in global academic achievement, as the Chinese yuan threatens to replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and as our country imports more and more of its skilled labor, we cannot be satisfied with the ignominious reassurance that we’re still above average.
This is not Our Fathers’ America. We live in a world of high technology and increasing globalization and our children need to be prepared for it. If they are to inherit the freedom and prosperity so dearly purchased by those who came before us, we must heed the words spoken by our 16th President: “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”