GOLDEN, Colo. — After more than a year of controversy and conflict surrounding the Jefferson County Board of Education, the three conservative board members who make up the majority are a step closer to facing a recall vote.
“We, our community, have collected more than double the required signatures needed to recall Julie Williams, Ken Witt and John Newkirk,” said Tina Gurdikian, a volunteer who addressed a crowd of cheering supporters outside the Jefferson County election office in Golden on Tuesday.
A group of more than 1,000 volunteers had 60 days to collect 15,000 signatures for each of the three board members, but the volunteers took just 17 days and collected nearly 37,000 signatures for each.
“One of our goals with having so many signatures is really to show the opposition that this is what the community wants,” said Wendy McCord, who helped organize the petition drive.
Those opposed to the board members say they have used their majority to take the district down the wrong path, drive teachers away and waste taxpayer money, but the board members aren’t backing down. They say they’ve delivered on the reforms they were elected on.
“I welcome the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the community about the great accomplishments that this board has had,” said board President Ken Witt.
“I believe this is an opportunity and I am looking forward to engaging with the voters of Jefferson County about the issues they care about,” board member Julie Williams said in a statement.
“The union-supported recall effort now gives voters the opportunity to agree or disagree with (our) priorities,” board member John Newkirk said in a statement. “If the community prefers the old approach, I will accept their decision.”
Metro State Denver political science professor Robert Hazan said a recall election could have implications for education reform efforts across the state and the country. He said interest groups on both sides of the aisle will likely help fund the campaigns.
“I think that the lines are drawn in terms of the conservative versus liberal approaches to how to teach,” Hazan said. “There’s tons of money that is pouring into it and we’re going to see what happens, but I think it’s a lose-lose situation.”
The district could also stand to lose money on the recall, but the question is how much. Volunteers pushed hard to submit the signatures so they can get on the November ballot. But if there is an outside protest to the petitions, it would force a special election, costing the district more than $500,000.
“They are certainly entitled to file a protest,” McCord said. “But with this many signatures any protest would be frivolous and it would be wasting money.”
None of the board members has said whether they would support a protest of the recall petitions. The window for a protest will open in 15 days.