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Recall Election Ousts Colorado School Board Conservatives

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Samantha Lachman
ATHENA IMAGE © Kathryn Scott Osler via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

A recall election in Colorado on Tuesday resulted in the dissolution of the conservative majority on the Jefferson County school board.

The fight in the swing district was significantly more controversial than a typical school board election. At issue were three members of the board elected in 2013 -- Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams -- who ran on a reform platform of expanding school choice and increasing transparency.

But their move in 2014 to review   a new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum, criticized by Republicans, drew national attention. Williams proposed that the board consider whether teachers should present materials that emphasize “positive aspects of the United States” and respect for authority, free enterprise and individual rights, rather than encouraging or condoning “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms and teachers called in sick, shutting down multiple schools in the district. 

Though the board didn’t ultimately change the curriculum, acrimony over the majority's actions continued. Teachers and parents of students in the district have complained about the board’s votes to tie teacher pay to performance in order to direct more funds to charter schools and limit public input at board meetings.

Its conservative majority was criticized for holding secret meetings and hiring its own lawyer. The district’s longtime superintendent resigned, saying she felt disrespected by the new members.

Various estimates suggest that roughly $1 million was spent on the race, characterized as a “proxy war” between teachers unions and education reform advocates. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, spent “in the low six figures” on television ads and mailers in support of the school board members at risk of being recalled. More than  $277,000 was spent by individuals and groups, including teachers unions, in support of the recall.

The pro-recall and anti-recall sides weren't necessarily divided along partisan lines, as Democrats who wanted to protect funding for charter schools campaigned against the recall and Republicans who resented the new board members’ tactics campaigned for it.

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