Julie Keim’s Public Comment to DCSD BoE
January 21, 2014
Time for DougCo to Take Responsibility for Its Actions
I would like to address the school district’s attempt to “spin” the results of the court ruling finding Douglas County School District to be in violation of the Colorado Constitution and Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) for using public funds to pay for a “consultant” to write political propaganda and then disseminate that information as a factual, third party review to more than 85,000 people. The Hess report was titled “The Most Interesting School District in America?” and was written to evoke a response from readers who were not truly informed about what is happening in DCSD. I have read this report and Bill Bennett’s report several times, and if I had not been living the degradation of my children’s education, I too would have been easily persuaded by the claims of these papers and likely been proud of my community’s accomplishment and encouraged to see it move forward.
Through CORA requests, I had the privilege of seeing the Hess contract, numerous emails indicating that this report was anything that remotely resembled a third party review. Let me quote from one such email between Max Eden, one of the Hess report’s authors, and Cinamon Watson.
“Ideally we would love for you all to help us help you. We can touch base on this as the date draws closer, but we would prefer not to go there with a blank slate. Rather we would prefer it if you would tell us what you want us to focus on, what is most worthy of attention, what you’d like to see written about and what your angle on it (and the paper) is.”
When many parents and community members read the Hess report, they complained to Superintendent Fagen about the political nature of the content. Fagen attempted to alleviate this concern by again utilizing the District’s email list of 85,000 to explain its actions as typical for districts to pay for third-party reviews of their operations. Kevin Larsen, the DCSD Board President, in his recent media release addressing the results of the judge’s decision, referred to the report as “positive news involving its education policy”. Interesting that a “third party review” dedicates more of its resulting report to “Electing a Reform Board” than any other topic. Was it “positive news”, a “third-party review” or political propaganda? The judge made that determination on Page 12 of the decision when she stated,
“It was clear as discussed in the Finding of Facts, that the Hess Report was not a third party, unbiased study. To the contrary, the report was an endorsement of the reform agenda and explained the advantage of have a unified Board to fuel that agenda.”
“The ALJ finds that the District spent public funds to influence the outcome of the Board election”.
The judge further stated “Dr. Bennett’s report was an endorsement of the District’s reform agenda, and was intended to influence the outcome of the Board election.”
It was only through hiding behind a shell non-profit organization, the Douglas County Educational Foundation, that DCSD avoided providing public records that would have found the same violation for the Bennett report. The IRS will have the last word on the legality of the DCEF expenditures for the remaining part of the Hess report and the full amount of the Bennett report. It is likely that the IRS will not see an independent organization when they see the administrative functions of DCEF are supported wholly to the tune of approximately $300,000 by DCSD, that DCEF and DCSD share the same accounting, information, database, email and phone systems, not to mention leadership and board members. All of these things are paid for using taxpayer dollars. We will continue to pursue truth and justice in what is happening through a once great foundation – destroyed by your egos and utter dismissal of the law.
As more than 70% of Douglas County residents do not have school-aged children, they do not have the opportunity to separate fact from fiction. Many residents are oblivious to the destruction these reforms have caused and the lack of proper implementation of many policies and practices introduced under this administration in our school district. Unfortunately, the lofty ideas cited in the Hess and Bennett reports look great on paper, but the reality of what is happening to our educational system in Douglas County looks nothing like what is discussed at high levels in the ivory towers of the DCSD administration building. Even you are swayed by your own propaganda and infomercials.
It is astounding to me Mr. Larsen that you could be so irresponsible as the Board President, to issue a press release dismissing the judge’s decision having not sat through one moment of the two days of hearings or without reading the more than 50 exhibits that were introduced. Where were the District leaders who should have testified under oath if they had not violated any laws? Instead, DCSD wasted valuable time and taxpayer dollars having nine witnesses, mostly district employees, sit through nearly 10 hours of testimony. We can only surmise why the District’s high-priced attorney did not call to the stand the parties who had direct responsibility and authority to contract, direct and edit of the report.
Then there is the matter of the district “winning”. I think it is safe to say that you won nothing in this complaint. We provided evidence to show a pattern of behavior committed by the district throughout the election process, with the intent of proving that the Hess and Bennett reports were not “third party validations”. I think we did that pretty effectively.
And what about the district pursuing the collection of its attorney’s fees from me? Misleading once again! The attorney for the district tried to have first all, and then parts, of the complaint dismissed during the hearing. The judge refused. You cannot go after me for attorney’s fees. Mr. Larsen should not have tried to intimidate and mislead the public to believe the pursuit of the truth will result in an individual’s financial ruin, because it is simply not true.
I filed this complaint with the intent to represent myself against your staff attorney, Robert Ross. There should have been no additional cost to the district. Instead, you hired an expensive election attorney who has cost taxpayers more than $41,000 to date to represent DCSD. I, in turn, had to hire an attorney that has cost nearly $25,000 to ensure I had adequate representation against your strong arm attempts at intimidation. I did not ask for a fine or my attorney’s fees to be paid by the District knowing that the money would be taken from our taxpayer dollars and our children’s education. Thankfully, our community has stood together and is helping fund my costs for this complaint. None of us are intimidated by your attempt to silence the community.
There is no reason for you to appeal this decision. You have no financial penalty, only the watchful eye of the community and authorities to be sure you do not commit future violations. This decision sets no precedence in the state other than for you, as a political subdivision. It will impact no other entities unless you appeal and then it will become case law for the rest of the state. The only reason you have to appeal this decision is to save face for your own egos and vanity. It is unconscionable for you to take our taxpayer dollars for our students to defend your egos. It is obvious that none of you take your fiduciary responsibilities to your constituents seriously.
It is time for the DCSD Board of Education and Leadership to admit their wrongdoings, take the appropriate action for employees who have broken the law, and stop wasting public funds appealing a decision of guilt that was clearly established over two days of evidence and testimony before an Administrative Law Judge.
- Cinamon Watson wrote the Hess contract and exchanged many incriminating emails with the authors of the reports
- Robert Ross testified under oath that he reviewed the Hess contract and allowed the leadership to mislead the public
- Elizabeth Fagen orchestrated the whole thing with her friend of many years, and then had the nerve to continue to lie to the public even after many constituents complained about this political propaganda disseminated by the district
- Franceen Thompson’s testimony was impeached when emails written by her were admitted as evidence to directly contradict important deceptive statements made under oath. She should no longer be allowed to represent parents or the community in any capacity within the district.
These are not examples of world class behavior and you should be ashamed that this is the behavior you are modeling for the students and citizens of Douglas County.
The DCSD Board and leadership have caused a huge divide in our community with your inappropriate behavior. It is time you ask for forgiveness and start serving all of your constituents. It is time for you to be good stewards of all you are entrusted with. We are watching!