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Look Under the District 38 School Board Campaign Mask

The week of Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I can practically taste the candy in my mouth right now. One of the perks of being a perpetual 5-year-old is the unending chance to go Trick-or-Treat year after year without any sense of self-consciousness or guilt.

It also happens to be nearing the peak of crazy season with school board elections a mere 5 days away. I wish these two simultaneous happenings were just an unhappy coincidence. There’s more than meets the eye, though.

In the past, little yours truly has dressed as Mr. Potato Head and the Incredible Hulk. This time around, I’m going as a Super Secret Ninja Spy. Yet while Halloween-style dress up and make believe is perfectly fine for the younger set, that’s not so much the case when it comes to important races deciding who sits on school boards.

Coming to mind quickly, of course, is the union-backed “Clean Slate” candidates in Jeffco who claim to be independent in the nonpartisan election, while spending nearly two-thirds of all their campaign funds on Mad Dog Mail, “a Florida-based advertising firm that works exclusively with Democrats.”

Meanwhile, up in Thompson, you have incumbent school board member Denise Montagu not reporting $2,500 given by the Colorado Education Association, and then returning the same-sized contribution from another out-of-town teachers union.

A truly prime example can be found, though, in one of the lower profile Board of Education races, in northern El Paso County’s Lewis Palmer School District 38. There, as in a number of districts this year, some reform-minded candidates are opposing candidates who are more closely connected with the K-12 establishment.

It’s not terribly surprising to see a contested school board race in District 38, where two years ago a board-backed $4.5 million local school tax proposal was crushed by a three-to-one margin (outdoing even the wide margin of defeat for its statewide tax hike cousin, Amendment 66). A local parent excoriated the pending mill levy override measure for having “no controls or accountability,” while arguing the district hoarded money in reserves.

More noteworthy is the fact that those seeking this year to retain the tight-knit school board majority in District 38 do NOT want voters in the conservative community to associate them with the union label:

“A few individuals are suggesting I’m being supported or endorsed by some ‘UNION,’” candidate Mr. Pfoff wrote. “That is not true and very misleading.” Current school board vice-president John Mann (not up for election this year) elaborated with an additional Facebook explanation:

Now we’re getting into some technical labor stuff. The LPEA per se is not a “union” because it does not have exclusive status to represent the district’s teachers (the same is true in nearly 140 Colorado districts), and most teachers in fact do not belong. But because of this thing called “unified dues structure,” the LPEA is joined at the hip with the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and National Education Association, labor organizations. And guess what? CEA’s voter guide does officially endorse the four status quo District 38 candidates!

Concerned local parent Traci Burnett gives the following account of what happened when she tried to inquire about why the union is not disclosing its election activities:

Late last Friday, I requested the D38 school district “Designated Election Official” Ms. Vicky Wood, remedy the situation and correct the record and notify parents, teachers and the community that the LPEA is in fact a union. Instead of responding directly to me, she forwarded my request and email to the Colorado Education Association’s (CEA) legal counsel in Denver – the largest union in Colorado. The CEA’s Deputy Director & Legal Counsel in Denver responded to my request letting me know the LPEA activities break no laws but without confirming they are a union. [link added]

The truth is, under a 2008 Colorado Supreme Court precedent stemming from a case out of Fort Collins, CEA may be on solid legal ground to “communicate with their members or their members’ families” through the organization’s website about endorsed candidates. Never mind that the link is publicly accessible for you or I to search.

Perhaps more interesting is the open campaigning done with CEA president Kerrie Dallman (of “all teachers do the same job” fame and other collaborative ventures) and the local LPEA president Phyllis Robinette, as posted on Facebook by one of the incumbent school board candidates:

In a few nights, you’ll be able to remove my Super Secret Ninja Spy mask and see that it’s just little Eddie under there. But what all will you find when you take the mask off certain local school board campaigns? For one thing, people in District 38 may want to know why the CEA and its president are actively working to support certain candidates for their board.