By John Rofer
Previous Jeffco School Boards have joined the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) without any public votes and spent $250,000 over the past five years. This year the Jeffco school board discussed the value that CASB provides to Jeffco and voted, in public, to leave the organization.
The Colorado Association of School Boards was established in 1940 to “provide a structure through which school board members could unite in their efforts to promote the interests and welfare of Colorado’s 178 school districts.” The group’s website states that they advocate for school board members and provide training programs to support school board members.
They are also a registered lobbyist at the Colorado State Capitol and in recent years testified against a pair of parent-backed bills that called for strong student data privacy protections at the district level.
CASB also joined with the Colorado Education Association (CEA), of which the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) is an affiliate, in supporting both recent statewide tax increase ballot measures. They supported Amendment 66, the nearly billion dollar statewide education tax which would have seen Jeffco taxpayers sending more money to Denver than would have been returned to Jeffco. They also supported Proposition 103 back in 2011, which would have raised over $3 billion in taxes statewide over five years.
CASB also supported the Lobato lawsuit, which alleged that the Colorado legislature was not performing its constitutional duty to provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public education, essentially demanding even more mandated taxpayer funding for K-12 education. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the legislature was doing its duty, which means dollars that should have been in classrooms were used to support failed litigation. Jeffco alone contributed over $160,000 to support the case.
The Jeffco board questioned if these priorities really support Jeffco students. In addition, they asked if the services CASB provides aren’t duplicates of other services Jeffco already contracts for directly. For example, Jeffco has its own lobbyist and Jeffco staff reviews legislation annually for any policy changes necessary as a result of new legislation.
Jeffco Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said; “I think CASB brings a lot of value to the table.” She described the group as a “statewide organization that fights for local control in communities.” What she neglected to mention is that her consulting company Schoolhouse Communications had done work for CASB. She also didn’t mention how much her company had been paid.
CASB Executive Director, Ken DeLay, was on hand to discuss the benefits of being a member of the Association. “We won’t go away if you go out of the organization,” he said. “But it makes a difference when we’re in the [Capitol] building if we say one of the two largest districts in the state is [not] on board.”
Mr. DeLay mentioned the lobbying CASB does as well as the policy support they provide for boards and districts, but conceded up front that his organization’s benefits are significantly greater for small rural districts than for larger ones like Jeffco.
According to CASB’s 2014 –15 annual report, the organization’s expenses from the previous fiscal year were $200,000 greater than its $2.37 million income. CASB’s funding overwhelmingly comes from taxpayer-funded local governments.
Board president Ken Witt noted that though Jeffco had been a CASB member since 1985, he did not find it to be a good deal. “What I haven’t seen is the rest of the value proposition,” he said. “It’s not an indictment of CASB. It’s the match of Jeffco, a very large district, and CASB.”
Director Jill Fellman cast the only vote in favor of continuing Jeffco’s CASB membership. Ms. Dahlkemper recused herself after it came to light that her employer, the nonprofit Colorado Education Initiative, had issued CASB a $100,000 grant.