Woodland Park RE-2 School Board Recall Campaign Moves Into High Gear

Group Faces Tough Signature Deadlines

Trevor Phipps

Plans for an official ouster campaign against the majority members of the Woodland Park RE-2 School  Board are aggressively moving forward, but the recall group proponents face tough challenges  regarding signature deadlines and other requirements.

Two weeks ago, a couple of citizens, speaking at a special school board meeting regarding Merit Academy’s lease to occupy part of the Woodland Park Middle School, announced that they would start collecting signatures for a recall of the majority board members. The very next day the group started the recall efforts by holding private petition signing events at a local commercial building.

A week later, the group  recruited volunteers to go around the Woodland Park RE-2 School District community to collect signatures to recall three of the board’s five current members. The group has held several signing events and posted their intentions regularly  social media outlets.

The way the recall process works is that the group of citizens has a certain amount of time to collect a required number of petitions signatures in order to force the recall to a vote of electors  in the district. In order to recall the three board members, the group must collect 3,000 signatures by the end of July to force the issue to a vote this November.

During the school board election last November, more than  6,600 (about 45 percent of the registered voters in the district) people voted in the school board contest. To get the recall to go to a vote, nearly half the amount of people who voted in the election must sign the petition.

That’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome, as a result of the high turnout in last year’s election.

The recall petition names school board President David Rusterholtz, Vice President David Illingworth II, and Director Suzanne Patterson as the three the group wants to recall. Therefore, there have been three separate petitions circulating to recall each board member.

The petition came about after a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the school board. The lawsuit claimed that the board was not being transparent when it approved a memorandum of understanding to charter Merit Academy into the district.

The suit also claimed that the board members were having illegal “walking meetings” with each other during which district business was discussed. In March, District Judge Scott Sells ruled that the school board must follow open meetings laws, but he denied the claim that the board members were holding illegal meetings.

Reasons Given for the Recall

Each recall petition lists a number of reasons for ousting the targeted members.

These cite violating the  Colorado Open Meetings laws by hiding the action under “board housekeeping” and “rubber stamping” decisions at two different meetings. The petition states that fact was supported by the preliminary injunction issued by the District Court in April.

The petition goes on to state that the Board of Education (BOE) Directors have violated numerous policies set by the district’s BOE expectations. “The BOE has not sought community input in decision making as required,” the petition states. “This board has attempted to silence the WP Education Association and disparaged one political party publicly.”

The petition also claims that the board members have violated district policy by not limiting communication outside public meetings and not giving “one voice decision making.” The reasons given for the recall also state that the board members have violated the policy against individual board members requesting information, directing the superintendent, or making decisions without discussion as a board.

The petition goes on to claim that the stated board members lack focus on the entire district, something which policy says should “supersede loyalty to advocacy / interest groups / personal interests.” In addition, the petition states that the board members have violated a policy against individual board members giving direction and orders to certain district staff members.

Overall, many of the people who are pushing for the recall believe that the school board’s focus has been entirely on chartering Merit Academy and not representing all of  the students within the district. Local resident Tracie Bennitt said that she is volunteering to help collect petitions for the recall due to the recent actions of the new board members.

“Their (the school board) number one priority should be the kids of the Woodland Park School District,” Bennitt said. “They shouldn’t be putting all of their focus and attention on a charter school.”

New School Board Member Appointed

Shortly after the lawsuit against the school board surfaced last April, one of the newly elected board members, Gary Brovetto, resigned. Over the last month, the school board has taken applications and conducted interviews of residents wanting the school board director position.

During the district’s regularly scheduled meeting last week, the school board voted to appoint Cassie Kimbrell to take Brovetto’s spot as the director of the Gateway Elementary District. According to her letter of intent, Kimbrell has volunteered for several organizations in the community and she is the parent of a toddler.