After the bitter school board election this past fall, Kevin Larsen, current President of the school board, indicated in an article in the Highlands Ranch Herald that “he hopes to help mend the rift in the community created during the recent election.” This was welcome news to those who had suffered through 4 years of the previous school board leadership and had fought hard to oust the current board.
Those who oppose the board and its policies had been subject to arbitrary time limits on comments at board meetings, heated exchanges with board members, and down-right rude and unacceptable behavior from directors on social media. Constituents had grown used to their concerns being ignored and mocked throughout the proceeding 4 years and told those concerns were “nonsense” throughout election season. The pure passion and knowledge of the opposing side should have garnered them some respect by the board. So when Larsen used that word in a post-election interview with the Highlands Ranch Herald, some were hopeful. Longer public comment time limits and news of public input sessions are small steps in the right direction, but some real action is needed on the part of the board to show they are serious about bringing the community together.
Many who found hope in Larsen’s “mend the community” comments were shocked when the board reacted to the ruling concerning fair campaign practice violations. Instead of accepting a ruling that amounts to a hand slap, Larsen indicated that the board would double down and appeal the ruling saying (once again) that a Colorado judge does not understand the law. In addition, Larsen indicated that the board intends to go after the complainant, former candidate Julie Keim, for reimbursement of their legal expenses.
Keim is not some disgruntled candidate out for petty revenge. Her complaint was filed prior to the election and supported by community members. Many community members questioned the so-called Hess report during the election and Keim brought these concerns to light. Keim did not ask (as was her right) for a monetary judgment just a finding of guilt or innocence.
Now Larsen seems to be back-tracking a bit on those initial comments, saying the appeal is still under discussion. The best thing the board could do is nothing. Don’t appeal. A very short press release in which the district announces its intention to not appeal the ruling would show some respect for the citizens that were concerned about the Hess report and do much assuage the district’s reputation for vindictiveness when someone has the temerity to oppose them.
The board might want to make sure that a few citizens with opposing views are on their committees. Many qualified applicants have been rejected for positions on board committees without even being interviewed. The board seems to think that a cohesive viewpoint for its board committee members is the best way to get things done, but instead they are fostering groupthink. As defined by Wikipedia, “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” For a district that views itself as cutting edge, some critical thinking on their reforms is long overdue. So as positions become available on the District Accountability Committee, Fiscal Oversight Committee, and Long Range Planning Committee, it would behoove the district to make sure that some are filled by those who oppose the current direction. It will only make the district stronger.
Lastly, appoint someone with opposing views to the open seat recently vacated by Justin Williams. We live in a representative democracy, but 48% of the voters in Douglas County have no voice on the board. This is because instead of voting by district (which we do in Congress), we vote at large. Our school board is a tyranny of (a slight) majority. Giving this one seat to the “other side” won’t change the direction of the board, but it will allow those 48% to have a voice and a watchdog. Those who oppose the board think the executive session is overused and may be used illegally. That 7th seat could stop that from happening, or at the very least, report that executive session is following the confines of the law.
This is my wish list. Public comment for the last few months has been filled with folks addressing the board about their wishes for a more cohesive community. Douglas County Parents has articulated their own hopes to mend the community. Now is the time for the board to stop talking and show some true action to bring the community together. Can our district really take more of this divisiveness? Can this board show true leadership to heal this broken community? It is up to those in power to mend the rift in the community. We need real action, not words and olive branches.