The Douglas County Board of Education has had its share of controversies with the teachers’ union, given the open negotiations, the decision of the Board to cease recognizing the Douglas County Federation as the exclusive negotiator, and the union’s decision to ask the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene. (A decision on that appeal is pending.)
On July 17, an aspect of the district’s unique voucher plan was at issue. Cindy Barnard, of Taxpayers for Public Education, took the microphone to try to embarrass the Board over what she claimed were inaccuracies in the district’s financial disclosure. (TPE is one of the plaintiffs in the case against the district’s Choice Scholarship Program. The program was ruled unconstitutional under the state Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, designed to prevent any state assets, for any purpose, going to any sectarian institution. The case is at the Colorado Court of Appeals.)
“At last month’s board meeting I discussed the deficit in the Legal Defense Fund. Since that time I have discovered that the information on the District’s Financial Transparency website is inaccurate,” Barnard said. ”Journal entry adjustments and re-classes are not reflected on the Transparency site. In order to access accurate information, I was instructed to submit an open records request. My request was incomplete. However, I was able to gather some information. And what I found was: that the district’s outside legal expenses for the voucher program total $909,652. If the funds still outstanding from the private schools are included, this number jumps to $934,814. Although I am told that expected more donations to the Legal Defense Fund, to date donations total $807,446. The result, $127,368, these are state and local tax dollars, earmarked for the public education of our kids, that are being spent elsewhere…” (Emphasis added.)
Board president John Carson had a stinging rebuke.
“Well, I would just like the record to show that you are the cause of those legal expenditures,” said Carson. “Are you seriously suggesting – you sue this School District and then you complain that we have to raise private funds to defend the decisions of a democratically-elected board?”
Toward the end of the video above, Board member Craig Richardson discusses with the Board’s attorney the actual state of accounts, with the points made that the funds spent on the program’s legal defense are entirely privately donated, that the actual deficit is around $8,000 and that the board has a pledge of more than $100,000 pending collection.
Richardson asked that the district’s calculations be put on the financial transparency website. Barnard attempts to interrupt. Richardson suggests having “the sheriff around, if that continues.”
And, as Richardson points out, in a separate issue, the Board is awaiting $120,000 “for salaries paid to union officials that have not been reimbursed to the district,” but which was billed in February. “And we haven’t had the same attention of Ms. Barnard or her friends to that $120,000…”
Yes, Barnard and her union cheering section at the meeting seem curiously uncurious about those funds.