A petition drive to recall three of the five Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 board members has amassed about half of the needed signatures to trigger a special election, according to organizers.
Board President Timothy Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin are being targeted for what petitioners claim are “multiple violations of Colorado state statutes, school board policies and resolutions, Sunshine laws and the Colorado Open Records Act,” said Patty Waddle, a former district employee who’s leading the effort.
The Teller County Clerk and Recorder’s Office approved the petition language last month.
About 50 volunteers have organized as the Coalition for Better Schools and are involved in the Erase the Board effort.
To force a recall vote, petitioners need 400 signatures by March 11 for each candidate of active, registered voters who live in the school district, which covers the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and outlying areas.
“We have people who are absolutely for this,” Waddle said. “We’re also running into a lot of resistance due to fear of retaliation.”
The discord in the district of 372 students started after Waddle, formerly the district’s Head Start director, challenged Jones for his seat in November 2017 and lost by 30 votes.
A ballot measure to change board representation from five seats elected by geographical boundaries to three at-large seats and two by boundaries also passed in that election.
After the board placed former RE-1 Superintendent Les Lindauer on suspension last spring, citing 12 charges to terminate him for cause, Lindauer claimed he was being scapegoated by an unscrupulous board and that Jones did not live in the district he had represented for three terms.
“The ex-superintendent made some false claims at his hearing that the judge said were not credible at all, and she (Waddle) took that and has made the claim,” said Braun.
The three board members dispute all the claims in the recall petition and issued a 12-point Stop the Lies rebuttal to Waddle’s campaign to remove them.
Regarding Jones’ residency, Braun said, “He lives right by the line, and by definition it was very hard to tell.”
Braun said if people thought something was wrong after Jones was appointed to the seat in 2012 and elected twice thereafter, they could have taken the matter to court to challenge it.
“They chose not to do that but make a big public scene with all these false claims,” he said.
Jones, a teacher and athletic coach for RE-1, told The Gazette last year he believed he lived in the district he represented because that’s what he was told by the district’s former election official.
Waddle accuses district leaders of covering up the issue after voters approved the district representation changes to at-large seats .
“He signed false statements that he was living in that district, other board members colluded with him by supporting him in not stepping down, and now they’re letting him stay in that seat, in violation of state statutes and their own resolutions,” she said.
Waddle also claims she found 57 missing checks in the district’s financial system; Braun says they are accounted for and verified by an auditor.
Waddle accuses the district of trying to make a profit off her Colorado Open Records Act requests by charging more than the cost, as Colorado law stipulates.
Braun said she’s submitted more than 100 Colorado Open Records Act requests to the district, and the expenses are justified.
Waddle says board members won’t respond to her or other people’s questions at board meetings or in emails.
“They ignore and disrespect community members when contacted with concerns, they avoid transparency, they don’t respond to the community,” she said.
Braun says the board follows an established protocol at meetings, and Waddle sends emails daily.
“She’s emailed our business manager almost 300 times with petty objections, and she just keeps on and on, looking for something, anything,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s harassment.”
He contends Waddle is a disgruntled former employee, whom the board removed from her job after she announced her retirement, and a sore loser in the 2017 election.
Waddle says it’s time for a board overhaul to help the district improve.
“Our test scores have fallen, and that’s alarming, the morale is bad, there’s so much staff and teacher turnover, and when you have that, you lose consistency and continuity in your program,” she said. “We need board members that work with integrity, honesty, accountability and responsiveness.”
At its January meeting, the board approved interim Superintendent Tory Richey as permanent superintendent. A national search was not conducted because the board liked the job Richey was doing, Braun said. Richey is a former principal of the district’s junior-senior high school.
“He let us know he was interested, and we felt we had a great superintendent right in front of us,” Braun said, adding that he expects improvements in all areas under Richey’s leadership.
The reason the other two board members are not included in the recall petition is that one is term limited in November and the other is new to the board, Waddle said.
If voters recall the board members, eligible community members could apply to be appointed as replacements, Waddle said.
A recall election would cost the district more than $8,500, Braun said.