Censure of school board member ignites heated debate

LAKEWOOD – The Jefferson County School Board Thursday got an earful from supporters of embattled board member Laura Boggs, who was the target of a censure approved by her fellow school trustees last month.

In censuring the conservative Boggs, board member Robin Johnson said, despite a board vote to the contrary, Boggs spoke in support of three statewide ballot issues, 60, 61 and 101, which would have restored voter approved statewide tax and spending limits, reduced some fees and the state’s income tax and limited government debt. The board voted to oppose all three of the 2010 ballot issues.

Boggs’ public support of the ballot issues, Johnson said, went against the board’s “governance” policy, which requires members speak with a single voice once a vote has been taken. Other board members cited Bogg’s behavior in school settings, saying she acted inappropriately.

But the catalyst for the censure was a memo to board members from Superintendent Cindy Stevenson that said Boggs had threatened to raise questions about a federal grant to gauge the effectiveness of linking incentive-based pay raises with student achievement. In the memo, Stevenson said she felt intimidated when Boggs said she would “tear this county apart.”

State Rep. Jim Kerr, a Republican who represents the heavily populated House District 28 in South Jeffco said Boggs was “censured unreasonably” in what “amounts to an attempt to limit the First Amendment rights of an elected official who is expressing an opinion.”

“The voices of all of you need to be heard,” Kerr said. “I want my elected official to be able to voice their opinion. By taking that away, you are depriving a member of this board of her freedom of speech.”

After the 4-0 vote to censure Boggs came down Dec. 16, board member Paula Noonan called for Boggs’ exclusion from any school board committee.

During a late afternoon study session before Thursday’s board meeting, Noonan rescinded that proposal, saying she wanted to set a new tone for the New Year.

During a break between the two meetings, Noonan approached reporters to endorse Boggs’ right to voice her opinions despite previous charges that Boggs violated the board’s governance policy.

“Anybody can say whatever they want whenever and where ever they want,” Noonan said.

Other citizens opposed to the censure raised issues of school performance in their support of Boggs’ opinions on linking the rising cost of education to student assessment scores.

Jen Raiffie, with a group of Boggs’ supporters standing behind her, said the district spends $11,000 per student each year, but some schools post proficiency rates as low as 10 percent.

“I am disturbed by the transgressions of this board,” Raiffie said. “This board is not putting students where they should, and that’s first.”

And Brenda Smull, backed by another group of Boggs’ supporters, echoed that concern.

“Why are we paying more for less,” Smull asked.

Board members did not comment on the support for Boggs, but a group of teachers stood in defense of the censure, and a Jefferson County Teachers Association officer defended the JCEA, which took some collateral criticism during the meeting.

“We do have a lot of work to do. We have also accomplished a lot,” said Lisa Elliott of the JCEA, referring to the comments about low proficiency rates. “(But) It seems today that, much of the time, when a student doesn’t do well, the teacher or the school or the principal or the school board is in trouble, not the kid.”

And David Rupert, speaking for the group of teachers, hinted Boggs had the wrong motives when she questioned the federal incentive grant.

“Too often in today’s winner-take-all climate, true collaboration and mutual respect are replaced by dishonesty and manipulation generated by a politician who is attempting to further his or her political agenda,” Rupert said. “When true collaboration does occur, as it has in this case, it can be twisted and used for political posturing or an opportunity to spout one’s ideology.”

But Lakewood activist Sherry Collins questioned the role Bogg’s behavior played in the censure.

“This seems to be about two things: process and behavior. And you will recall, you had a former Board member that beat his wife and daughter,” Collins said, referring to former school board member Vince Chowdry. “You didn’t censure his behavior, which was worse than the political dissent and supposed behavior of Mrs. Boggs.”

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