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In 'Purple District,' Jeffco School Board Recall Could Have Big Influence

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Voters in Jefferson County will head to the polls later this fall to vote on whether to recall three school board members who have gone head-to-head with the teacher's union. The results of that vote could impact school districts across Colorado.

Supporters of the board have purchased thousands of dollars in television ads to keep school board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk in their positions. The three are conservatives who took control of the board in 2013, hired a new superintendent, and proposed changes to curriculum that led to accusations of censorship.

Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk jefferson county school board recall
Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk (credit: CBS)

"As Jefferson County goes so goes the state of Colorado that's why the stakes are so high here is because it is a leading indicator or a bellwether," said political analyst Eric Sonderman.

Sonderman said while Jefferson County isn't the first to elect a conservative majority bent on reigning in the power of teachers' unions, it is the most ominous.

"Jefferson County is the purple county in a purple state and therefore it is ground zero for all kinds of political wars but at the moment that political war is over the public education system," said Sonderman.

Although attention has been focused on a proposed curriculum review that some called censorship, Sonderman believes far more is rising on this election including the relevance of unions, pay for performance and equal funding for charter schools.

"Yes, Douglas County and Thompson Valley up north and other districts have gone down similar paths but those are districts with a much more entrenched conservative majority voting base," said Sonderman. "If these board members survive the recall it sends a message that you can be a reformer, even do that in an up-for-grabs purple district and live to tell about it."

It is unclear if the recall election can take place in November. The Jefferson County Clerk's Office said it will know by next week. If not, the recall will require a special election that will cost the school district $500,000.

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