Colorado

“Parent Led” Strong Schools Coalition Broadcasts Union Talking Points

Organizations

The “parent led” Douglas County Strong Schools Coalition (SSC) and the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) appear to be collaborating in opposition to recent Douglas County School Board reforms, despite repeated claims to the contrary. A Media Trackers investigation reveals that in addition to parroting union talking points, SSC has worked in tandem with DCFT to develop and distribute campaign materials.

SSC, established in March 2012, brands itself as a “voluntary and nonpartisan” group whose leadership is “is made up of engaged Douglas County parents and community members” with an end goal of “informing, engaging, and positively impacting the public schools in Douglas County.” These flowery claims were accompanied by exactly $2,000 in non-specified contributions and $1,000 in unlisted expenditures during SSC’s first year, according to its financial filings with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

With its meager donations and even smaller expenditures, SSC has managed to build and maintain a complex website, which is where the majority of the organization’s public activity takes place.

Instances of apparent coordination between SSC and DCFT have been ongoing. In August of 2012, DCFT employee Mandy Sheets was spotted passing out SSC flyers at a local Douglas County school. Board of Education member Kevin Larsen also witnessed Sheets distributing SSC materials at an August 22 “Back To School” event.

As Larsen noted at a public breakfast he attended the next morning and also confirmed to Media Trackers, Sheets was in the school parking lot, moving from vehicle to vehicle as she placed an SSC flyer on the windshield of each car. The flyers were filled with the latest DCFT talking points about the district and the school board, stamped with the SSC logo, and bore a disclaimer which read: “The Douglas County School District (DCSD) and/or members of the Board of Education do not endorse or agree with the information in this flyer.”

Additionally, the very first slide of a publicly available SSC PowerPoint presentation reads, “Strong Schools Coalition: working together for Douglas County Classrooms.” Douglas County Classrooms is the local organization and website that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) set up as a specific outlet to channel its literature against the reform-oriented moves of the school board after it ended its contract with the local DCFT union, a division of AFT, in July 2012.

Douglas County Classrooms literature, unlike materials from SSC, prominently identifies the group’s union sponsorship and involvement. Douglas County Classrooms articles and flyers almost always include either the local DCFT logo or the national AFT logo on the bottom right-hand corner of the document to show that they were “union made.”

The “strong schools” language and narrative has long been a staple in AFT and DCFT talking points in Douglas County. For example, the national AFT union sent out a plea to its members to help “Keep Douglas County Schools Strong”, asking them to write letters of protest to the BOE members.

That SSC is working in coordination with Douglas County Classrooms suggests the teachers union’s latest strategy in Douglas County is to rebrand efforts as “local,” “parent led,” “voluntary,” and “community oriented” under a new organization that can not be immediately tied back to DCFT or the national AFT.

Follow Kyle Forti on Twitter: @kyleforti