Protesters picket school fundraiser

Most outside gathering oppose board, administration

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The nearly 200 guests at the first Love Our Schools luncheon were greeted by about 70 protesters as they drove into the parking lot of Lone Tree’s Denver Marriott South hotel on June 14.

On the south side of the hotel entrance, more than 60 parents and students held signs expressing disappointment in Douglas County School Board decisions and district-level changes. On the north side, about seven people displayed signs in support of the board and Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen, and one man chanted pro-district cheers through a megaphone.

Both sets of protesters lined the sidewalk in front of hotel before and after the lunch, a fundraising event for DCSD coordinated by the Douglas County Educational Foundation.

While no pro-board supporters were willing to identify themselves, parent and former DCSD spokeswoman Susan Meek spoke for the larger group.

Meek said the gathering was prompted by an effort earlier in the week to learn more about the Starboard Group, a Greenwood Village-based company that helped coordinate the lunch. The Starboard Group coordinates events and campaigns for nonprofits and political clients.

DCEF has a small staff and outsources some of its event planning, said chairwoman Amy Sherman, adding she has used the Starboard Group in the past.

But Meek, who made an unsuccessful fall 2011 run for school board and recently stepped down as vice president of the grassroots Strong Schools Coalition to help run fall board campaigns, said she was concerned because of the Starboard Group’s work with political candidates and groups. She and other parents wanted to know how money raised from the lunch would be spent.

Meek said repeated questions about those financial details by several community members weren’t satisfactorily answered, triggering concerns about district transparency and prompting the June 14 protest.

Standing in front of the Marriott, Meek cited “a lack of transparency between several groups that are clearly partisan, political groups, and the school district.

“We’re here today to thank the people for supporting our schools, but we’re asking them to demand transparency.”

Starboard Group public relations director Joe Megyesy said all money raised during the lunch will go to the DCEF.

“It is absolutely accurate we have raised money for conservative causes and candidates,” he said. “We also fundraise for Food Bank of the Rockies."

Parent Jim Cloud cited a different reason for his participation in the protest.

“I want to do my part to see that the school board that has done everything they can to destroy trust with parents, taxpayers and the community is replaced this November,” he said.

Four of the seven school board seats will be up for election this fall.

School board member Doug Benevento, who attended the lunch, said the protest was “in poor taste.”

“There’s a time for politics,” he said. “This isn’t it.”

Board member Meghann Silverthorn said the DCEF’s hiring of the Starboard Group was not an issue.

“That just happens to be who the foundation contracted with,” she said. “Emotions around things that are going on in the district are higher than they’ve been in a long time.”

DCSD spokeswoman Cinamon Watson had stronger words for the protesters.

“The fact they would politicize an event meant to raise money in this district was abysmal,” she said. “I think what they did was really over the line and tragic.”

Watson responded to some of the concerned parent’s questions in emails and on the DCSD Facebook page, but parents said her answers were incomplete.

“I don’t think any kind of response would have been enough for this group,” Watson said. “They’re chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole. There’s nothing there.”

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