Free film screening of “The Reformers” Oct. 7 at Mesa Theater in GJ
WHAT: Film screening of “The Reformers” — documentary by Brian Malone
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Mon., Oct. 7
WHERE: Mesa Theater, 538 Main St.
INFO: 970-250-2838, http://www.facebook.com/reformersmovie
UPCOMING DISTRICT 51 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE FORUMS
Oct. 5 — Pro Second Amendment Informed Gun Owners Conference forum, Sherwood Park, 1 p.m.
Oct. 8 — Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce sponsored forum, 360 Grand Ave., 7:30-9:30 a.m.
Oct. 10 — Freedom! Colorado forum at Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium, 250 N. 5th St. 6:30-8 p.m.
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Brian Malone will introduce the film “The Reformers” Monday, Oct. 7, at Mesa Theater & Lounge, 535 Main St.
With the Mesa County Valley School District 51 school board election approaching Nov. 5, Grand Junction resident and event organizer Scott Beilfuss said he thought it would be interesting and timely to view the new documentary about the Douglas County School District — where the filmmaker attended school and where his children are currently enrolled.
According to Colorado Public Radio’s “Colorado Matters” program, the film has “caused quite a stir” in Douglas County for “slamming the school district for ushering in changes that it claims are unpopular with parents.”
Local school board members Jeff Leany, Ann Tisue and District 51 School Superintendent Steve Schultz recently visited the Douglas County School District as well as other Front Range schools to glean ideas on how to improve curriculum and test scores of children in Mesa County.
“We’re just seeing what’s going on,” Schultz said. “We’re interested in raising student achievement. We’re open to any idea.”
Malone and his wife — producer Cindy Malone — contend that the current Douglas County school board has taken measures that undermine the free public school system. The film claims that for-profit interests are using “politics, fear and expensive advertising” to promote a voucher system that would remove funding from public schools and allow parents to apply the public money to private religious schools.
Transferring money from public schools to private would leave the public system with depleted budgets resulting in less options, larger classrooms and more stress on teachers, Malone said.
Outside interests such as the Walton Family Foundation have donated millions of dollars to defend vouchers, Malone said.
The problem with allowing parents to apply public school money toward private tuition, said Malone, “is public schools are there to educate anyone, regardless of economic status. These ‘reforms’ are creating a social-economic division. You can get a great education as long as you can afford it.”
In creating the film, the Malones talked with several national education leaders who have studied the effects and impacts of profit-driven education reforms for more than two decades. The film includes interviews with the dean of education at the University of Wisconsin, Julie Underwood; Swarthmore College psychology professor and TED Talk lecturer Barry Schwartz; and Chris Tienken, author of “The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myths and Lies.”
Malone also contends there is a concerted effort to dismantle the teachers’ union in Douglas County.
Darren Cook, president of Mesa Valley Education Association, said there are plenty of reasons not to model Grand Valley schools after Douglas County’s school system.
While Douglas County’s TCAP scores are higher than Mesa County’s, its scores have dropped relative to other schools performance during the current board’s tenure, Cook said.
The documentary is about what Malone said is the politicizing of the Douglas County school board by ultra conservatives, and the consequences of its reforms.
“Douglas County schools used to be accredited with distinction — that’s no longer the case since the current board took over,” Cook said.
Cook also criticized how Douglas County spent an influx of new funding after gaining an additional 6,000 students.
“Their superintendent is the highest paid in the state at $280,350,” Cook said. “Meanwhile, they’ve cut the average pay for teachers by 5 percent.”
The hiring of high paid administrators have increased by 10 percent, while the number of teachers has been cut by 1 percent, resulting in increased classroom size of 11 percent, Cook noted.
Cook also confirms what Malone said is a lack of transparency under the current Douglas County School Board.
“They’ve increasingly gone to closed board meetings,” from 8 percent closed meetings during the former board’s tenure, to 49 percent closed meetings currently, Cook said.
The most recent parent and teacher satisfaction surveys completed showed 38 percent parent satisfaction, and 14 percent teacher satisfaction, Cook said. Surveys for measuring satisfaction have since discontinued, he said.
“Why would we want to emulate that?” he asked. “They’ve taken the money willfully out of the classroom and given it to high administrative salaries.”
Malone has produced more than a dozen independent documentaries on a range of topics for broadcast and cable networks, and is the winner of five Emmy Awards.
“The Reformers” starts at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free. A brief discussion will follow the film.
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Courtney Hassell says she could have been completely disillusioned with schools and education, and in many ways she was, after an experience three years ago at Glenwood Springs High School.