Colorado

“Brash” new board member rocks Greeley

It’s not every day that a school board member gets served a court summons at a school board meeting. But that’s not even Brett Reese’s most noteworthy exploit.

brett mug
Brett Reese

Since his election to the Greeley-Evans school board in November, Reese, a Greeley radio station owner, has called for the recall of the school board chairman and most of his fellow board members and the firing of the superintendent; he’s put in a request to see every school district bill in excess of $1,000 for the past two years; he’s pushed for a boycott of the Greeley Tribune; and he’s referred to his fellow board members as “rats,” “playground bullies,” “flip-floppers” and “tired, old members who haven’t the strength to think through anything different.”

He has repeatedly declined to speak to the Tribune but did offer an interview to the paper if the reporter signed a contract agreeing to publish Reese’s comments verbatim and pay a $5,000 penalty if the comments were edited.

Randy Bangert, editor of the Tribune, publicly declined Reese’s offer in an op-ed piece just before Christmas and chided him for his intractability. “I’ve never encountered anything like this, and I’ve been in the news business 35 years,” Bangert said in a telephone interview, referring to Reese’s contract offer. “Which is why I thought it was worth writing about. It’s so bizarre and unusual.”

Since he has frozen out the local newspaper, Reese instead communicates through his radio station blog and, most recently, through Greeleyreport.com, a right-wing conservative website that promotes itself as “the eyes and ears of the truth-seeking, freedom-loving coalition of northern Colorado.”

The site has agreed to run Reese’s comments verbatim, with no editing. You can read Reese’s response to the Tribune op-ed piece here.

Statesmanship ineffective?

And on Dec. 16, during a break in a school board work session, Reese was served a summons ordering him to appear in court on Jan. 4 to answer questions about an unpaid debt to a plumber. Read the details of that here.

“I’m in contact with several U.S. and state senators, several friends who are former congresspeople, and they said the school board’s as hot as it gets,” said Reese, owner and program director of Pirate Radio 104.7 FM, an oldies station. “Several have counseled me to be a statesman, to compromise to get something done.

“But the fact of the matter is, every other board member is several years retired. They’re not changing their ways. They’re not going to admit past mistakes. And they’re certainly not going to negotiate with a snot-nosed 40-year-old in diapers.”

Reese, the father of three young home-schooled daughters –the oldest of which works as a disc jockey at the radio station – says he’s following in the footsteps of John Barry, the Aurora Public Schools superintendent under whose leadership that district has made notable improvements of late.

“He’s a businessman,” Reese says of Barry. “And what he’s done there needs to be implemented in this district. I can’t imagine running any of my businesses the way this district is run and even have any hope of success. I have no dog in this fight. I homeschool my kids, but I can’t stand to see this district being run so poorly.”

He complains that Greeley teachers lack autonomy and that’s he’s been prohibited from freely talking to them. He also complains that his efforts to get details about district spending have been stymied. “I don’t know how they’re expecting me to vote with any aptitude on a new budget without that information,” he says.

Name-calling as a strategy

Like others, Bangert simply doesn’t know what to make of Reese, who rode a wave of public discontent with the school district into office, running as the only candidate for school board who opposed the district’s Ballot Issue 3A, a request to increase the mill levy to raise $16 million for schools. Voters defeated that measure by a 2-1 margin.

“He was elected and he does have some support for where he stands on the issues,” says Bangert. “He just has a very different, uh, way about him. We made mention of this in an editorial when we didn’t endorse him. We said then that he seems to focus on name-calling as a strategy to get his point out. That’s still accurate. He has an interesting way of trying to accomplish things.”

If Bangert is circumspect in his comments about this rogue school board member, others are even more so.

“No comment,” said Sarah McQuiddy, president of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, and another target of Reese’s ire over what he sees as unjustifiable taxes.

“I would prefer not to comment,” says school board member Judy Kron, or “The Kron” (pronounced “crone”) as Reese has referred to her. “It’s our board policy not to talk about each other, even though…well, we’re trying hard to figure out how to work with each other.”

Amy Oliver, director of operations for the libertarian Independence Institute and director of Colorado Spending Transparency, is happy to talk about Reese, however.

“I think he certainly brings a different perspective to the school board,” she said. “A lot of the school board members are educators or former educators or involved in the education establishment and Brett is not. He’s a small business guy looking to bring some much-needed transparency to the school board.”

Brashness poses challenges

Oliver acknowledges that Reese’s brashness rubs some people the wrong way. “His tactics can be a little unconventional at times,” she says. “But he is bringing attention to issues that the school board has refused to address in the past. Sometimes bringing attention can be tough.”

Board chairman Bruce Broderius says he’s trying to be tolerant of Reese. “I’m trying to be philosophical, but sometimes it really bites on you,” he says. “I don’t believe he represents any significant number of people in our community. He is brash. He’s inexperienced. But this happens from time to time. You get people elected to a board and they really think they have to tell the experienced people how to do it. He’s in that category.”

“We have a tough deal up here. We’re really under the gun,” Broderius says, “and I’m not getting any help from Mr. Reese. He just wants to attack things. And this is just the beginning for him. He seems to have a whole agenda. So I guess we’ll just wait and see, because I’m sure there will be more.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede