survey says

Denver school board candidate used others’ words in campaign questionnaire, Chalkbeat review finds

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich.

Denver school board candidate Kristi Butkovich on multiple occasions used the words and work of others in filling out a Chalkbeat Colorado election questionnaire without crediting the sources.

Portions of the southeast Denver education activist’s answers were nearly identical matches to passages from a blog post from education historian and writer Diane Ravitch, a prepared statement from a national union leader and an opinion piece by another DPS board candidate.

In an interview, Butkovich said she didn’t see a problem with “using someone else’s wording to get a point across” and doesn’t consider it plagiarism. Later, she sent a statement taking “full responsibility for not attributing the professionals for the work I respect and commend.”

“It is my writing style to quote the experts,” Butkovich wrote. “I know I cited several sources. In my haste to send in the questionnaire (it was already one day late), I should have asked someone to proof it before I hit submit. It was never my intention not to credit the appropriate author.”

Chalkbeat identified the passages in question — seven in all — while preparing the DPS board candidates’ responses for publication. In replies to the 10-question survey sent Sept. 24, Butkovich did include attribution in two instances in quoting extensively from Ravitch and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Among the instances in which Butkovich did not cite source material, and the sources:

Butkovich response:

Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.” 

From May 2013 blog post from Ravitch:

“Students are individuals and human. Not data points in a multi-level statistical model.”

Butkovich response:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, kids thrive.” 

From American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a 2015 press release, quoted in The Huffington Post:

“Diversity is a key component to equality and opportunity. Where there’s a diverse teaching workforce, all kids thrive.” 

Butkovich response:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

From Denver Post June 27 guest opinion piece co-written by DPS board District 5 candidate Michael Kiley:

“On June 18, 2015 the DPS school board voted 6-1 to replace neighborhood school boundaries with a wider “enrollment zone.” The board majority ignored objections of the one school board member who represents Northwest Denver, Arturo Jimenez. If elected, my voting record will reflect the desires of DPS parents, students, neighbors, taxpayers and teachers.” 

Chalkbeat reviews of the other five DPS candidates’ replies using the same search methods turned up nothing similar.

In an interview Thursday, Butkovich said she has a network of people providing information for her to use in her campaign.

Kristi Butkovich
Kristi Butkovich

“I don’t think it’s problematic because those of us that are speaking publicly on this topic area are all using the same language. We are trying to get the same message across,” she said. “ …. This has not just come up in education but it has come up with other issues. Immigration, the gun laws. That language that has been expertly written that clearly gets the message across is used over and over again by other people so that we all are speaking the same language.”

She cited other circumstances, too, including the length of the questionnaire, its timing during “the busiest time of the campaign” and that she lost her original replies because of a computer issue and had to start over after the deadline had passed.

When told that Butkovich had used his work, Kiley, who is running for an open DPS board seat in northwest Denver, said that if he were to quote someone, he would follow “the established protocol.” He said he isn’t sure what that would be in this case.

“I think everyone when they write should follow generally accepted practices about that — and if you don’t, it’s a mistake,” said Kiley, who like Butkovich opposes the district’s direction under the current board majority. “In the heat of a political battle, mistakes are made. And I have made them, too.”

Butkovich in her responses also used large sections of a piece published by Angela Engel, a local author and former teacher, without citation. Engel said she is volunteering help to the campaign and gave Butkovich permission to use any of her language or work.

“This is a David vs. Goliath issue,” Engel said in an email. “Kristi is a mom running for a volunteer school board position, her campaign doesn’t have the resources to hire a PR firm or a communications director. She is not a journalist and she is not trying to get something published for profit, she’s relying on experts and trying to answer the questions as best she can.”

Elizabeth Skewes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, reviewed Chalkbeat’s findings and said she considers it a case of “significant plagiarism.”

“If you’re going to be taking somebody else’s words — and more importantly, their ideas — you have to tell people it is not your original thought,” Skewes said.

“I understand it’s not running for the presidency,” she said. “But it’s not that hard to stop and think, ‘What do I really think about this?’ Even running for school board, you have to step back and ask, ‘How does this come together for me?’ … If I am a voter, I want to know what she thinks — not what a good friend thinks or what Diane Ravitch thinks.”

Skewes said attitudes about plagiarism vary depending on the context. While the realms of academics and journalism have their own standards, interpretations are looser in politics, where ghostwriting and talking points penned by staff are the norm, she said.

Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, is taking on incumbent Anne Rowe for the seat representing southeast Denver. Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input and criticizes the district for a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education.

The questionnaire material flagged by Chalkbeat — which accounted for nearly 20 percent of Butkovich’s overall responses — has been removed from her responses published Friday as part of a 2015 Election page.

You can read the responses that were removed — and citations of the original source material and online links  — here:

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

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