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LaRue on DougCo voucher lawsuit: it’s me, not the library

By | June 24th, 2011

It strikes me as odd that the lead plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Douglas County School Board over school vouchers is Jamie LaRue, who is also the director of the Douglas County Libraries, a position he’s held since 1990.

I asked Justin Williams, a Douglas County School Board member, about that on Wednesday…

“We knew from the beginning that we would get opposition to our scholarship program,” said Williams. “Really, [we're] never going to reform anything without having some kind of opposition. We knew it was coming. So we weren’t surprised. We weren’t surprised at the timing. They had done a CORA request - a Colorado Open Records [Act] request - to give them all the information that we had about the scholarship program. So we knew this was coming. The issue is that I think we were all caught off guard that we see the libraries are the one’s doing it.”

That was my take, too, wondering why LaRue - who heads a taxpayer-funded entity in Douglas County - is part of a lawsuit against another entity: the county school board.

Here’s how LaRue is described in the lawsuit

“Plaintiff James LaRue resides in Douglas County and has been a Douglas County homeowner for 18 years. His son is a student in the public schools of the Douglas County School District. Mr. LaRue has been a public library director for the last 21 years. He pays property taxes to Douglas County that support the Douglas County School District, as well as income and sales tax to the State of Colorado Department of Revenue. Mr. LaRue objects to his taxpayer dollars being used to fund private schools, including private religious schools.”

LaRue’s wife, Suzanne, is also a plaintiff in that suit. [A second lawsuit has also been filed.]

I e-mailed LaRue with a number of questions and he kindly responded back via e-mail on Thursday morning.

“It can be difficult to separate, sometimes, my role as a public library administrator from my rights and concerns as a citizen,” he wrote. “This action is entirely personal, representing a decision by me and my wife. It is decidedly NOT a library action.”

He also wrote that he notified his “administrative team and the board of my intent to take this private action.” That raises some other questions that I’ll pursue with the library board of trustees.

Below are my questions to LaRue and his responses.

KM: What made you decide to become the primary plaintiff in the suit?

JL: My wife and I decided to join a list of other plaintiffs. We didn’t know that the ACLU would put us first. But in for a penny, in for a pound.

KM: How did your position with the Douglas County Libraries affect your decision to join the suit?

JL: It gave me pause. The library has many mutually supportive partnerships with the school district, and those will continue. But my wife and I - who have homeschooled our children, co-founded the first parent-initiated charter school in the state (Academy Charter, for whom I served as a board member twice), and actively volunteer for the high school band and International Baccalaureate programs) - felt that this was an issue that required some civic engagement on our part. The quality of public education matters a great deal to us. (Our daughter was graduated from DCHS and our son still goes there.) Sometimes you have to stand up for things that matter to you.

KM: As the head of the Douglas County Libraries are you concerned your involvement in the suit will appear to the residents of the county as an attack from the Libraries on the School District?

JL: It isn’t. But yes, I’m sure some people will see it that way. As I think my actions have long demonstrated, I am in fact a strong supporter both of public education, and of educational reform. My objection is not to “choice.” It is to the redirection of public funds into private and religious schools. That seems to me clearly unconstitutional, and very bad public policy. But that’s my opinion, not the library’s.

KM: Why did you agree to allow your job to be included in the summary of the plaintiffs (on page 2 of the lawsuit) in the suit? Did you discuss this decision with anyone else on the Administrative Team or the Board of Trustees?

JL: I didn’t. The complaint reads “Mr. LaRue has been a public library director for the last 21 years.” I named my occupation, as did everyone else. I did not identify my employer. And yes, I did inform both my administrative team and the board of my intent to take this private action.

KM: How do you think this will change the relationship between the [Douglas County Libraries] and [Douglas County School District] if at all?

JL: The decision to launch this program is a public matter, worthy of public debate. I had commented on it already in one of my newspaper columns.  Public servants don’t sacrifice their rights of free speech and civic involvement. In fact, they may be more aware of the need to participate. At any rate, the decision of my wife [and] me is simply that: a personal action in the public square. I respect the people in the schools, and I hope they know that. The library provides support for students, in public, charter, home, and private schools alike. We will continue to do so.

The question remains for me whether it’s appropriate for the head of one Douglas County governmental organization (even as a private citizen) to sue another county entity. More to come…

(Spelling of name corrected 6/25/11)

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