`Back to Basics’ Slate in Littleton Trounced by 2-to-1 Margin

By Cheryl Gamble — November 15, 1995 4 min read

In a local school board election that drew national attention, a trio of moderate candidates in Littleton, Colo., last week routed a slate of back-to-basics advocates by a 2-1 margin.

Incumbent Jack Ballard was re-elected to a four-year term on the 16,000-student district’s board. Mr. Ballard and Rick Rufner defeated four other candidates to fill two of the three board seats up for election.

Mary McGlone, the third moderate candidate who had drawn support from a prominent local citizens’ group, was elected to complete the remaining two years of the term of a board member who resigned earlier this year.

In an election two years ago that polarized the Denver suburb, a slate of back-to-basics candidates seized control of the board. They promised a return to traditional education in the district, which had replaced regular high school coursework requirements with a set of “learner outcomes” measured by new student assessments. The board voted in early 1994 to scrap Littleton High School’s performance-based graduation system. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

Last week’s election pitted a slate of candidates vowing to speed up the process of returning to traditional schooling against moderates who said they were willing to consider other educational options.

Mr. Ballard said the results were surprising. “I think the voters are tired of the controversy, and they’re ready to get it behind us so we can focus on student achievement.”

Albany, N.Y.

In Nonpartisan Election, Party Was the Issue

Losing candidates and local newspapers described the results of the Albany, N.Y., school board elections last week as the triumph of a Democratic machine.

On the surface, at least, the elections were nonpartisan, in accordance with state law.

But all three winning candidates were depicted by their opponents and the Times Union newspaper as enjoying behind-the-scenes backing from Mayor Jerry Jennings and other Democratic leaders.

Mayor Jennings and the three school board victors--who easily beat out six other candidates--denied allegations that the winning board members had received covert support from the Democratic Party.

--Peter Schmidt

Fairfax County, Va.

Creationism Backlash May Have Fueled Turnout

Democrats captured eight of the 12 available seats in the first-ever school board race in Fairfax County, Va., an election that drew widespread publicity over conservative candidates’ support for teaching creationism.

The three incumbents, all Democrats, who ran for re-election won their races. The new board members, who will serve four-year terms, take office Jan. 1.

A 1992 state law allowed Virginia districts to choose to replace appointed school boards with elected ones, and Fairfax County voters approved the switch last year.

In last week’s election, support for teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classes had become a central issue.

Local news reports about conservative candidates’ endorsement of the idea may have prompted a backlash, said Dolores Bohen, a spokeswoman for the 143,000-student district.

About a dozen of the 34 candidates in the race supported teaching creationism, including three of the four Republicans who were elected. Each of the eight winning Democrats opposed it.

“We are really pleased,” said Barbara Szumowski, an executive board member of the Fairfax Alliance for Responsible Education, a local organization that describes itself as a nonpartisan citizens’ group.

But a representative of the Fairfax County chapter of the American Family Association called the results “very disappointing and very dangerous.”

The group describes itself as a nonprofit educational organization that promotes values based on the Bible.

It will advise its 4,000 member households to “consider alternate sources of education for their children,” said Bill Wheaton, who edits the group’s newsletter.

--Meg Sommerfeld

Pawtucket, R.I.

First Minority Candidate Loses School Board Bid

The first member of a minority group to seek a seat on the Pawtucket, R.I., school board lost his bid last week as voters returned six incumbents to office.

Joao G. Goncalves, a native of the West African island nation of Cape Verde, ran ninth in a field of 12 candidates in an election that attracted only about a fifth of eligible voters.

All but one of the board’s seven incumbents were re-elected.

--Joanna Richardson

San Francisco

Mayoral Runoff Will Pit Two Popular Democrats

Incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco and Willie L. Brown Jr., the former California assembly speaker, will face each other in a runoff election Dec. 12. The two Democrats emerged as the top vote-getters in last week’s seven-way mayoral race, but neither garnered the majority needed to win the office outright.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Brown had steered clear of the debate over race-based admissions to schools in the city’s 64,000-student district, an issue that has galvanized San Francisco’s large Chinese-American community.

--Joanna Richardson

West Hartford, Conn.

Despite Stiff Opposition, Democrats Retain Grip

Republicans failed in their bid to end more than a decade of Democratic control of the West Hartford, Conn., school board.

Voters last week elected two Democrats, Diane Randall and Tom Fiorentino, and Republican Joseph DeLucco to fill three open seats. Democrats will have a 5-2 majority on the board.

--Adrienne D. Coles

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 1995 edition of Education Week as `Back to Basics’ Slate in Littleton Trounced by 2-to-1 Margin