School Choice Is Winner in Denver-Area Board Races

By Katie Ash — November 06, 2013 2 min read
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Cross-posted from Charters & Choice.

Residents in both Denver and Douglas County, Colo., voted last night to support school board candidates who agree with the current direction of those districts—both of which have embraced forms of school choice—squashing the attempts of teachers’ unions to return to a more traditional model of public education.

In Douglas County, a suburb south of Denver, the slate of four Republican-backed school board candidates eked out a victory over the four teachers’ union-backed candidates after a contentious race that divided the community. That division was reflected in the election numbers: The Republican-backed candidates won by a slight margins of about 3,000 votes (in the case of Doug Benevento versus Bill Hodges) to 6,000 votes (Rondo Scholting versus Meghann Silverthorn).

The newly elected members of the Douglas County school board are Doug Benevento, James Geddes, Judith Reynolds, and Meghann Silverthorn. (Both Benevento and Silverthorn have already served one term on the board.)

The race represented the fallout from the highly partisan 2009 school board election wherein four Republican candidates gained a majority on the school board and subsequently passed several high-profile policy changes in the affluent district. These included implementing a voucher program (which has not gone into effect because of resulting legal battles) and teacher merit pay.

Dustin Zvonek, the Colorado state director of the conservative think tank Americans for Prosperity, which supported the slate of Republican-backed candidates in the Douglas County school board race, praised the election results.

“We congratulate Douglas County residents for rejecting the school reform rollback championed by the teachers’ union,” he said in a statement. “No meaningful change comes without controversy or without pushback from entrenched interests. ... The failure of union interests to win the debate, or roll back reform, has positive ramifications well beyond the Douglas county lines, since it hopefully will encourage other districts across the state to be equally creative, bold, and innovative.”

The Denver County school board election indicated citizens’ support for policies that support school choice by larger margins than the school board races in Douglas County.

The four school board members who were elected—Landri Taylor, Barbara O’Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, and Mike Johnson—all expressed support for Denver schools’ superintendent Tom Boasberg’s policies, which have encouraged the growth of charter schools and allowed certain schools to waive some teachers’ union rights. The group of four teachers’ union-backed candidates lost their races.

Candidates in the Denver school board race raised about $880,000 in campaign contributions—most of which went toward the candidates who supported Boasberg.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.