School & District Management

Voters Stay the Course in Denver-Area School Board Races

By Katie Ash — November 12, 2013 2 min read
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Residents in both Denver and Douglas County, Colo., voted last week to support school board candidates who agree with those districts’ embrace of school choice, squashing the attempts of teachers’ unions to return to a more traditional model of public education.

In Douglas County, the four Republican-backed school board candidates eked out victories 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 just a few thousand votes in each of their races.

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

The race reflected the fallout from the highly partisan school board election in 2009. In that race, four Republican candidates gained a majority on the board and subsequently passed several high-profile policy changes in the affluent, 67,000-student district south of Denver. 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 Republican-backed candidates in the Douglas County board race, praised the election results.

“No meaningful change comes without controversy or without pushback from entrenched interests,” he said in a statement. “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.”

However, the outcome disappointed the education groups supporting the other four candidates.

“We just witnessed parent voices being silenced in their own school district,” said Susan Meek in an emailed statement to Education Week. She founded the group Douglas County Parents to push for a change in the board’s direction.

“So many volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure that a significant portion of the community has a voice on the school board and what we witnessed is outside funders and influences trumped parents,” she said.

Results for Denver

In the 84,000-student Denver County school board election, the candidates who supported Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s policies enjoyed winning margins larger than those in Douglas County.

The four school board members who were elected—Landri Taylor, Barbara O’Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, and Mike Johnson—all supported the superintendent’s efforts to encourage the growth of charter schools and allow certain schools to waive some teachers’ union rights. The four teachers’ union-backed candidates lost their races there.

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

A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Voters Stay the Course in Colo. Board Races

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