A new slate — and a new day? — for education reformers in Douglas County
Author: Dan Njegomir - July 7, 2017 - Updated: July 7, 2017
A whole new cast of candidates aims to take the baton from the current crop of reformers leading Douglas County schools. They’re calling their four-person slate Elevate Douglas County, and a lot is riding on whether they can carry the day in the upcoming school board election this fall — and restart momentum for change.
Public schools in fast-growing Douglas County have been on the leading edge of education reform for years — for better or for worse, depending on whom you ask. Successive iterations of reform-minded boards elected to lead the Douglas County School District since 2009 have implemented a host of far-reaching changes. That includes effectively ending collective bargaining in 2012 with a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which long represented DougCo district faculty and staff, and establishing a groundbreaking but controversial school-voucher program to help pay tuition at private schools of parents’ choosing. That program has been stalled by a court challenge.
The county’s decidedly Republican skew has fostered a fertile climate for such policies, which are crowd pleasers in GOP ranks. Yet, the changes also set off a tug-of-war, even among some Republicans, over just how far the reforms should go. Opponents — supported at times by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, which wouldn’t mind bringing the county’s educators into its own fold — have pushed back.
As a result, the DougCo school board now is split 4-3 in favor of the ongoing reforms — it’s a thin margin on which to continue that mandate — and losing just one more seat likely would result in an outright about-face by the board. That could happen in the board election this November.
Elevate Douglas County would bring all fresh faces to the board: Randy Mills, Debora Scheffel, Grant Nelson and Ryan Abresch. Scheffel, who is the sister of Republican former state Sen. Mark Scheffel, is well-known as a former member of the State Board of Education. The four are seeking the seats of current reformers James Geddes, Steven Peck, Judith Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn — the four members whose terms expire this fall. No word yet on their intentions and whether they’ll stand aside for the new wave of change agents.
The Elevate slate announced in a press statement today that all four have filed their paperwork as candidates for the November face-off, and they touted these objectives:
The slate is focused on quelling the discord and division in the district while renewing the tradition of excellence in Douglas County Schools, empowering parents to be partners in their children’s education, fostering an environment that supports and respects educators, and expanding educational options, such as career and technical training, for students.
The slate’s announcement closely follows last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering Colorado’s Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling two years ago barring DougCo from implementing its voucher program. The state’s highest court had ruled at the time that Colorado’s constitution included, “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.” Last week’s ruling by the nation’s top court, following its decision on a related case, sets the stage for a potentially landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court — that could reopen the door to vouchers in DougCo.
Given its overall trajectory, the Elevate slate presumably would stand by the previous board majority’s support for the idled voucher program, though that does not so far seem to be a big part of the slate’s campaign platform.