Hot Sheet

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.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.


  • Connie

    July 9, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Nothing quite proves how badly the experiment in reform has failed, than seeing those who implemented it admit their incumbents couldn’t win another election. Don’t be fooled. This is the reform slate. They’re going to pretend they’re moderate, but they’re not.

    Two terrific candidates who put kids above politics have also filed to run for DCSD school board. Kevin Leung and Krista Holtzmann. They’ve proven their commitment to DCSD through years of volunteering and active involvement in the district, something missing from most of the “elevate” slate’s bios.

    • MaryA Greer

      July 9, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      reform has not failed the union needs to stay out and go away
      the candidates you support are progressives Neither are conservative

      • Connie

        July 10, 2017 at 12:11 am

        Well, so much for “quelling the discord and division”, when the slate’s supporters are already throwing out misleading red herrings. The district hasn’t recognized the union in over 5 years, yet, as a very involved parent in the district, I have personally seen the quality of my kids’ education suffer under the failing experiment in “reform” forced on our schools. I am no union supporter, and I think the reformers completely blew an amazing opportunity to prove that unions aren’t necessary to treat teachers with respect and pay them fairly. NO ONE is suggesting bringing the union back. But we clearly need to get rid of the reformers to improve the climate and make this a destination district for teachers again.
        The purposeful weakening of our public schools, in order to prove a political point about capitalism and promote privatization, is NOT conservative.
        We need to protect the taxpayer’s investment in our public schools. Not throw up our hands and give up on them. We need good people who will think for themselves and are not tied to any political ideology, like Kevin Leung and Krista Holtzmann.

  • Meghann Silverthorn

    July 9, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Here’s the word on my intentions: I am term limited and cannot run for a third term. It’s been a privilege to serve the citizens of Douglas County.

  • Justin Williams

    July 9, 2017 at 10:04 pm


    you have done a fantastic job serving local DougCo families while standing up to the big political power of the teacher unions. Thank you for 8 years of terrific service!

  • Andy Jones

    August 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Douglas County School District Should Hit the Reset Button

    Recent years have been hard in Douglas County School District. Our schools are still excellent, as the many people moving here for them can attest. But the pace of change has been far, far too quick for many parents, including myself. Add to that the seemingly constant bickering and fighting between the two “sides” on the school board, and I sometimes find myself wishing we could just start over. Sometimes every district needs to hit the reset button.

    I’m encouraged by the message being brought to Douglas County by the Elevate Douglas County slate of Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch, Debora Scheffel, and Grant Nelson. They seem to understand something that many activists and naysayers do not: you can be genuinely proud of your schools and your school district—and you can applaud the many things that are going right—without ignoring or addressing the very real issues DCSD faces. It’s about time our community had reasonable, forward-thinking candidates who aren’t necessarily tethered to either “side” of an increasingly ugly political war.

    When I vote this November, it will be for peace and getting back to work. It will be for the Elevate Douglas County slate.

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