NOONAN: Market-based pay, reform agenda repudiated in DougCo school board race

Author: Paula Noonan - November 17, 2017 - Updated: November 17, 2017

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Looks like Grace Davis got the last word in Douglas County over the school board election.  The conservative, pro-voucher board turned over.  Board candidates who support local school funding for public schools won the day.

Davis is the student at Ponderosa High School who in 2016 sat through a nasty lecture from Meghann Silverthorn, school board president, and Judi Reynolds, school board vice president, on how to exercise her right to free speech, assembly and petition.  The board leadership discouraged Davis from organizing a protest against various board decisions that resulted in high teacher turnover.

The directors said that if Davis’s protest went “sideways,” the consequences would “land squarely on your or your parents’ shoulders.”

The 2017 board race pitted four Elevate DougCo candidates known as education “reformers” against four CommUnity Matters contenders.  Elevate DougCo conservatives supported compensating teachers on a pay scale “not consigned to rigid pay structures,” according to the district’s description on its website. That system is “market-based,” which means that salaries vary by grade and subject taught as well years-in and performance evaluation.

The market system pays science and math teachers substantially more than third grade elementary school teachers because more prospects apply for those positions than math positions.

Evidently, market compensation doesn’t energize employee morale or reduce turnover. Teacher turnover almost doubled from 2009, when the conservative board was first elected, to 2016, jumping from 10 percent to 19 percent. During the same period, DougCo lost its “Accredited with Distinction” rating from the Colorado Department of Education.  Eleven schools have recently been placed on improvement plans.

CommUnity Matters supporters argued that the school voucher fight and fiscal tight-fistedness of the former board starved public neighborhood schools.

DougCo has 68,000 students with a 2017-2018 general funds budget of $680 million.  In contrast, Boulder Valley School District with about 31,000 students has a 2017-2018 operating budget of $470 million.  DougCo is in the running for lowest per/student funding in the state.

Lots of district outsiders, including The Denver Post, supported the Elevate DougCo candidates and the voucher suit in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The voucher program gives residents $6,000 to send their kids to private schools.  Vouchers come straight out of per-student funding revenue.

The Elevate candidates didn’t just lose.  They were pounded 58 percent to 42 percent in a district with 43,988 active registered Dem voters, 98,267 active registered GOP voters, and 73,666 active registered unaffiliated voters.  Many GOPers crossed over to vote for the slate supported by DougCo’s teachers.

Stefanie Fuhr, an early and ardent supporter of Davis, said that “the situation with Grace Davis was the turning point in the school board election.  Many adults had heard about intimidation by the board, but no one had heard of a student in that situation.”

So Grace won.  According to Fuhr, “People finally realized that the reform board majority didn’t have the best interests of students in mind.”

Silverthorn and Reynolds can accurately blame Grace Davis for the large majority of DougCo voters of all parties who agreed that DougCo teachers need fair compensation and fair evaluation, and neighborhood schools need every dollar in the district’s budget and more.  Education “reformers” take note.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.