Colorado school board elections focus on Amendment 66, school reform
By Nick Katers
Voters in Colorado's 19 largest school districts will cast ballots for school board candidates on November 5, 2013. These elections feature 109 candidates seeking 58 available seats. Some districts are experiencing board turnover due to Amendment 17 to the Colorado Constitution, which says that no "elected official of any...school district....shall serve more than two consecutive terms in office." Races in Colorado's largest school districts focused on a proposed tax increase called Amendment 66 as well as school reform efforts pursued by current board members.
School board elections throughout Colorado have received increased scrutiny due to Amendment 66, which would raise income taxes to support public education. This proposed constitutional amendment would increase income taxes to 5% for incomes up to $75,000 and 5.9% for incomes over $75,000 in order to raise public education spending by $950 million. Reactions at the local level range from overwhelming support by candidates in the Denver Public Schools race to unanimous opposition by current board members in Douglas County School District.
School board candidates in Colorado have debated the consequences of recent reform efforts by district administrators. Douglas County Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen has worked with current board members to develop teacher salaries determined by performance instead of experience or completion of graduate programs. A slate of candidates endorsed by the Douglas County Republican Party is hoping to maintain these reforms while candidates backed by the Douglas County Federation of Teachers hope to reverse these efforts out of concern for long-term academic performance.
Candidates in Denver have split over Superintendent Tom Boasberg's focus on charter schools and closing poor-performing public schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) has endorsed four candidates who believe that Boasberg's reforms have sapped vital resources intended for public schools. Democrats for Education Reform, a non-profit organization supporting Boasberg's reforms, has endorsed a slate of candidates including former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien.
School board campaigns in Denver and Douglas County have attracted significant campaign contributions due to school reform efforts. Candidates for the Denver Board of Education attracted nearly $595,118.21 in candidate contributions led by Barbara O'Brien's $173,324 in reported contributions. Supporters of district reforms including O'Brien, Mike Johnson, Rosemary Rodriguez and Landri Taylor received $479,274.13 or 80.5% of total contributions.
School choice advocates Alex Cranberg and Ralph Nagel donated $35,000 each to pro-board candidates Doug Benevento, James Geddes, Judi Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn in Douglas County. Opponents Barbra Chase Burke, Bill Hodges, Julie Keim and Ronda Scholting received $500 each from Cindy Barnard of Taxpayers for Public Education, a group involved in a lawsuit against the district's school voucher program. Donations reported by the pro-board slate total $156,701.50 or 78.7% of contributions in this race.
Brighton School District
- Denver Post, "Colorado Amendment 66: Is it right for schools?," October 13, 2013
- Highlands Ranch News, "Local Republicans endorse candidates," August 19, 2013
- Our Colorado News, "Teachers’ union endorses board candidates," September 6, 2013
- EdNews Colorado, "DPS board endorsements mount up," September 16, 2013
- Our Colorado News, "Campaign funds tell different stories in Douglas County School Board race," October 18, 2013