Jeffco Schools: Candidates face off at election forum

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Jefferson County school board candidates made their pitches to voters at a Wheat Ridge forum last week.

Five of the six candidates who are seeking positions on the Jeffco Board of Education gave short speeches touting their attributes, during an Oct. 2 event at city hall.

The six hopefuls are vying to fill three open seats on the five-member board. The board seats are broken up into individual districts, but Jeffco voters will vote for all three races, regardless of where they live in the county.

Gordon “Spud” Van de Water and Ken Witt will square off in a race to fill a District 5 seat, one that represents their home city of Littleton and parts of south Lakewood.

Van De Water told audience members that his nickname of “Spud” came from “Spud” Chandler, a former New York Yankees pitcher who Van de Water said used to have trouble finding the strike zone.

But this Spud — who worked in education policy and research areas for three decades — believes that he is making a strong pitch to voters who want to see more children in Jeffco succeed, such as those who may be struggling in areas of academic performance.

“We need to work very hard to make student achievement our number one goal and work to close the achievement gap in this county,” he said.

Witt touted his data security business background, one where he “set policy for multi-billion dollar corporations” as a leadership strength that he hopes to bring to the school board. Like Van de Water, he talked about the district’s need to close student performance gaps and his desire to address parents’ frustrations over school waiting lists.

“I would like to make certain that we are able to deliver access to a high quality education to every Jeffco student,” Witt said.

Also addressing Wheat Ridge voters on Oct. 2 were two Westminster mothers who are competing for a District 1 seat, one that represents their home city and much of Arvada.

Tonya Aultman-Bettridge talked about her 20-year career in research and evaluation work in the areas of juvenile justice and mental health.

“If I’ve learned anything in 20 years of research, I have learned that a solid public education is absolutely the best investment that we can make as a community for our children,” she said.

Aultman-Bettridge’s opponent, Julie Williams, is the self-proclaimed “conservative choice” in the District 1 race.

In her speech, she blasted “educrats” and vowed to bring “common sense and simple solutions” to the school board.

“I can think of no higher calling on earth than being a mom,” she said. “I want to be the mom’s voice on our school board.”

The District 2 match-up features John Newkirk of Conifer and Jeff LaMontagne of Lakewood. The district includes the candidates’ home cities, as well as Evergreen and parts of Golden.

Newkirk, who has worked in the medical technology field, touted his 20 years of youth volunteer work and his own Jeffco schooling. He also talked about the challenges that the district faces.

“We’ve got our challenges,” he said. “We have budget challenges; we have classroom challenges; we have curriculum challenges. But as we’ve learned, in America we do not run from our challenges, we run toward them.”

LaMontagne did not attend the event. In his stead, Sue Windels, a LaMontagne supporter, gave a speech where she talked about LaMontagne’s role in co-founding the Second Wind Foundation, an organization that provides counseling services for children who are at-risk for suicide.

“I know that Jeff has really positively impacted the lives of many students and probably has saved a lot of lives as well,” she said.

The forum, which was sponsored by Wheat Ridge United Neighborhoods, did not include a question-and-answer segment for the school board candidates.

The next school board forum is scheduled for Oct. 10 at Lakewood’s Holy Shepard Lutheran Church, 920 Kipling. The event will be 7-9 p.m.

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