Reform slate takes Douglas County School Board race

Parents Amy McDowell, Dina Chatwin and Brenda Greengold - who helped organize rallies for the challenger school board candidates - react after hearing initial election results. Photo by Jane Reuter
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Staff report
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Candidates favoring the current direction of the reform-oriented Douglas County School Board won all four races, after months of heated electioneering on both sides.

Unofficial results released at 11 p.m. Election Day showed the closest race was in District E, where incumbent Doug Benevento led challenger Bill Hodges 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent, with a margin of 3,615 votes separating them.

In District B, Jim Geddes led 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent over Barbra Chase.

In District D, Judi Reynolds held a 52 percent to 48 percent lead over Julie Keim.

In District G, incumbent Meghann Silverthorn held a 53.5 percent lead over Ronda Scholting's 46.5 percent.

In each race, about 95,000 votes were counted, with a possibility of a few thousand more remaining to be tallied.

Reynolds, who was at a vote-watch gathering at the Fowl Line sports bar in Castle Rock, was looking forward to serving her four-year term. “The majority of people like the way things are headed and want to see them implemented,” she said.

Benevento saw a mandate in the results. “The voters elected a slate of candidates who have articulated a clear point of view of where it is we want to go. So we are going to move in that direction and talk to people and listen. Clearly there are a lot of voters who feel the other way and we need to understand that,” he said.

“The voters have elected four candidates who believe in parental choice and who believe in performance pay. It's a very clear mandate about the direction we are going.”

Silverthorn said, “I think the voters have clearly said: `We want you to continue modernizing education,' but let's talk about how we are doing that.”

Challenger plans recount

After the night's earliest release of partial election results, which didn't look good for the challenger candidates, those opposing the current board's direction said they were still optimistic.

“We're on the right side,” said Keim. “I really believe we have the community's support and we'll see that at the end.”

“I'm a little nervous, a little surprised,” said Chase.

The challenger candidates were gathered with about 200 supporters at Stumpy's Pizza in Castle Rock.

The mood in the restaurant, jubilant before the 7:30 p.m. announcement of initial returns in the Republican-endorsed slates' favor, turned somber, expressions of concern replacing smiles.

One challenger candidate already appeared to be heading toward a recount. “We have already got a plan for a recount,” Sue Kober, Julie Keim's campaign manager, announced to the crowd gathered at Stumpy's after the second wave of results was released. “We have an attorney who said he would help us pro bono.

“This is about our teachers, this is about our students, this is about our community. We are not done.”

Those results still showed the pro-board candidates in the lead, though Kober - who led the gathering - insisted it was too close to call.

The evening of Election Day brings to a close years of school-board campaigning that began with the conclusion of the 2011 Douglas County School Board election, and culminated during the last few months with a series of community-led protests, emotional school board meetings, teacher resignations, lawsuits and high-dollar campaigns that heightened divisions within the community.

In 2011 and in 2009, board seats went to Douglas County Republican-supported candidates who support the education reform policies now in place. The reforms include a court-stymied voucher program, and controversial teacher evaluation and pay systems.

Both the reform policies and a fractious campaign have drawn the nation's attention. Some say Douglas County is a testing ground for the reform effort, a characterization board opponents decry as subjecting local children to experimentation.

The school board and administration say the changes made and those still planned by current officials will make Douglas County a leader in the nation, and better prepare children for a rapidly changing world.

Critics contend the seven-member board is acting according to an outside-driven agenda to privatize public education, and has withheld money from classrooms as it cut the parents' and teachers' voices from the district.

The winning candidates join school board vice president Kevin Larsen, and board members Craig Richardson and Justin Williams.

Staff writers Jane Reuter and Ryan Boldrey contributed to this report.