An open seat on the Jefferson County school board has drawn two candidates who each want what’s best for area students, but who differ on major policy issues.
This fall, Jeff Lamontagne of Lakewood and John Newkirk of Conifer will square off in a District 2 Board of Education race.
The two are seeking to fill the seat being vacated by current District 2 board director Laura Boggs, who is not running for re-election. Jeffco’s school District 2 includes the candidates’ places of residence, as well as Evergreen and parts of Golden.
Both candidates have spent the last several years working on issues that affect young people.
Lamontagne co-founded the Second Wind Foundation, an organization that provides counseling services for children who are at-risk for suicide.
The foundation was started in 2002, after four Green Mountain High School students took their own lives just weeks apart.
Lamontagne — who is an executive director for the Bluff Lake Nature Center, a wildlife and science center in Denver — has also served on the board for the Jefferson Foundation, a nonprofit that secures financial support for the district. And he’s currently a member of Jeffco’s Strategic, Planning and Advisory Council.
Lamontagne’s wife is a Jeffco teacher, and he has two children who attend Jeffco schools.
“It’s really safe to say that my family life, my work life and my volunteer life is about Jeffco schools,” Lamontagne said. “I’m running because I feel it’s the best way I can serve my community.”
Newkirk is a product of the Jeffco school system, having grown up here and graduated from Evergreen High School.
Through his membership with the Conifer Kiwanis Club, Newkirk works with third-grade children to better their reading skills. He’s also done faith-based volunteer work, as a youth facilitator. Newkirk, who has worked in the medical technology field for most of his adult life, has three children of his own, who also attend Jeffco schools.
“The board should reflect the diversity of the county,” Newkirk said. “I went to Jeffco schools, and Jeffco would be well-served by me being on the board of education.”
The two candidates differ in key areas of education policy — one of them being the school district’s expected piloting of a controversial student database backed by the Georgia-based nonprofit, inBloom.
Proponents of the system say inBloom will allow teachers to better personalize instruction through an all-in-one database. But opponents fear for students’ privacy and security, due to the extent of information the dashboard is capable of storing.
Newkirk is skeptical of the system.
“I’m not against an idea of a dashboard in the classroom,” he said. “But I’m very nervous about gathering data and putting it on a national database, where we can’t know where the information is going.”
Lamontagne said it’s important to listen to teachers who are supportive of inBloom, but also said that questions need to be answered before he is able to fully support its implementation, specifically those having to do with what kinds of student data is being gathered.
“If we have teachers saying this will be a helpful tool, we need to ensure they have that tool,” he said. “That being said, there are a whole host of issues. I would not sign off on the contract unless a number of guarantees were met.”
The two also have different opinions of Amendment 66 — the November ballot question that seeks $950 million in new taxes that will fund an overhaul of the state’s school finance system.
The money will implement recent state legislation that creates full-day kindergarten, provides more resources for at-risk students and English language learners, and creates a new school-funding formula.
Newkirk believes that Jeffco taxpayers will be paying more into the school finance system than other counties, while getting less in return. He also fears that students and teachers here may end up moving to neighboring counties that might get more funding than Jeffco.
“I fully support full funding of a school system, but this is a bad idea,” Newkirk said.
Lamontagne said he will vote for Amendment 66, because he feels the state as a whole will benefit from the new funding formula. However, he “has some concerns as a Jeffco parent and board member (candidate).”
“I am a little unclear on the extent of benefits that will come to Jeffco schools, relative to other school districts,” he said. “There are some variables to be settled there.”
Both candidates recognize that the board will be dealing with new student standard mandates, either at the state or federal level, as well as new processes by which teachers are evaluated, and district budgetary issues. Each candidate believes he is the best man in the race to deal with those issues, head-on.
“I consider myself balanced and constructive,” Lamontagne said. “I get things done.”
Newkirk believes his temperament will be a positive addition to the board.
“I have an ability to get along with a wide variety of people,” he said. “If we don’t see eye to eye, at end of the day, we’re all there to make the school district as great as it can be.”