Clear divides exist between the two slates running in this year’s Douglas County School District board election when it comes to equity in education and managing COVID-19 in schools.
Candidates in the slate dubbed Kids First have described equity as a distraction from the district’s academic mission. Those in the CommUNITY Matters slate say equity is crucial to ensuring every student has the tools to achieve academically.
Kids First candidates say in-person learning should have always been an option during the pandemic, while CommUNITY Matters candidates vow to follow public health official guidance.
We interviewed all eight candidates for the school board about their goals. Here we look deeper into the views of candidates in these two slates.
> Q&As: Douglas County school board candidates
> Douglas County school board -- profile of the CommUNITY Matters slate
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> Douglas County school board election shapes up
In the election for the Douglas County School District board that ends Nov. 2, candidates in the Kids First slate are Mike Peterson, Kaylee Winegar, Christy Williams and Becky Myers.
All Kids First candidates said they are concerned about learning gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic and getting students back on track academically. And academics, they said, should be the district’s top priority.
“I think our kids, specifically our kids here in Douglas County, need advocacy and leadership here in the district to help them achieve that mission,” said Peterson, who’s running in District B against Juli Watkins, of the CommUNITY Matters slate.
To that end, the Kids First candidates also spoke about what they described as removing national politics from education and keeping teachers focused on teaching.
Winegar, a District G candidate challenging incumbent Krista Holtzmann, said her values are grounded in helping children focus on reading, writing, math and history.
Myers said she has a personal passion for reading and improving literacy, which would be one of her top priorities. She’s running in District D against Ruby Martinez of the CommUNITY Matters slate.
“I just really want to get our kids to a good reading level,” she said. “If we do, other things will fall into place.”
Candidates also said they would shift more control over several issues to the school level. Letting schools tailor learning to that specific student population is one. Mitigating COVID-19’s spread is another.
“We have such a diverse and gigantic school district,” said Williams, facing incumbent Kevin Leung for the District E seat. “Kids in Franktown aren’t going to need the same things as the kids in Highlands Ranch.”
Kids First candidates spoke about a frequently voiced concern among the district’s teachers — that neighboring districts offer more competitive pay. A discussion is brewing about raising the mill levy, and it’s one the Kids First slate is willing to take up.
“To be quite honest, we are not doing right by our teachers when it comes to pay,” Williams said.
All eight candidates have said addressing compensation will probably require raising the mill levy. That might not be possible early in the next directors’ terms, Willlaims said, so in the meantime she would talk with teachers and look at the district budget to “think outside of the box.”
The sitting school board is planning to hear staff presentations this year regarding transitioning to a different compensation system.
Winegar said she isn’t sure of a perfect solution. She’d want to hear more from teachers and district staff and said more effort is needed to educate the public about how the state funds schools. Getting residents to approve raising a mill levy requires public trust.
Winegar said she supports the current board’s recent approval of a stipend for educators and its plans to start discussions this semester about transitioning to a new compensation system. But she also scrutinized the timing of a stipend shortly before an election.
Some residents on social media also called the timing before an election suspicious. Board President David Ray, whose term expires in 2023, said politics did not influence that decision. “To me, it’s insulting to our employees to think that a $1,000 stipend is going to influence how they vote,” he said.
Myers said she brings an educator’s perspective. A retired teacher, she worked in the district when it used a step system. Not long after she left, the district moved to a pay-for-performance system.
She’s also not sure how to immediately solve teacher pay, she said. This summer, she said teachers should at least get “a quick bump.”
“We can do a measly 1%,” she said. “The four of us working with the other three, we can figure it out.”
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