Voters in the Cherry Creek School District are choosing two directors for the Board of Education in the election that ends Nov. 2. Ballots go out starting Oct. 8.
The school board members represent different parts of the school district but they are elected “at large” by all district residents.
This is one of a series of profiles of candidates in board District E, which includes central and east Centennial as well as parts of Greenwood Village, Aurora and unincorporated Arapahoe County.
> Candidate profile: Bates says she knows what kids need on Cherry Creek school board
> Candidate profile: Gibbons wants to 'bring unity back' to Cherry Creek school board
> Candidate profile: Navarro wants more viewpoints on Cherry Creek school board
> Candidate profile: Allan wants to fight for kids who are 'not seen and heard' on the Cherry Creek school board
> Candidate profile: Lester runs for Cherry Creek school board to 'serve anybody' regardless of politics, identity
> Candidate forum: Cherry Creek school board candidates talk masks, diversity
No government board should ever agree 100% on every item that comes across the group's desk, said Bill Leach, a candidate for Cherry Creek school board.
“There should be dialogue, should be discussion, should be debate on boards ultimately to make those consensus-building decisions,” said Leach, who lives in Greenwood Village.
Leach, 51, is originally from Montana, growing up in a “small town, cattle ranch, wheat farm, agricultural kind of upbringing,” Leach said. He has a background in production agriculture and several years in construction, he added.
He's running to represent Creek school board District E, the area that encompasses parts of Greenwood Village, unincorporated Arapahoe County, central and east Centennial, and south and southeast Aurora. His opponents are Jason Lester and Kristin Allan. The election ends Nov. 2.
The school board is the policy-making body for the school district. It hires the superintendent — the leader in charge of implementing the school board's policies. The board also approves the district's budget.
Leach served as a county commissioner, one of the elected leaders, in Prairie County, Montana, for about six years, he said. The position saw him dealing with issues related to public lands, agriculture and natural resources.
“It was actually a really great experience, too, in just learning collaboration — learning consensus building,” Leach said.
Leach feels that what sets him apart from other Cherry Creek candidates is that he has “more of a results and solutions” mindset, he said.
He works as part of the operations team for the Colorado Benefits Management System, a division of the state Office of Information Technology. That system helps connect people in need with "food, medical and cash” resources, including Medicaid and SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
His work is “basically behind the scenes, keeping all the programs running,” said Leach, who helps fix hardware and software issues.
He has six children: Two have graduated, and four are currently in the Cherry Creek School District, he said. In the Creek district area, Leach has coached for youth softball and basketball programs, he added.
Asked why he chose to run for school board, Leach said: “I have wanted to get involved for a little while now, and I just reached a sweet spot in my personal and professional life where it made sense to want to give back to the district.”
Amid the charged political climate in the school district — generally centered around coronavirus mask policy and the teaching of racial issues in classrooms — Leach weighed in, saying the “age-old” answer of better communication is key to keeping tensions down.
“I want to say the district has done a great job in the last 18 months of communicating COVID details,” such as cases, testing sites and vaccine opportunities, Leach said. “I think we can do the same thing with some of the other issues, some of the curriculum issues, some of the training conversations that have been going on. Those things could maybe be communicated up front better.”
In response to a Colorado Community Media Q&A question regarding the district's policies on the teaching of racial issues in American society, Leach wrote: “In my opinion if/when social awareness crosses the fine line into social engineering, then we have a problem.”
By phone, Leach said: “I'm not saying it has crossed that line, but it's a line that we need to pay attention to.” He said he didn't have an example at the moment of what crossing that line would look like.
“Social awareness, cultural understanding, those things are always going to be an important part of how our schools should be functioning. Absolutely. And I think that's been reflected in some of the curriculum changes,” Leach said. He added that cultural understanding is “an important part of what the district is doing.”
Regarding masks, Leach compares the situation to when an engineer might tell the school district not to use a structure because of a bad beam.
“I would expect district to follow that,” Leach said. “I simply have to accept and believe that the same thing is true in a … health situation like we're in. The district should be taking the advice of professionals on that particular field.”
“I had actually five kids in remote schooling, and they fell behind,” Leach said. He added: “My No. 1 goal is to keep kids in class in person.”
Leach is running as part of a slate, or a collaboration of candidates, with Jen Gibbons, who is contending for school board District D.
“We'd met Jen a few times and really liked her,” Leach said. He added: “As we chatted, we realized we had a lot of the same thoughts and ideas for the schools.”
Given the large size of the school district, pooling volunteers and resources with Gibbons seemed to make sense, Leach said.
“We truly are a grassroots campaign and are raising money through friends and family and anyone we engage — you have to make that ask to try to raise enough money to build up a true campaign,” Leach said.
Among Leach's notable donations received was a $5,000 contribution from a woman in Centennial who listed herself as a “homemaker.” Leach described her as “just a really good, close family friend.”
“The other donations we've gotten have (also largely) been from people who we know. We're not really beholden to anyone out there in world of campaign donations,” Leach said.
The woman in Centennial has given upwards of $100,000 to Republican candidates and organizations at the national and local levels over the past two decades, including recently $10,000 to the Colorado Republican Committee and $17,500 to the Colorado Trump Victory committee, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The woman “has been a good friend of my wife’s for more than 15 years and I have known her and her family for almost 10 years,” Leach said. He added: “Financial support has ranged from $50 to $100 to $500 from most friends, but (her family is) in a very fortunate financial position and were very generous in their support — not because they expect anything in return but because they are able to offer more financial support than the average friend.”
Leach added: “Yes, she has supported Republican projects, but she also supports many charities and other issues.”
“I am steadfast that political parties will not influence my campaign or my behavior on the board, if elected,” Leach said.
He ran as a Republican for county commissioner almost 20 years ago, he said.
Leach changed his political party affiliation in May from Republican to unaffiliated because “it more accurately reflects my current political viewpoints,” Leach said.
“I prefer to vote based on the candidate, not the party. I’ve always voted that way, but I felt like it was time for my party status to reflect that,” Leach said.
“My goal is to create more accountability and transparency for the board and district leadership. Politics has no place here, and students deserve to have their needs met without any agenda,” Leach said.
Note: Separately from these candidate profile stories, Colorado Community Media has published each candidate's responses to a voter-guide questionnaire in print and online.
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