CASTLE ROCK – Three Douglas county candidates made their case to residents last night for why they should be elected to serve on the School Board at a candidate forum held by the School District Accountability Committee.
Student and parent choice, performance pay, and the teachers’ union dominated the two-hour meeting at Douglas County High School.
Heavy rain put a damper on the evening, but dozens of parents, stakeholders, and a documentary filmmaker braved the weather to listen.
The four union-endorsed school board candidates were a no-show, citing the 10-day notice as insufficient for them to attend – despite mail-in ballots going out in one month.
Incumbents and school choice reformers Doug Benevento (District E) and Meghan Silverthorn (District G) touted the improvements they’ve made over the past four years, including attracting and retaining the district’s best teachers to the benefit of students, getting the District’s budget under control by reducing the number of non-teacher bureaucrats on the district payroll, and offering students more education choice.
They also noted a constant effort to improve the relationship between the board, administrators, and parents at the school level.
“School boards should be about kids… they’re not widgets to be assigned zip codes,” said Doug Benevento.
Newcomer candidate Douglas County mom Judi Reynolds delivered a compelling case for continuing increased student choice and devolving as much decision-making to administrators, teachers, and parents.
“I believe we need to push as much power out to the independent schools.”
Citing her work on Student Accountability Committees, Reynolds “found we can make decisions at the building level.”
When the topic of the teachers’ union was posed by moderator and former Parker Mayor David Casiano, all three candidates said they were very supportive of teacher’s associations that provided professional development services.
Silverthorn said she believes in the “free association for teachers to work towards goals.”
However, the candidates expressed concerns over the structure and collection of union dues, which critics claim do not go towards teacher improvements or benefit students.
“The union [leadership] is about enriching themselves,” said Benevento, noting that $800,000 of $1.3 million in union dues collected since 2007 were not invested in Douglas County teachers.
In all, Benevento claimed less than $10,000 was provided for “professional development” activities.
Last year, Douglas County School District decided to budget without a contract from the Douglas County Federation of Teachers for the first time in 47 years after the two parties could not reach a deal on collective-bargaining and teacher compensation.
Yet, Benevento noted the positive benefits and long-term rewards of the District’s pay for performance salary increases, ranging from 0 to 7 percent.
He argued that by providing bonuses and salary increases during surplus years, Douglas County schools will continue to get stronger as the state’s best teachers stay or move to the district.
Benevento concluded that the school district and the teachers exist to educate and serve the kids.
The long-term student results of pay-for-performance are too early to tell, but teacher retention remains steady, according to recent statistics.
In 2012 the teacher turnover rate stood at 13.2 percent, while 2013 numbers show that rate stands at 11.7 percent.
Earlier this year, news outlets reported that Aurora and Denver school’s saw a near-20 percent turnover rate. But most large districts in the state average 10 percent, and Douglas County remains about average.
Facts released by the Colorado Department of Education show a steady upward trend for on-time graduation rates, which measures only those students who graduate in four years after entering the ninth-grade. Actual graduation rates are much higher, citing students who learn at different paces and participate in non-traditional programs.
In 2010, 83.1 percent, a slight uptick to 84.2 percent in 2011, and a jump to 87.4 percent for the Class of 2012.
The state average in 2010 was 72.4 percent.
The four union endorsed candidates, Julie Keim (District D), Bill Hodges (District E), Barbra Chase (District B), and Ronda Scholting (District G), who political operatives expect to receive millions of dollars in backing from D.C. based unions, touted an October 9th candidate forum where they hope to make their case to constituents.
David Casiano made sure to include state-level changes to K-12 education funding in the discussion.
Asked about her view on Amendment 66, which would increase taxes by $1 billion, Reynolds noted that she supports changes to public school finance but that Democrat backed and party-line measure was “unbalanced and unfair.”
Reynolds testified at the state Capitol on the measure earlier this year.
“Education dollars should follow the child,” concluded Reynolds. She also noted that Amendment 66 would take $100 million out of the district’s coffers while bringing back less than $50 million.
Silverthorn echoed Reynolds’ statement, saying DCSD would be “paying a lot more out and not getting enough back.”
All three candidates look forward to continuing to improve parent-board relationships, citing the difficulty of attending board meetings with busy schedules.
“Not everyone can be in Castle Rock on the first and third Tuesday of every month,” said Reynolds.