DENVER – The contentious race between reform candidates and union-endorsed contenders in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) ended Tuesday when voters elected four pro-reform conservatives. The outcome was a disappointment to disgruntled union activists, who made a significant investment in an effort to quash the reform initiative.
The DCSD board race drew national media attention as a test ground for the viability of conservative reforms that included severing ties with the teachers unions, adopting a merit pay for performance policy and promoting a school voucher initiative.
If the reformers swept the election, union forces warned, it could ignite a trend in school districts in Colorado and across the country.
Doug Benevento and Meghann Silverthorn, incumbents seeking reelection, and Judi Reynolds and Jim Geddes – all of whom support the DCSD reforms – won their races, beating back union-backed challengers.
The reformers beat union-endorsed contenders Bill Hodges, Ronda Scholting, Julie Keim and Barbra Chase – who lost their races by several thousand votes according to the unofficial election results posted after 11 p.m. Tuesday.
“Residents prioritized our school children and decided to keep the district’s schools moving forward, rather than sliding back. No meaningful change comes without controversy or without push-back from entrenched interests,” said Americans for Prosperity (AFP) state director Dustin Zvonek in a statement.
For nearly two years the backlash had been raucous at board meetings and during the campaign season. So-called grassroots coalitions of parents and teachers held protests, secretly organized by the Colorado Education Association union, waving posters that accused current school board members of being bullies.
On the eve of the election, the reform candidates were bashed by a handful of pro-union, anti-reform activists who appeared on Chalk Face, described as a “progressive” blog talk radio show.
“At the end of the day, they’re only a bunch of boogers who only care about the almighty dollar,” asserted Cherie Garcia-Lewis of the Speak for DCSD group. “They only care about their political interests.”
“They’re a bunch of – excuse my French – assholes!” exploded Garcia-Lewis, who then giggled.
Garcia-Lewis and Brian Malone, who produced the ideologically-charged film “The Reformers.” The controversial film was critical of the current DCSD board policies, defended labor unions and slammed the board for its decision last year to stop paying roughly $400,000 annually to the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, the local union chapter of American Federation of Teachers.
According to the Denver Post, more than $1.3 million in union dues were processed by DCSD – the highest in the state. Only $4,900 had been spent on teacher development in the district.
“What changed in the last 45 years here to make the union suddenly be like these evil demons?” asked Malone. “We were all doing so well together.”
A self-proclaimed Democrat, Garcia-Lewis predicted the Tuesday elections would be “really messy,” but she was cautiously optimistic that the union-endorsed slate would win the school board seats.
“Personally I can’t wait until the first board meeting when our candidates are up there,” gloated Garcia-Lewis.
Apparently the majority of voters in DCSD didn’t share her dream of the district’s future.
“The failure of union interests to win the debate, or rollback reform, has positive ramifications well beyond the Douglas County lines, since it hopefully will encourage other districts across the state to be equally creative, bold and innovative,” said Zvonek.
Voters in Jefferson County School District caught the reform fever – and began unshackling the union’s stronghold on their school board.
Reform candidates Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt won election to the Jefferson County School Board this week. Voters nixed union-backed candidates Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne and Gordon Van de Water.