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Two of five Jefferson County school board seats are open Nov. 1, and the campaigns have drawn rapt attention from those who believe the sprawling county’s Republican Party is trying to engender a takeover.

Attorney Preston Branaugh and former district administrator Jill Fellman are vying for the District 3 seat being vacated by School Board President Dave Thomas, who is not seeking another term. The area encompasses central and northeast Jeffco, including Arvada and Wheat Ridge.

PR professional Lesley Dahlkemper and architect Jim Powers want the District 4 seat, including parts of Lakewood and Edgewater, which is being vacated by Jane Barnes, who is term-limited.

The departure of Barnes and Thomas leaves three board members, including lone conservative Laura Boggs, who has often been at odds with her colleagues and Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. If the Republican Party can elect two more conservatives, the board could flip.

And though the school board races are non-partisan, the Republican Party has made no secret about who it’s backing – Branaugh and Powers, who are campaigning as “the dads.”

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Branaugh, at a recent debate, described the focus on GOP support as “ironic” and read aloud from a blog post that said Jeffco school board elections have always been run by the district’s teachers union, which has endorsed Dahlkemper and Fellman.

In 2009, a Republican Party-backed slate swept the Douglas County school board elections. Eighteen months later, the Dougco board enacted the state’s first district-run voucher pilot, now on hold pending appeals.

Powers and Branaugh have declined to say whether they support vouchers, instead dismissing the issue as “premature” and “moot” since the Dougco plan may be tied up in court for years. Dahlkemper and Fellman have said they would not vote to implement vouchers.

It’s unclear how much influence the GOP backing will wield in Jeffco, where Republican voters are less dominant than in Dougco. It’s also uncertain whether support from Boggs, the only Jeffco board member ever censured, will help or hurt Branaugh and Powers.

Figures from the secretary of state’s office show, as of Sept. 30, 37 percent of Jeffco’s active voters are registered as Republicans compared to 32 percent Democrats and 30 percent unaffiliated. While school board members represent geographic areas, they are elected countywide.

DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES

Jill Fellman

Age: 53

Fellman

Employment: Retired in 2009 from the position of Director of Instruction, Jefferson County Public Schools

Experience in district: Jeffco graduate; employed by Jeffco schools for 30 years as teacher and administrator

Education: Master’s degree, computers in education, Lesley College, 1986

Family: Husband Ken, former Arvada mayor; two children graduated from Jeffco’s Ralston Valley High School

Follow: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Endorsements: Jefferson County Association of Realtors, Jefferson County Education Association, others listed on website.

On vouchers: Oppose; voters should decide

On Proposition 103: Support

Personal statement: As a former Jeffco teacher and administrator for 30 years, and the parent of two Jeffco graduates, I’ve dedicated myself to working to ensure the highest quality education to all of our district’s students. Every student, every day, deserves a great education. Our board has struggled with focus and lack of collaboration. We face challenges related to budget, implementing pay for performance, and the transition to new statewide testing models, among others. I will bring leadership skills and the educational experience to help address these challenges in a respectful, transparent and inclusive manner. An effective school board needs individuals with a variety of perspectives and expertise. I will be the only board member with experience working in our schools, with both a district management and a teaching perspective. My commitment is to our children, and to improving the educational experience for all.

* * Candidates are listed in ballot order * *

Preston Branaugh

Age: 43

Branaugh

Employment: Attorney, Branaugh Law Offices, past nine years

Experience in district: Graduate of Jeffco schools – Sierra Elementary, Oberon Middle and Arvada West High; curriculum review committees; PTA volunteer; School Improvement Team – Accountability

Education: Juris doctor, University of Denver, 1998

Family: Wife Jessica, daughters at Meiklejohn Elementary and Wayne Carl Middle School

Follow: Website; Facebook

Endorsements: Jefferson County Students First Action, website does not list endorsements

On vouchers: Declined to say, sees issue as moot

On Proposition 103: Oppose

Personal statement: I am committed to running a positive campaign that is focused on the issues that are important to our community. Academics – The basis for any successful education program is founded in strong academics. That is why I support the adoption of tangible and measurable goals and holding adults accountable for taking an active role in student’s education. Budget – As a Board member, I will strive to make the wisest and best possible decisions with the budgetary resources available. As stewards of public resources, Board members must be respectful of taxpayer dollars while continuing to provide a top-notch education for JeffCo students. Community – We cannot successfully administer the operations of Jefferson County Public Schools without listening to the needs of the community we serve. That is why I will always be accessible to parents, teachers, staff, and others in the conversations that will shape the future of public education in JeffCo.

DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATES

Jim Powers

Age: 44

Powers

Employment: Architect, owns PowerSquare Design & Architecture, opened 1999

Experience in district: Voter, taxpayer and stakeholder in the successful education of Jefferson County students

Education: Bachelor’s degree in architecture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1991

Family: Wife Kathy, four children – ages 2 through 10 – schooled at home

Follow: Website; Facebook

Endorsements: Jefferson County Students First, website does not list endorsements

On vouchers: Declined to say, sees issue as irrelevant

On Proposition 103: Oppose

Personal statement: Students and staff do amazing things in Jefferson County Public Schools every day. However, declining resources, increasing regulations, and changes in how teachers and leaders are evaluated are changing the way we deliver education. We need to make certain these changes are implemented with student success as the focus. The board of education needs to ensure greater transparency and accountability. The status quo is no longer the answer, what is needed is balance. We need to elect reform minded school board members. We need greater community input before major decisions are made, like closing schools. We need to insist that every school is a high performing school, so students are not dependent on a lottery to determine if they will get the education they need. Our students will be competing with children from all over the world; the board needs to set policies that ensure all students have the tools (cut off at 150-word limit).

* * Candidates are listed in ballot order * *

Lesley Dahlkemper

Age: 44

Dahlkemper

Employment: President and CEO, Schoolhouse Communications, founded 2003

Experience in district: Jeffco Public Schools Citizens Budget Academy, participant – 2011, Rooney Ranch Elementary School Improvement Committee, member – 2010-11, Rooney Ranch Elementary School PTA, member – 2008 to present; Citizens for Jeffco Public Schools, co-chair – 2008 (bond/mill election); Budgeting for Results Stakeholder Panel, past member – 2008-2009; Citizens Review Committee, past member – 2003-2004, 2005-2006

Education: Master’s degree, public affairs reporting, University of Illinois, 1989

Family: Husband Mike Feeley, former state lawmaker; daughter at Rooney Ranch Elementary

Follow: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Endorsements: Jefferson County Association of Realtors, Jefferson County Education Association, others listed on website.

On vouchers: Oppose

On Proposition 103: Undecided

Personal statement: I’m running for the Jeffco school board because have seen the impact great public schools can have on a community. They prepare our future workforce, attract good jobs and keep property values strong. And that’s good for all of us. In tough economic times we need experienced leaders to tackle complex, challenging issues and find common ground. We must leverage every taxpayer dollar, keep budget cuts away from the classroom and ensure that our decisions reflect the community’s values and what we know works best for kids. Over the last 20 years, my work as a business owner and as a former education reporter has allowed me the privilege of working in some of the most innovative – and challenging – school districts in Colorado and across the country. I’m excited to put my experience to work for Jeffco kids and our community.

Other resources

Media coverage

Debates and forums

  • No more debates are scheduled before Election Day
  • See video of the Sept. 26, 2011 debate at Colorado Christian University – Jeffco candidates follow two Dougco candidates and a brief talk by Denver school board member Mary Seawell

Candidate questionnaires