LAKEWOOD – Increasingly pointed exchanges between two Jefferson County school board candidates ended Thursday with one asking the other to “stop spreading lies” during their closing statements.
Tension between candidates Lesley Dahlkemper and Jim Powers, who are seeking the District 4 seat representing central Jeffco, was clear early in the debate at a Lakewood church. In her response to a question about vouchers, Dahlkemper said she did not support them and that her opponent’s position keeps changing.
“This morning, he said I’m not going to bring a voucher program to Jeffco and then he said, in that same conversation, I’m neither for or against vouchers,” Dahlkemper said.
Vouchers are a hot topic this election because of concerns the sprawling county’s Republican Party is attempting to win a conservative majority on the board and vote in a voucher program, as occurred in Douglas County after the 2009 board elections.
The GOP is backing Powers, along with candidate Preston Branaugh in District 3 – together, the two campaign as “the dads.”
Both Powers and Branaugh have previously declined to take a stand on the issue, saying it’s irrelevant because Dougco’s voucher pilot was declared unconstitutional and is being appealed, a process that could take years.
“I’m not running for vouchers,” Powers said Thursday. “If everybody wants to try to pigeonhole me as a voucher candidate, I can’t help the way you feel. But the fact of the matter is, I think we have more pressing matters than discussing vouchers.”
A short time later, Powers criticized Dahlkemper for saying she’s still undecided on Proposition 103, the statewide ballot measure to raise state sales and income taxes for five years to boost education funding.
He’s against it, he said, and “I find it hard to believe my opponent can’t make a decision on it.”
Differences between Powers and Dahlkemper, as well as between Branaugh and his opponent Jill Fellman, have continued to sharpen over numerous candidate forums in recent weeks. “The dads” oppose Proposition 103, are critical of the Jefferson County teachers’ union and say their opponents are “spinning” the district’s academic achievement to make it look better than it really is.
Powers, who home-schools his four children, described himself Thursday as an “outsider” who’ll upset the status quo represented by Dahlkemper.
Fellman, a former district teacher and administrator, and Dahlkemper, who helped lead a citizens’ effort to pass a tax increase in the district, tout their expertise and say they’ll be ready to deal with tough issues, such as potential budget cuts of up to $70 million.
They also emphasize their ability to collaborate, a possible reference to the discord on the current Jeffco board that resulted in a 4-0 vote to censure conservative board member Laura Boggs, who is supporting Branaugh and Powers.
Thursday, after the candidates had responded to questions ranging from sexual harassment to gifted education to global warming, each was given three minutes for a closing statement.
“I believe in clarity over agreement,” Powers said, before describing Dahlkemper as a “public relations expert” and talking about her “spin” on Jeffco’s academic status.
For example, he said, Dahlkemper has defended the district’s 10th-grade math scores as better than those of Douglas County and Cherry Creek. And, in fact, they are, he pointed out – Jeffco’s proficiency rate is 42 percent, compared to Dougco at 41 percent and Cherry Creek at 39 percent. Colorado’s overall 10th-grade math proficiency rate is 32 percent.
“All of those are failing grades,” Powers said. “To say we’re doing good because we’re doing better than the other failing districts to me is not something to be proud of.”
Dahlkemper was silent until Powers began criticizing her for “downplaying” a facilities master plan that calls for school closures. District officials say the plan has been shelved – Boggs and others say it is not.
“It’s sleeping, and it’s waiting for the new board of education to be elected,” Powers said, and Dahlkemper – quietly, but loud enough for some audience members to hear – said what he was saying wasn’t true.
“Will you please stop interrupting me?” he said, turning to her. “Would you please stop spreading lies?” she responded, and the two began talking over each other.
“You interrupted me a lot of times,” Powers said. “This is the kind of bullying … Would you let me finish?”
“Yes, I would love for you to finish if you would be truthful,” Dahlkemper said, “and stop spreading lies.”
As audience members began clapping, Powers replied, “Is this how you’re going to act when you’re on the board?”
Powers, flustered, asked for more time because he was interrupted and continued criticizing Dahlkemper for “dancing around” the facilities issue.
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Dahlkemper closing statement
Powers closing statement
Notes: In videos, candidates are grouped by contest and appear in the order in which they responded. Jefferson County school board members represent specific geographic areas but they are elected countywide.