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Dougco school board race could determine district’s future

Check back this evening as returns start to be reported — we’ll be updating the post all night with results and responses from the campaigns and other stakeholders.

10:55 p.m. With no new results from the Douglas County elections office, we are ending for the night. The tally:

Jim Geddes: 46,511 votes
Barbra Chase: 42,417 votes

Julie Keim: 42,729 votes
Judi Reynolds: 45,957 votes

Doug Benevento: 45,840 votes
Bill Hodges: 42,900 votes

Ronda Scholting: 41,428 votes
Meghann Silverthorn: 47,212 votes

No candidates who oppose the current board are in the lead tonight.

9:55 p.m. Jeb Bush follows up his money and his editorial with another statement in favor of Dougco’s current board.

9:40 p.m. “At this point in time, I don’t think anyone in this room is ready to call it, ” said Dougco candidate Ronda Scholting, who opposes current board actions. “There are always those notorious late voters.”

Asked if she’ll continue to fight the board if she loses, she said a lot of people were very angry about the current direction. As for her investment in a new direction, “I don’t have a kid in the district,” she said. “What I have is property values, if I want to sell my house.”

UPDATE at 7:43 p.m.: Preliminary results show that the four candidates who support the reform efforts of the current Dougco board are all up in the polls. Incumbent Doug Benevento says many issues were litigated in the campaign, and their apparent success is a mandate to move forward.

With four seats on Douglas County’s seven-member board up for grabs, the direction of the district’s schools hangs in the balance.
Douglas County School District and its board have attracted national attention for taking an aggressive “market-driven” approach to reforms. The reforms have prompted a variety of changes in the district. Whether those changes are good or bad is a matter of deep contention in the county.

Those in favor of reforms point to an increase in TCAP scores and in high school graduation rates. The critics, however, point to Dougco’s loss of its distinguished status under the state ranking system and the lowering of graduation requirements. Those reforms include:

National attention

Dougco’s school board race has become a rallying point for national conservatives who would like to see that style of reforms implemented elsewhere. The district drew acclaim from conservative figures like former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Bush also donated to the campaigns of candidates supporting current reforms to the tune of $1000 for each candidate.

The Koch brothers’ advocacy group Americans for Prosperity will spend more than $350,000 on the race, according to Politico. Voucher supporters Ralph Nagel and Alex Cranberg provided most of pro-board candidates’ funding, a total of $140,000.

“If you vote for them, you will lose control of your district,” said Barbra Chase, one of the slate of candidates critical of the current reforms. “Voting for [that slate] is saying,’yes, I want to be silenced. Yes, I support groupthink.'”

Chase and the three other opposition candidates, who would like to see the district’s direction altered, cite low growth in student performance and low teacher morale as markers of the reforms’ failure. They bill themselves as a slate for change.

Despite accusations of union backing, the opposition candidates have so far refused to accept any money from teachers’ unions. Instead, the national and local branches of the American Federation of Teachers contributed, which represents Douglas County teachers, over $100,000 to a local interest committee.

“The money that came in from AFT is there to give the teachers a voice, and that’s what it did in this campaign,” the head of Dougco’s teachers’ union told Our Colorado News.

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