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Jefferson County school board switches hands, but rhetoric remains

Ron Mitchell, right, takes the oath of office for the Jefferson County school board in 2015.
Ron Mitchell, right, takes the oath of office for the Jefferson County school board in 2015.
Nicholas Garcia

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school board got an extreme makeover Thursday when five new members took the oath of office in front of a full house of supporters and skeptics.

The unusual transfer of power is the product of the successful recall election of three school board members — which drew national attention — and the regular election of two other board members.

The new board members, who will govern the state’s second largest school district, promised to begin their tenures and the healing process by listening and facilitating civic debate among themselves and the community.

“We all know elections have a way of dividing a community and now is the time for healing,” board member Brad Rupert said moments after taking his oath. “Now is the time to look forward.”

During their introductory speeches, the new board members listed some of their priorities including tackling issues of overcrowding, teacher pay and testing.

Board members Amanda Stevens and Susan Harmon also voiced concern about the effects of increasing poverty in the historically more affluent suburban Denver district.

“We need to address the issue of poverty,” Harmon said. “… I’m committed to making sure those populations have a voice.”

While Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be a symbolic shift for the school district — and there were plenty of promises of teamwork — it isn’t clear the political rhetoric in Jefferson County will change much.

A new watchdog website, Eye on Jeffco School Board, popped up shortly after the election. It mirrors an earlier website produced by recall supporters Jeffco School Board Watch.

Some parents Thursday raised concerns that the new board will simply ignore those who supported the recalled board members and roll back policies they believe work.

“We are asking that this new board to not divide our community any further by simply overturning many of the good reform policies that were put in place over the last two years,” said Kim Gilmartin, a parent who opposed the recall effort. “… We will be watching closely.”

The crowd booed another speaker who suggested student protests in 2014 were spurred by the teachers union.

And some organizers behind the recall and network of parents who put together the new slate of board members gloated.

“We won and we won big,” said Tammy Story. “We look forward to how you will right this ship.”

At the meeting, new board member Ron Mitchell was unanimously elected president of the board. Ali Lasell was elected vice president.

“The campaign and election are behind us,” Mitchell said. “It’s time to start the hard work of serving our school district.”

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