The three challengers for seats on the Douglas County school board easily ousted conservative incumbents in Tuesday’s election.
Majority control of the conservative-dominated wasn’t at stake in Tuesday’s election, but election of the three challengers will significantly change the board dynamics. And the outcome ended the conservatives’ run of success in three previous board elections.
The challengers won convincingly, each tallying 58 to 59 percent of the vote.
Board president Kevin Larsen, who lost to Anne-Marie Lemieux in District C, said, “I hope they come in and are able to assimilate with the remaining members on the board and build on what we’ve done to improve the district. … I wish them well.”
The size of the challengers’ margins was “a bit stunning to us. We knew it could go either way, but it definitely was a stronger percentage than we anticipated,” Larsen said.
The conservative majority first elected in 2009 has shaken up the district by championing policies such as a voucher program, a pay-for-performance salary system, breaking the district teachers union and new budgeting practices.
While the board has had some different faces now than it did in 2009, all seven members were in the conservative camp up to now.
In addition to Larsen and Lemieux, the candidates this year were incumbent Craig Richardson and Wendy Vogel in District A and incumbent Richard Robbins and David Ray in District F.
The three incumbents promoted rising achievement, high school graduation rates, declining college remediation and the district’s top-level state rating as reasons to re-elect them.
But the three challengers argued that the board has gone too far in its initiatives, badly implemented some of them, ruined teacher morale and ignored the views of many parents and teachers.
Larsen said he thought the challengers made points with voters by campaigning on low teacher morale and the need for greater diversity of views on the board. “I think their message was effective enough to give them a victory.”
Two hot issues in the campaign were whether the district needs to carry out a comprehensive survey of parent and teacher attitude about the district and the board’s refusal to propose a bond issue to pay for an estimated $250 million in building needs.
Past Dougco campaigns have seen high spending with significant contributions by wealthy individuals from outside the district.
The challengers raised significantly more money that the incumbents in this campaign, but what’s expected to have been significant spending by independent campaign committees hasn’t yet been reported – or doesn’t have to be reported.
The 2009 Dougco election, with its strongly partisan and ideological tone, marked a change in Colorado school board politics. The push to elect conservative candidates spread to other districts, including Jefferson County, Thompson and others. But that wave seems to have receded in many districts this election.
In addition to shaking things up within the district, Dougco board members and top administrators have been critical of state academic content standards and tests and have touted their own system as superior to what the state requires of districts.
Dougco residents vote on all candidates, but the winners are elected by district.