Douglas County's Parent Led Reform has aim of expansion

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Parent Led Reform aims to grow into a statewide organization, and its founder doesn't rule out the idea of someday going national. The pro-education reform group, founded in Douglas County by a Parker woman, recently expanded to Jefferson County.

“Right now, our focus is statewide,” said founder Karin Piper. “That's a dream on its own. But I have to admit, I'm already being contacted by parents in other states that are asking how long it will be until we come there.”

Piper, whose interest in school choice sprang from the diverse educational needs of her three children, is no longer the group's volunteer leader. Earlier this year, the board raised funds and hired her as its executive director.

She declined to provide her salary or the identities of those who are funding PLR, saying only that they are local. The group is a nonprofit corporation registered in Piper's name with the Colorado secretary of state.

PLR now is governed by a board of directors, including Washington, D.C.-based charter school advocate Mark Hyatt, Colorado State Sen. Tim Neville, former Douglas County Republican Party chairman John Ransom and financial consultant Tyler Hart.

While the board members have strong Republican political leanings, Piper describes PLR as “a multi-issue parent network” with no political affiliation.

“I am politically unaffiliated and I still remain that, to this day,” she said. Politics “is not my focus and it's certainly not the organization's focus either. Our focus is to project parental power into education reform. We do not and cannot have a political bias.

“We believe in homeschooling, neighborhood schools, charter schools, online schools and private schools alike. Our group does not have a preference one way or another, but we think those choices belong with parents.”

The group shares many of the Douglas County School Board's pro-reform ideas. It proposed the idea of open negotiations with the union to the board in early 2012, to which the board and union agreed. In September, it requested the board investigate emails sent through the district's system that PLR suspected were political, and therefore inappropriate. The district has not responded yet to those concerns.

But PLR board director Ransom said it does not work hand-in-hand with the school board.

“We're not connected to anybody, including the Douglas County School Board,” said Ransom, whose son attends Mountain Vista High School. “There's certainly some like-mindedness going on here. But I can tell you from the time they got elected until now, I've maybe had a half-dozen conversations with those guys.

“We are concerned about things at the local level. We're not part of a bigger organization, but a small, grassroots organization that is having some success.”

Ransom believes the need for education reform crosses not only the political aisle, but spans demographic divides.

“I don't think anybody would say K-12 education is adequate here in the United States,” he said. “We have to do something. The thing we're saying is, if we can't take these real simple steps in a place like Douglas County in order to improve public education, what hope does a place like Denver have?”