Q&As with candidates for Douglas County School Board

The Douglas County School District decision to extend school vouchers to some students is facing challenges from four national and local organizations. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ccnewspapers.com
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Colorado Community Media asked three identical questions of the eight candidates seeking four spots on the Douglas County School Board. Below are their answers.

District B:

Barbra Chase

Roxborough resident Barbra Chase served as executive director of the Roxborough Elementary School Parent Teacher Involvement Committee that helped bring about the addition of Roxborough Intermediate. A software saleswoman, Chase also volunteers with the parent/teacher group at Ranch View Middle School.

Chase is concerned about district's current state and the impact of recent policy changes, including cuts to electives, growing class sizes and loss of instructional time at the high school level. Describing herself as a passionate advocate of Douglas County schools, she says she'd like to remove any political influence from local education.

Why are you seeking this position?

I would like to address several issues of concern, including the flat to declining assessment scores, record-low teacher morale and inaccurate budgeting. I have neighbors and friends who have moved out of Douglas County because of these concerns. The board of education and superintendent's unwillingness to recognize and address these real problems is of great concern. Douglas County School District has a long history of excellence and innovation and this legacy is now at risk; I would like to be part of the solution.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I am a 23-year resident of Douglas County. I have two children in Douglas County schools — one in seventh and the other in ninth grade. Having been an executive of Parent Teacher Groups in DCSD since 2005 and helping to raise $500,000 for our schools over that time period, I understand the current state of school funding and the priorities of parents on how funding is best spent. I've attended SAC, DAC and board meetings and understand what benefits our kids for the best education possible.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

Over the past four years, there has been a reallocation of funds away from classrooms and into district administration. The lack of classroom resources is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. According to Colorado Department of Education statistics, the number of district administrators has increased 10 percent along with student numbers. However, teacher numbers have declined 1 percent resulting in an 11 percent increase in class sizes. Over the past four years, high school students have lower graduation requirements, nearly three weeks less classroom time in each class, and larger class sizes. This troubling trend needs to be addressed.

I would work to restore resources to our schools through accurate budgeting. I would restore our high schools to full-time, reduce student/teacher ratios and increase instructional time to better prepare our students for college/careers. I would bring the public back to our public schools by addressing plummeting parent satisfaction.

Jim Geddes

Already well-versed in education policies as a University of Colorado Regent, Jim Geddes now wants to turn his attention to K-12 education. The surgeon and Sedalia resident describes himself as a strong conservative who will apply those principles on the board. He is a proponent of school choice, including the district's voucher program, and the current board's other reform efforts. Geddes said he will consider students first in his decisions, and work to assure teachers' job satisfaction.

Geddes' two youngest children attend Cherry Hills Christian School. His regent post expires in 2015; he does not plan to seek another term.

Why are you seeking this position?

Providing a high quality education for our children is one of our most important societal responsibilities. After spending 30 years as a student and observing my children's education experience — and simultaneously watching our nation's young people fall further behind those of other developed countries, I chose to become directly involved in efforts to improve our education systems.

As a University of Colorado Regent, I've addressed issues including budgeting and financing of higher education, and the evaluation and assessment of the quality of education. I encourage improvements in quality, such as augmenting intellectual diversity and academic freedom on our campuses.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I have a long personal experience with formal education and have learned significantly from my experience as a regent.

My general “conservative” and “traditional” philosophy will help guide our school district toward further improvements in its education quality, and toward an enhanced service to our students, their families, and the citizens of Douglas County.

I have a practical/pragmatic streak, but can also think “outside the box.” Additionally, the thoughts and concerns of others are important to me, and will be carefully considered.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

The key component of education quality and successful outcomes is related to individual teacher qualities. Important for all student ages, but most critical for our younger students is a teacher who creates an exciting, rich educational environment which produces eager learners who enjoy school and thirst for intellectual interactions with others. Such an experience if sustained will likely lead to an excellent educational outcome and a life-long habit of inquiry, study, and capability for sophisticated critical thinking.

In this light, I will fully support the current DCSD initiatives of teacher “Pay for Performance” and the honoring and rewarding of our excellent teachers. I will also search for additional mechanisms to recruit such teachers to our schools. I will be sensitive to our teachers' professional recommendations, needs, and desires as our Board of Directors partners with them to create the optimal educational milieu for all our students.

District D:

Julie Keim

A parent of three and a certified professional accountant, Julie Keim has helped raised thousands of dollars volunteering with Parent Teacher Organizations. She served on Larkspur Elementary's Parent Teacher Organization board after the family moved there in 2004 and helped launch PTOs at Castle Rock Middle and Castle View High schools.

Along the way, she learned about the district and observed a shift in teachers' attitudes that prompted her to join the school board race. Keim also has studied the district's finances, publicly criticizing the size of the fund balance and questioning the budget's accuracy.

Why are you seeking this position?

I am running for the school board to restore excellence and encourage effective innovation in DCSD. I have seen our schools lose the collaboration and inspiration that made DCSD outstanding. Our public schools have eroded due to lack of effective and supportive leadership, proper guidance and funding. We can provide a great public education while being financially responsible.

Through responsible oversight, I plan to restore fiscal integrity; sufficient funding in classrooms; safe, trusting environments where students and educators can be successful; multiple perspectives and public input to decision-making; successful implementation of strategies; and, focus to our most valuable asset, students.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I have volunteered to support public education for 15 years. I understand the challenges our students, schools and district face, and will work hard to ensure that priorities are discussed, real and feasible solutions are established, and successfully piloted and implemented. I will challenge our district to provide the best education for all students.

My background in governmental auditing, consulting, and as a finance director for a $2B public entity afford me the financial and operations expertise to lead the district through the public engagement, human resource and financial issues that have arisen over the last few years.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

I believe the biggest issue facing DCSD is ineffective oversight at the board level resulting in the district's inability to successfully implement programs and strategies. One example is board members having no questions or concerns about significant deficiencies in audits and variances between budget and actual amounts amounting to $20 million (after all carryover dollars were removed) last year alone. Inaccurate budgeting has led to unnecessary cuts that have weakened our schools.

Another example of lackluster oversight is the absence of public input and meaningful dialogue and discussion among seven like-minded board members. I believe only through open-minded consideration of differing viewpoints can the DCSD board make well-informed decisions for the students and taxpayers of Douglas County and provide the necessary oversight required of their positions.

I believe it is our responsibility to educate all children to become the best citizens and leaders in our community and nation.

Judi Reynolds

A member of the District Accountability Committee since May 2012, Judi Reynolds wants to elevate her position with the district to school board member. Reynolds has a master's degree in education and previously worked as an exercise physiologist. The mother of three is now a stay-at-home mom and active classroom volunteer. In addition to her experience with the DAC, the Castle Rock resident has spent the last four years regularly attending school board meetings. During those four years, Reynolds believes the district has regained secure financial footing, and enacted common-sense reforms that benefit teachers and students.

Why are you seeking this position?

I am running for the Board of Education in Douglas County because I believe education should revolve around students first. As a community, it is vital that we find a way for every student to have an education that is relevant to them. This is best achieved by allowing parental choice, building control of money and curriculum, and increased educational opportunities and options for our students. Parents and teachers, working together, are the best resources to provide creative and innovative ways to give our children a better education.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I have been an active parent in my children's schools since 2004. My children attend neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools, giving me a unique perspective of educational needs at all levels. In addition to volunteering in my children's classrooms and participating in PTO fundraising and community events, I am active in two School Accountability Committees and currently serve as the Recorder for the District Accountability Committee. I have regularly attended Board of Education meetings for the last four years because I felt it was important to be informed about who and how decisions affecting my children's education were made.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

Local Control. This issue reaches into every part of education from how are schools are financed, unfunded mandates for curriculum from the state and federal governments, and testing. The state has created several new laws that school districts are required to abide by, even if they were created to solve a problem the DCSD does not have. Recently, the state adopted House Bill 121238: The Colorado READ Act. The READ Act imposes new assessments on DCSD students, even though they have some of the highest reading scores in the metro area. I will continue to fight for local control, so that DCSD can concentrate on serving our student's needs, not complying with assessments or programs that our students do not need. I will work with local schools and groups, legislators, and speak out at the State House on issues I think are important to Douglas County students, teachers, and parents.

District E:

Doug Benevento

Doug Benevento is seeking to remain on the Douglas County School Board. An attorney for Xcel Energy, Benevento is a Colorado native who has led the state health department and was senior policy adviser for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard. His two daughters attend Platte River Academy charter school.

A strong supporter of education reform, Benevento wants to continue and improve upon the programs it's launched. While acknowledging the road hasn't always been smooth, Benevento says facts show the district is moving in the right direction.

Why are you seeking this position?

Because of my two daughters, Anna and Kate, who attend public school in the district. Anna's in third grade and Kate is in kindergarten and watching them develop, grow and learn is a great joy. What I want for my children is what I want for every child in Douglas County, a wide array of educational choices, a school district focused on their learning instead of labor unions and for great teachers to be recognized and rewarded through pay for performance system. Nothing less is acceptable, either for my children or anyone else's children.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I believe parents are in the best position to make decisions for their children and we need to provide them with multiple educational choices. I also believe that we run a school district for kids, not union bosses. While HR director at the district my opponent was responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the classroom into the pocket of union leaders who performed no work in the district. Our kids can't afford to put him in a position where he can go back taking money from the classroom to pay union leader to organize a union.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

1. Funding the classroom — My opponent was HR director for the district when it paid over $300,000 of salaries to union bosses who performed no work for the district. If elected there's no doubt he would resume that practice. We can't divert money from our kids and teachers to pay union organizers.

2. Pay for Performance — We need to pay our best teachers so we retain them and also attract the best teachers. As HR director in the district my opponent advocated a union approved wage scale which rewards our best teachers the same as our ineffective teachers. I will support a strong pay for performance system.

3. Choice — We need to offer and support multiple educational options for parents to choose from, neighborhood schools, charter schools, online schooling so that kids can be put in an environment that gives them the best chance to succeed.

Bill Hodges

No stranger to Douglas County Schools, the district's former human resources director Bill Hodges wants to sit in a different seat as a board member.

Hodges worked in human resources from 2001 to 2011. His wife Ginger was a DCSD elementary school teacher. Though Hodges helped negotiate the teachers' union's annual collective bargaining agreement, he said he now would like to see a different form of teacher collaboration. In the mid-1990s, he served as a community representative on a committee that introduced the district's first pay-for-performance program, an idea he still supports. Hodges believes new programs that were implemented too quickly and with inadequate teacher and community input have cost the district many of its teachers. That and other concerns about the district's direction pulled him out of retirement and into the board race.

Why are you seeking this position?

It's time to change the status quo of how this current BOE operates. We need to put the “public” back into public education and allow all groups to be heard and respected. More board business needs to be conducted in the public vs. behind closed doors as is the current board practice. We need fiscal transparency, need to hire more teachers, reduce class size and increase graduation requirements. I'm also a strong advocate for full-time kindergarten.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I have a unique perspective from my work experience. I have 28 years in the private sector — the final three in a financial consulting startup. I have 10 years public sector experience, including nine as DCSD's Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. I know how to balance a budget without creating excess balances and putting resources where needed; and, I know what a premier school district looks like. I also have a strong personal interest in DCSD with a daughter-in-law teaching, two children who graduated from DCSD, two grandchildren in the system and two smaller grandchildren who will attend DCSD.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

Although there are many issues facing DCSD, the most important one in my mind is allowing all voices to be heard and respected. One shouldn't be excluded because your views don't align with the current board's political agenda. I would increase public comment minutes. I would facilitate with other board members community focus groups to hear all concerns and issues. I would reinstate the district's community survey as another way to gain stakeholder input for the board to consider. In evaluating the superintendent's annual performance, a community, staff and student survey should be included as part of the evaluation process.

District G:

Ronda Scholting

Ronda Scholting already knows the campaign trail from her successful 2012 bid for Parker Fire Protection District board. A public relations manager for the Denver-based RE/MAX real estate company, Scholting also is a former broadcast journalist with Denver's KMGH-TV Channel 7.

Her interest in running for the school board was sparked by district changes she's seen since her sons graduated from DCSD, Scholting said. In addition to concerns about loss of instructional time at the high school level, she believes the district has financial reserves that could better be used in the classroom.

Why are you seeking this position?

I'm running for school board because I'm concerned about where our tax dollars are going and whether the choices being made on the district level are truly benefiting the entire community.

We are continually cutting teachers and resources in our classrooms, while growing administrative positions, which directs millions of dollars away from our students — exactly where those dollars do the most good.

We need to restore resources and true innovation in our schools at every level, while still being fiscally responsible. And, we need to restore faith and trust in district leadership. Our community deserves nothing less.

What makes you the best person for the job?

As an elected member of the Parker Fire Protection District Board, I've had the opportunity to serve the residents of the South Metro Fire Authority District, and join with fellow board members in closely watching taxpayer dollars while ensuring the district has the resources and personnel we need to keep our communities safe.

With two boys who graduated from Douglas County Schools, I have a parent's perspective on making choices for my children and the experience of working with teachers and building administrators to ensure their education is the best it can be.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

Lack of transparency is a real problem in the district and we need to re-establish trust and confidence in district leadership.

Parents, teachers, students and taxpayers all have a stake in public education. Their voices need to be heard, and taken seriously into consideration when the board makes decisions.

Because the board spends nearly half of its meeting time behind closed doors, there is limited time for public input at board meetings. That needs to change.

The public's business should be conducted in public. Board members should treat all stakeholders with respect, no matter if they agree with what the board is doing or not.

There should be more time allotted to hear public comment at each meeting and the board should actively reach out to the community, by regularly visiting our schools, and engaging with a non-partisan citizens' advisory board, comprised of parents, teachers, taxpayers and students.

Meghann Silverthorn

With four years of school board experience behind her, Meghann Silverthorn is looking back with pride and forward to a hoped-for second term.

The U.S. Department of Defense engineer is the only candidate who does not have children. Her varied childhood educational experiences, which included attendance at overseas schools, shaped her views of education. Silverthorn concluded the American education system needs improvement, and sees her board service as a way to enact some of those changes.

The Parker resident is proud of the reforms the board has enacted, including its county-specific curriculum, and wants to continue moving them forward.

Why are you seeking this position?

I am running for re-election because I believe in the work our district is doing for kids. We have become responsive to parents and students, providing them with more options than ever. We have radically improved the district's financial situation. We have begun to pay teachers like professionals with true pay for performance. Douglas County has an incredible community with great teachers and staff, passionate parents and wonderful students. Public education is a cornerstone of our society and I am proud to support it.

What makes you the best person for the job?

I have a complete understanding of all of the issues facing our district. I have worked with parents, teachers, students and community members throughout my tenure on various issues and concerns. In doing so, I have shown my ability to work with people of all viewpoints and backgrounds. Additionally, I am the only voice on the board representing the large majority of our community with no children in our district, a critical stakeholder group with which DCSD is beginning to communicate effectively.

What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Douglas County School District and how will you approach it, if elected?

Our district faces the large question of how to move education forward in a world that has vastly changed, and for kids who have also changed, since our educational system was designed. Our society has unprecedented access to information; education should move beyond content toward the individual learner. DCSD recognizes that kids are not “widgets” to be produced in batches as if they were all the same. Instead, they should be treated like the individuals they are, and DCSD is changing its system to accommodate this. If elected, I will continue to promote teacher quality, expand choices for parents and students, and champion academic achievement. The district has partnered with teachers to design an incredible system of performance and curriculum tailored to our community and what our kids need. Everything we are doing is designed to work for kids and their future.

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