Supporters reflect on defeat of candidates

Tax vote, union talk seen as issues in school election

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Community members who rallied for the four challenger candidates during the Nov. 5 school-board election are pondering what went wrong and what lies ahead.

Some also are grieving — both their candidates’ defeat and the election of four board members likely to continue the reform efforts they believe are detrimental to Douglas County students.

“People are incredibly depressed,” said Laura Mutton, president of the Strong Schools Coalition.

Strong Schools was among several community-based groups concerned about the direction of the district, and supportive of candidates Barbra Chase, Bill Hodges, Julie Keim and Ronda Scholting.

“Our side sacrificed a lot, which is why it hurts so much,” said Susan Meek, a board member with Douglas County Parents, another community group. “Our side needs some time to mourn and recover emotionally.

“But I think people made the sacrifices because it was for their children, and they’ll continue to once they’ve had some time to re-energize.”

Both Meek and Mutton believes Amendment 66, a proposed statewide income tax increase to fund education, hurt their candidates’ chances, drawing conservatives to the polls in higher numbers. They also fault supporters of successful candidates Doug Benevento, Jim Geddes, Judi Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn for pointing to the teachers’ union as an issue in the campaign.

“It was a distraction, and a deception,” Mutton said. “There were people who are concerned about the teachers leaving the district and transparency, but are so against unions that that trumped their decision-making.”

“The candidates were classified as union, and that’s all people talked about,” Meek said. “We felt like that was a very successful marketing strategy on the side of the reform candidates. It’s a successful strategy that has been used in three school board elections now — and there isn’t even a recognized union in Douglas County.

“Parents don’t care about the union. They care about their children having the best education possible.”

The teachers’ union’s collective bargaining agreement with the district expired in 2012.

Meek also pointed to the deep pockets of outside supporters like Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute.

“We thought teachers not speaking out — the fear — was a big problem,” Meek said. “Not having the media outside of Douglas County active in covering the race, I think was a big detriment to truly informing the public about the issues.

Regardless of the outcome, Mutton believes far more community members now understand much more about the school district.

“I don’t think that process will stop,” she said. “I think that will continue.”

Mutton hopes the board doesn’t dismiss the nearly 50 percent of voters who supported the challenger candidates, and concerns that parents expressed throughout the campaign.

“What the public did say is they don’t want unions,” Mutton said. “They didn’t necessarily give approval for everything else that’s going on. We have serious problems that need to be addressed. I would like (the board) to acknowledge that, and offer a clear plan on how they’re going to address it and fix it.”

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