CASTLE ROCK - When the dust settled after the 2009 school board election in Douglas County, Meghann Silverthorn and her fellow candidates on a conservative slate started a new era for the school district. That era is now over.
"The community was clearly trying to say something to us," Silverthorn said.
Tuesday night, voters elected a new slate of four candidates, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, Kevin Leung, and Krista Holtzmann each won their elections by at least 15 percentage points. Holtzmann says the public got tired of how the district had been run over the past eight years.
"Since 2009, there's been a lot of outside special interests and dark money and things that are a distraction to what's really important to our community which is the students here," Holtzmann said.
Since 2009, the Douglas County School Board pushed for a school voucher program which is still involved in a prolonged fight in the court system. It dissolved negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers. A new performance-based pay system was developed for teachers. Hundreds of experienced teachers started leaving Douglas County each year.
"Douglas County was the only place in Colorado during this election cycle that got national attention," Norman Provizer, Metropolitan State University of Denver political science professor, said.
Provizer says Douglas County has been viewed as a testing ground for conservative education reform ideas. But, now the usually heavily Republican county appears to be changing.
"It's quite clear that, as been the case in a number of counties in Colorado, there's been real movement in them politically," Provizer said.
He says it's important to note that with four seats being taken this election, the union-backed candidates will retain control of the board no matter happens during the next election in two years when three seats are up. But, he warns that the new board should not abuse its power.
"You always have to be careful when you're in that situation not to overreach," Provizer said.
Holtzmann predicts there will be significant changes. She thinks the district will partner with teachers again and that the push for school vouchers will be put to rest.
"The vouchers have been a distraction from our students for about eight years and that's just something that needs to end," Holtzmann said.
Silverthorn expects these changes. But, she holds out hope that the district will let the courts make a decision even if the voucher program never takes flight again.
"I think that the question deserves an answer," Silverthorn said.
She also remains skeptical about the potential of changing the teacher pay system again.
"I worry about the implication on the tax base," Silverthorn said. "We already have budgetary issues within the district."
Holtzmann disagrees and she wants Douglas County Schools to move forward with less angst than over the past eight years.
"We know that some division has occurred in our community and we really all want to work towards healing our whole community," Holtzmann said.
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