Voters in the Douglas County school district appear to be satisfied with the direction of its board leadership, while Jefferson County school district voters chose to elevate a reform-minded challenger.
Three of the state’s largest school districts decided who would runs those school boards on Tuesday. Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties, which are no stranger to contentious school board races, will add new bodies to their boards.
In Denver and Douglas counties, three seats on their seven-member boards were up for election. The five-member Jefferson County Board of Education had two seats up for election Tuesday.
For coverage of the Denver school board race, click here.
As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, incumbent Douglas County School Board President David Ray held a nearly 10% lead over challenger Kory Nelson. Elizabeth Hanson, who is on the same slate with Ray, held a nearly 20% lead over Franceen Thompson in an open seat.
The second open seat, a contest between Susan Meek and Andy Jones, was the closest, with Meek, who shares the slate with Ray and Hanson, leading by just over 2%.
In Jefferson County, Stephanie Schooley was leading Rob Applegate in District 3 by 5%, while Susan Miller was leading Joan Chavez Lee in District 4 by a little over 7%.
The races in the three districts have for years been between reform-minded or school choice candidates and those who gain strong support from local teachers unions.
In Douglas and Jefferson counties, that’s resulted in a slate of candidates aligned with one side or the other.
In 2015, Jefferson County voters kicked out three conservative members on its school board and elected a whole new slate of five, all backed by the union, so the 2019 election may serve as something of a referendum on how well the union-supported board has conducted business.
It’s a little different in Douglas County, where the wholesale replacement of the board, which had backed taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, didn’t take place until 2017. The district doesn’t have a bargaining agreement with the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, although teachers and anti-voucher members of the public made their choices well-known.
In 2015, three teacher-backed board members were elected, although only one of the three is running for re-election, board President David Ray. Treasurer Anne-Marie Lemieux and board Secretary Wendy Vogel chose not to run for another term.
In Jeffco, the two board members up for re-election — Ali Lasell and Amanda Stevens — both declined to run again.
So who are the candidates?
In Douglas County, Ray faced Nelson, who has drawn controversy for a Facebook post over whether teachers should carry guns in school. The post ended with, “Let the D[emocrat] teachers wear the safety vests with the label ‘I don't care to defend myself or my students’ with a bullseye."
Nelson has so far raised $14,571 for the race, with the largest contributions coming from his own wallet, at $2,500 in cash and another $2,489 in the form of a loan. Ray has taken in $23,156.91, including more than $4,000 in non-monetary assists from Douglas County Parents, his largest donors. Among cash contributors, Amy McDowell of Highlands Ranch has given $2,500 (school board contests have no preset contribution limits).
Hanson and Thompson squared off for one of two open seats that cover Highlands Ranch. Hanson is backed by Douglas County Parents and has raised $26,703, including $4,733 from DCP. McDowell made the largest cash contribution, at $1,500.
Thompson has raised $10,669, including $3,434 of her own money. Her largest contributor is Douglas County Treasurer David Gill, at $1,000.
The race for the second Highlands Ranch seat has seen the most fundraising. Jones has raised $24,490, including a $1,000 loan and $2,500 of his own money. He’s also received $7,450 in non-monetary contributions from consultants.
Meek has taken in $24,575, including $4,733 from Douglas County Parents. Her largest cash contribution, $1,200, came from former DougCo school board member Clare Leonard.
Most notable about this year’s race is who isn’t coughing up big contributions.
School choice advocate and oilman Alex Cranberg has been generous in the past with school choice candidates in Douglas County, kicking in $120,000 in the 2013 and 2017 races. That included contributions of $25,000 each to four candidates in 2013. His checkbook has been silent in this year's race, based on the most recent TRACER filings and as of Oct. 23.
Businessman Ralph Nagel has also been generous with reformer candidates up until this year, with $10,000 checks to four candidates in 2013 and a $15,000 check to an independent expenditure committee backing education reformers in 2017. Nothing so far this year, according to TRACER and as of Oct. 23.
And Ed McVaney, founder of software giant JD Edwards, has also given generously to education reformers in the past, with $5,000 checks to the four candidates in 2017 and $10,000 checks to two candidates in 2011. He’s also gone silent on the school board races, according to TRACER reports.
In Jefferson County, two candidates backed by the teachers’ unions have a commanding lead on fundraising.
Schooley and Chavez-Lee both have raised close to $40,000 each. Schooley has kicked in $2,000 for her campaign war chest. Chavez-Lee has put $6,375 into her campaign.
Both Schooley and Chavez-Lee have taken in $20,000 each from the Jefferson County Education Association, and $3,750 each from the Colorado Education Association.
Applegate, who faces Schooley, has raised $2,009, including $374 from his own finances.
Miller, who faces Chavez-Lee, has done a little better, raising $3,566 in cash and in-kind contributions. Both Miller and Applegate have gotten $500 from Jeff Hegstrom of Arvada, the largest contributions to date for both.