Did you hear about the school board race in Jefferson County?
No, not the potential recall. The other one. Like, the regularly scheduled school board election that happens every two years.
So far, three candidates have announced their intentions to run for two seats on the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. Both seats are open because current board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper are not seeking re-election.
Competing for Fellman’s District 3 seat are former commercial real estate manager Kim Johnson and former teacher Ali Lasell. District 3 covers most of the northwest corner of Jefferson County, including the city of Arvada.
And so far running unopposed for Dahlkemper’s District 4 seat is former teacher Amanda Stevens. District 4 includes most of the city of Lakewood, which is directly west of Denver.
Because both of the open spots are currently occupied by members of the board’s left-leaning minority, the outcome won’t upset the current balance of the board, which has been run by Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.
Those three board members won their seats in 2013 and are now subject of a recall effort by a group of parents, community members, and teachers. If the recall effort is successful and placed on the November ballot, Jefferson County residents will have the opportunity to reshape the school board entirely.
Both Lasell and Stevens have been vocal critics of the school board’s majority. But in interviews with Chalkbeat, both said they want to run positive campaigns. And while they support the recall effort, they say they’re focusing on their individual campaigns.
When asked where there was agreement between themselves and the board majority, Stevens applauded board member Williams for her deciding vote to expand a science and technology program at a local middle school. She also said she appreciated Witt standing up for the Colorado Academic Standards during a discussion earlier this year.
And Lasell said she believed Williams was a true advocate for students with special needs. She also said she shared a desire to be fiscally responsible like Witt and Newkirk.
Johnson, in an interview, said she couldn’t answer where she would side with the board’s majority, because too often the information she would want to influence her vote wasn’t presented at school board meetings.
“I consider myself good at asking the right questions, listening carefully, and making rational decisions,” Johnson said. “It’s not about ideology for me.”
All three candidates are mothers of Jeffco Public Schools students and hope that civility can be restored after the November elections.
“I’m not interested in my kids or the other 86,000 kids in Jefferson County being a proxy for a political battle,” Stevens said. Adding, “I might have to be the first to compromise.”
Among the issues the candidates wish to address if they’re elected:
- Lasell said she’d like to review how Jeffco recruits and retains teachers, which includes the district’s evaluation system.
- Stevens said she’d like to provide more access to extracurricular opportunities to student’s from low-income homes.
- Johnson said she’d like to establish a five-year plan supported by the entire board to address overcrowding in many of the district’s schools.
The candidates appear to agree broadly on some of the hottest topics in education. Each believe there has been too much testing, the state should fund schools more, and that charter schools and parent choice are important. As the campaign progresses, it will be the finer policy stances that will separate the candidates.
“I’m where everyone is on testing — there’s too much,” Lasell said.
“I would be really happy to see what I could with a fully funded school,” Stevens said.
“Choice is a critical piece of the Colorado education system,” Johnson said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Kim Johnson’s previous career. She was a commercial real estate manager, not a broker.