Candidates who prevailed in the Douglas County School Board election say they are ready to start working on the issues they campaigned on. Among their top priorities — school safety and the district's work culture.
Following a May shooting at a school, school safety was a key issue among all six candidates during the campaign. It remains so for the newly elected directors, they said. Susan Meek won in District A and Elizabeth Hanson in District C. Incumbent and board president David Ray retained his seat in District F.
Ray has been a staunch supporter of the district's current safe schools policy, which prohibits arming anyone other than designated security personnel. He plans to continue seeing where it can be improved.
“We continue to just enhance the whole notion of what a safe school environment means, and so we're looking forward to continuing to build on that,” he said.
Hanson said candidates heard a lot about school safety during the campaign and she plans to continue bolstering the district's social and emotional wellness programing.
Meek said she has reviewed reports compiled by committees that the Douglas County Board of Commissioners formed following the May fatal shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Based on those, she plans to further promote consistency among schools, better communication and more collaboration throughout the community to increase school safety. Her opponent, Kory Nelson, served on one of the two committees.
Hanson, who has a background in employment law, made the district's work culture her priority while campaigning. She plans to tour district schools, where she says she'll speak with school personnel to learn which employment issues are most important to them.
“I really want to make sure that our employment environment is the absolute best that we can offer our employees,” she said. “Because I know that's how we give our students the best.”
Hanson also aims to work closely with the district's employee council. The group of 40 district personnel is a volunteer advisory team through which employees give the superintendent feedback on issues like work conditions, compensation and benefits.
Ray has four main priorities for his second term, he said. Those are school safety, school culture, revamping teacher compensation and updating the district's policies.
One of his and the board's biggest recent projects, Ray said, was the rollout of the district's new strategic plan. The district is still forming action plans to carry out each of its priorities named in the strategic plan, so Ray said he will continue to focus on that effort. The plan focuses on safety and social-emotional health of students, guiding students in post-graduate planning, a positive culture, an aligned curriculum, equitable distribution of resources and employee recruitment and retention.
The district is also updating each of its policies, one by one, and working to align its curriculum so that students in each school are meeting the same benchmarks, Ray said.
Meek said the district is in a critical phase of its rollout of the strategic plan. She hopes to help institute methods for the district to measure the progress and success of the plan's themes as it's implemented in the district.
Debate over partisan leanings
Some candidates who lost in the election said results showed portions of the community have lost faith in the current board.
Andy Jones, who opposed Meek, lost by about 2 percentage points. The board should be cognizant of the closeness of that race, he said. He also lamented voter turnout and said, “we found it very difficult to wake up a very apathetic community that under voted.” He specifically compared the number of people who voted in the school board election to that of Proposition CC. There were 107,410 Douglas County votes on Proposition CC and 92,323 cast in the race between Jones and Meek.
Turnout in the Nov. 5 election was nearly 43%, according to county records, compared to 38.4% in 2017.
“They do not have the trust. A very, very small portion of the electorate came out and voted for them, but they should not take that as a mandate,” Jones said.
Jones vowed to remain involved in the school district and said he would watch district leaders closely.
“I'm not going away. I still intend to be a voice for conservatives, for parents in charter schools, for parents of children in home schools that may one day go to a neighborhood school,” Jones said.
Kory Nelson, who ran against Ray, said he was proud to have secured more than 45% of the vote against an incumbent board president. He also said conservative candidates were gaining traction in Douglas County school board elections.
“As far as the last two cycles, the conservative candidates lost by 15,000 votes,” Nelson said. “This race was quite an improvement and I think we certainly kept control of the message.”
In 2017 and 2015, winning school board candidates led by an average of roughly 15,000 votes. This year, two of the three races were closer than that.
Ray, when asked for a response to Nelson's comments, said the district is “finally seeing a community that says, 'You know what, we're tired of the contentiousness.'” He believes the community is becoming less polarized, he said.
“It's not a political posturing game anymore,” he said of the school board election. “That's the crux of what doesn't work, is when we label ourselves conservative or not conservative. I think that's the very reason we've had a tumultuous time in this district.”
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