In 2022 Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert received 2,760 votes in Gunnison County. Her Democratic opponent received 6,219. In the world of partisan politics, Gunnison County obviously leans left. While a congressional race is clearly partisan in nature, a school board election is normally not — but with the first Gunnison Watershed School District board election in literally decades on this fall’s ballot, this has turned into a partisan election.
Given that, I will guess that school board candidates Lisa Henry and Cori Dobson will receive about 2,760 votes in this fall’s election. Both are being promoted by and have received funding from the Gunnison County Republican party. I’m guessing that most every Gunnison County Republican-leaning voter that stepped up for Boebert will do the same for Henry and Dobson. Conservatives will turn out for this school board election.
While Dobson and Henry have expressed legitimate concern for improving things within the school district, their basic reason for running seems to me primarily based in politics. And based on even a cursory viewing of social media, the politics certainly veer Sean Hannity right.
Frankly, any voter paying attention to this race knows who they are going to vote for already. Those on the political right will vote for Dobson and Henry. Those leaning to the political middle or left will vote for Anne Brookhart, Jody Coleman and Mark VanderVeer. Greg Kruthaupt will get some right-wing votes and might pick up some of those in the center. Greg seems less political than the others, and I think he is truly sincere about using his old-school experience to push for improvements with the local students. But this has become such a partisan election that if there are 10 individual ballots cast that have checkmarks filled in for both Henry and Brookhart, I’ll buy you lunch.
It’s the paying attention part in this election season with no high-profile race – locally or nationally, that is tricky this fall. It appears to me this election is basically about turnout. If a normal number of local voters return ballots before November 7, Brookhart, VanderVeer and Coleman should get elected as they are in line with the majority of the citizens in the community. They have expressed concerns, rational ideas and potential solutions to move the district forward.
The local GOP is pushing the two conservative candidates to join the third conservative already on the board, Mandy Roberts. What they would do with that control is anyone’s guess. Based on their answers to the questions we have been asking the last three weeks, eliminating bullying is a top priority. Fair, but other than following policy, how they plan to do that isn’t explained in any detail. Dobson has expressed concern over the construction of what she calls “suicide boxes” that are basically individual stall restrooms meant to provide a comfortable and private place for some students. She is worried they are really a place where students have sex, do drugs and could commit suicide. I appreciate Dobson’s willingness to think outside the box and I believe she is sincere in her concern, but I don’t understand it and it sure feels extreme. It’s always been the case that a kid who wants to do something bad will find a way (and place) to do something bad. Breaking news alert: some teens will use drugs or have sex with or without “suicide boxes.”
Dobson’s response to our question on Woodland Park’s change of direction with its school board (see page 15) was unfortunately a typical disappointing politician punt to not address a question of real concern with voters. Dobson seems an aware individual, so her answer leads me to believe she actually might see some merit in the Woodland Park school board change of direction. That’s not a good direction. Woodland Park has gone conservative crazy, and it takes no effort to disavow — or support, that stark direction.
Unlike Dobson, Lisa Henry didn’t even respond to the question. She was one for three on the CB News answer front. Henry perhaps doesn’t understand the responsibility of an elected public officer. Citizens deserve to know where public officials stand on issues. That’s part of the gig. The lack of public respect makes it easy to recommend not voting for a person running for public office that doesn’t want to communicate to the entire public, and not just the public in her bubble. Even those on the political right should raise an eyebrow at Henry’s lack of engagement.
Brookhart, VanderVeer and Coleman seem more based in the realities of overseeing a public school and dealing with public office. They’re not just throwing out concerns but actually doing the mundane work of suggesting ways to address the problems.
Everyone agrees on one contentious election issue, academic scores could be better. But the school district oversees public schools in a primarily resort and ranching community with students who are not all upper middle class American kids. Some are new to the country, the culture and the language. That impacts testing results.
Looking at real numbers, the Gunnison Watershed School District generally tracks near the average of how the state is doing when it comes to academic standards and scores. In high school, our students exceed state performance levels based on data from local 9th, 10th and 11th graders with PSAT and SAT scores. For reading and writing, the Gunnison Watershed School District mean score is 496.4, while the Colorado mean was 477.7. With math, the local school district showed a mean score of 474.5 while the Colorado mean was 458.5. The numbers indicate that the GWSD isn’t performing as a private college prep academy with students shooting for Harvard (nor should it), but it is holding its own and more across Colorado.
Based on grade level standards in the elementary and middle school, the RE1J is not up to par and everyone I talked to within the school system realizes there is work to do to improve the situation. That’s part of the challenge with any public school system, and numbers from across Colorado show clearly that the entire state has work to do to get elementary and middle school kids meeting state standards at higher numbers.
But there is no magic wand to be waved, only hard work to do. Brookhart, VanderVeer, Coleman and Kruthaupt seem to understand the need for work. Dobson and Henry (when she answers) seem to speak in generalities, and I get the feeling are looking for a magic wand more than a grindstone. They talk of the need for better communication, better curriculum to address academics and better follow-through with policy to deal with bullying but I have heard no tangible steps proposed to actually accomplish goals. Kruthaupt has outlined the idea of an extensive mentoring program to deal with bullying. The slate of Anne, Mark and Jody is proposing development of a strategic plan formed with the involvement of stakeholders and parents to improve student outcomes. They have suggested the implementation of advisory teams at every school to focus on and curb bullying. They contend a focus on bell-to-bell direct instruction instead of more time on Chrome notebooks will help with academic achievement.
All six of the candidates see areas for improvement — better communication and involvement between teachers and parents, making sure all students feel safe in the schools, and providing more help to the kids in the district that don’t speak English. But the slate is also cognizant of the realities of running a public school district. They want a district that looks at the whole student as a person and not just as a test score. They want to oversee but trust the experts they hire. They advocate for a strong curriculum and abhor what is happening with the Woodland Park school board, as they should. They want to begin developing a formal district strategic plan to provide a path toward tangible improvements.
A school board election is not sexy. It normally won’t draw the people who only think about voting for a president, a governor or a councilperson. But in this case, it’s important. Our schools are deeply intertwined within the general community. What happens in our schools will impact everyone to some degree. Brookhart, Coleman and VanderVeer have proposed realistic policy ideas pertinent to a public school and they have shown every indication they will put in the hard work to keep taking steps forward. They deserve your vote.
While this election seems like a sleeper, it isn’t. This election will be decided by turnout. Make sure you and your friends return the ballot that eligible voters should have in their possession by now. There are drop boxes in every population center. Return those ballots soon, and return them with checkmarks next to Brookhart, VanderVeer and Coleman.