By Andy Sidel
Four members of the community will be elected Nov. 5 to serve on the Douglas County School District (DCSD) School Board for four-year terms.
The DCSD School Board sets the policies that guide the public education of the students in the community. Once these policies are acknowledged, it is the job of the superintendent to work with the school board team as well as the administrative team and staff to execute them.
For the 2013-2014 school year, the total number of students in DCSD as of Sept. 30 is 67,655 with approximately 3600 teachers and 6600 staff members. DCSD has 64 elementary schools, 23 middle schools, and 16 high schools. DCSD has an annual budget of more than $500 million.
The voters will elect board members in four districts: Districts B, D, E, and G. Districts B and D have open seats without an incumbent running. In Districts E and G the incumbents are facing a challenger.
In District B, Barbra Chase is running against James Geddes. In District D, Julie Keim and Judith Reynolds are fighting to win the seat. In District E, incumbent Doug Benevento is being challenged by Bill Hodges. In District G, Ronda Scholting is seeking to replace to incumbent Meghann Silverthorn.
The candidates have focused on a number of issues including the current Board’s philosophy, the Pay for Performance method of paying teachers, school vouchers, classroom resources, academic rigor, and teacher quality.
In District B, the choice for the open seat is between Barbra Chase, who has experience in the high-tech industry holding sales, sales operations, sales management, and marketing positions and James Geddes, a surgeon.
In District D, Julie Keim, with an accounting and finance background is running against Judith Reynolds, who has a degree in physical fitness and who has been a volunteer Girl Scout troop leader.
In District E, incumbent Doug Benevento is an attorney who has held government positions. His challenger, Bill Hodges, has business experience in the private sector along with 10 years of experience as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for DCSD from 2001 to 2011.
In District G, incumbent Meghann Silverthorn is an analyst for an independent agency within the Department of Defense. Opponent Ronda Scholting works in public relations and serves on the Parker Fire Protection Board.
By Nov. 5, Douglas County voters will decide which candidates’ vision will be the future of the Douglas County School District. The election is by mail-in ballots only; ballots were sent out the week of Oct. 7.
“This is the most important school board election in the history of Douglas County” Hodges said at the Grange at the Meadows in Castle Rock on Sept. 30.
Due to the controversial reforms that the current board has put in place, the election is not only being watched locally but nationally as well. The election on Nov. 5 will determine if the current direction of the board stays the same.
The following is a Question and Answer with the candidates. Two candidates did not respond.
Q: Why did you decide to run for the Douglas County School Board?
Barbra Chase: I was tired of the decline of our school performance, teacher morale and fiscal management. I was tired of neighbors moving away because of our schools. I was tired of the deception of this current school board and superintendent that our schools are working when they are actually struggling as a result of poor District decision making.
Jim Geddes: Providing a high quality education for our children is one of our most important societal responsibilities. After spending 30 years as a student myself, and observing my own children’s education experience — and simultaneously watching our nation’s young people fall further behind the children of other developed countries, I chose to become more directly involved in the efforts to improve our education systems.
Elected as a University of Colorado Regent, I have addressed a number of issues, including the budgeting and financing of higher education, and the evaluation and assessment of the quality of education. I encourage and support improvements in quality, such as augmenting intellectual diversity and academic freedom on our campuses. As my time as a Regent will soon be over, I wish to continue my involvement and efforts to improve our American education system.
Bill Hodges: I have a vested interest in the direction of this future School Board since my wife and I retired from DSCD; I have two grown children who graduated from the DCSD system; I have two grandsons currently in the elementary system; and, I have two younger grandchildren who will attend elementary school in the DCSD system.
We need to put the “public” back into Board meetings vs.current Board meetings being conducted over 50% of the time in closed sessions, we need fiscal transparency so that we know about an excess fund balance way before we have known from this Board in the past, we need to increase graduation requirements as too many of our high school students are going to class part-time and can’t compete with other district/national students due to a lack of rigor; we need to fund full-day Kindergarten from excess funds and, we need to hire more teachers and thus, reduce class sizes.
Julie Keim: I want to restore excellence and encourage effective innovation in DCSD. I have seen our schools lose the collaboration and inspiration that made DCSD outstanding. I plan to restore fiscal integrity; sufficient funding in classrooms; safe, trusting environments where students and educators can be successful; multiple perspectives and public input to decision-making; successful implementation of strategies; and focus back to our most valuable asset, our students.
Ronda Scholting: I’m running for School Board because I’m concerned about where our tax dollars are going and whether the choices being made on the District level are truly benefitting the entire community. We are continually cutting teachers and resources in our classrooms, while growing administrative positions, which directs millions of dollars away from our students. Using our taxpayer dollars to help our students succeed is what makes a great school district. We need to restore resources and true innovation in our schools at every level, while still being fiscally responsible. And, we need to restore faith and trust in District leadership. Our community deserves nothing less.
Meghann Silverthorn: I was raised in a wide variety of educational environments: public and private, American and British, domestic and international. I had an incredible educational experience growing up, often with American teachers who taught an American curriculum and attended American teaching colleges. The caliber of education was extremely high. Now that I have been on the board for four years, I have found that the board and I have been able to make many positive changes, from shoring up school safety, to providing many more choices for kids, to vastly improving the financial situation for the district. I would like to keep the district on the path of long-term sustainability and partnership with parents and taxpayers.
Q: What do you think is the most significant problem facing the district?
Barbra Chase: Lack of classroom resources. Lack of academic rigor for our High Schoolers. Public feedback has been silenced with the ending of parent/staff surveys and private school board meeting time increasing from 8% in 2009 to 49% in 2013.
Jim Geddes: The key component of education quality and successful outcomes is related to individual teacher qualities. Teacher quality is, in-turn, related to the adequacy of professional preparation and credential and to the degree of knowledge, both general and specific to the subject being taught.
Bill Hodges: Engaging all groups in the conversation about our school district’s direction for the future..too many groups have been excluded by this Board because they don’t agree with the current Board’s philosophy.
Julie Keim: I believe the biggest problem facing DCSD is ineffective oversight at the Board level resulting in the District’s inability to successfully implement programs and strategies. Without the oversight of effective Board members with varying opinions, strengths and responsibilities, many issues go undetected, undiscussed and unresolved.
Ronda Scholting: Lack of transparency is a real problem in the District and we need to reestablish trust and confidence in District leadership. Parents, teachers, students and taxpayers all have a stake in public education. Because the Board spends nearly half of its meeting time behind closed doors, there is limited time for public input at board meetings. The public’s business should be conducted in public.
Meghann Silverthorn: The district will need to manage its steady growth while adapting education to contemporary students. The district continues to grow at a rate of about 1500 per year, or enough to fill 2-3 elementary schools. Voters have shown almost no appetite for increased taxes, keeping the district from building new neighborhood schools. Additionally, students are increasingly demanding an educational environment that is relevant and that prepares them for college, the workforce, the military or whatever other endeavor they choose. The district will need to remain responsive to the needs of students while ensuring that it provides adequate facilities for students who choose to attend.
Q: What ideas do you have to improve the school district?
Barbra Chase: Restore resources to our schools through accurate budgeting so that schools receive their operating budget in time to plan effectively and efficiently. Restore our high schools by putting kids back in school full-time, reduce student/teacher ratios and increase the amount of instructional time to better prepare our students for college/careers. Bring the public back to our public schools by addressing plummeting parent satisfaction in the Douglas County School District
Jim Geddes: Continue to enhance the overall quality of our teachers by providing an inviting professional atmosphere, and by enhancing and refining the Teacher “Pay for Performance” system currently in place. Increase the number and variety of charter schools as the student population grows — to allow additional good choices for our students and their parents. Further enhance the implementation of the concept of local, individual school administrative control and accountability for quality and efficiency (by the school Principals). Further insure school security with armed guards in all our schools. Work to improve teacher/student ratios by creating greater administrative efficiencies. Assess and enhance, where deficient, intellectual diversity within the relevant subjects taught in our high schools. Enhance athletic competition opportunities for our students. Enhance the fine arts/music participation opportunities for our students. Insist on “Zero Tolerance” drug free schools.
Bill Hodges: Complete a district community survey from students, staff and the community on the Board’s leadership and direction. Have as part of the Superintendent’s annual evaluation, survey results from the staff, students and the community. Fund full-time Kindergarten from excess funds. Conduct the majority of Board business before the public. Increase public comment before the Board from the current 2-minute limit. Demand for procedures to be in place in order to better gauge excess fund balance before June/July of each School Year. Suspend Pay for Performance until all of the problems with the current program can be resolved with inter-rater reliability.
Julie Keim: I know that we can bring DCSD back to its former excellence. There are three areas where I would initially focus my attention upon joining the Board. We must understand the needs of the community, students, parents and staff if we want to create a well-informed and respected partnership within our community to address issues and affect real change. I will help ensure that new or improved strategies are led by stakeholders, not high-level administrators who may no longer understand the actual work necessary for real engagement and change. I also believe that we must consider how school funding is spent and ensure that we have clear and accurate budgets and accounting practices that allow us to be accountable for taxpayer dollars while providing as much funding as possible at the classroom level. Most importantly, we need to turn our attention back to our students and away from political philosophies and agendas.
Ronda Scholting: We need to give our teachers the tools they need to help our students succeed. I want to restore resources to the classroom, and direct tax dollars to where they do the most good. We need to make sure every student has the opportunity for a great education, by ensuring that they’re able to take the classes they need for whatever they have planned for their future- whether it’s college or the workforce. We need to ensure that there’s a variety of choices available to serve as many needs as we can, whether it’s a course of study or curriculum or a choice in where that student attends school- at a neighborhood school, charter school, online school, home school or other option.
Meghann Silverthorn: There have been many increased state-mandated requirements for testing and assessment, along with evaluations for teachers. Mandatory standardized tests have gotten out of hand. I would like to help parents understand these tests, as many of them have expressed concern over the level of testing their children are undergoing, and help them take appropriate action if they want to effect change. The local Board of Education has no power to reduce or eliminate this requirement; the state Board and legislature must act first. Our district has more avenues of communication than ever before. We can create tailored, meaningful communications both to parents and from them to help the district understand parent concerns better. I often hear from parents who want to change something or fix an issue, but they can actually effect this by working with the principal. The district has shifted tremendous amounts of authority to schools. Parents are empowered to do more than they realize.
Q: What is it about you that would make for a good school board member?
Barbra Chase: 23 year resident of Douglas County; 8 years of active involvement in DCSD; and 2 kids currently in Douglas County Schools.
Jim Geddes: I have a long personal experience with formal education and have learned significantly from my experience as a regent.My general “conservative”, and “traditional” philosophy will help guide our school district toward further improvements in its education quality and toward an enhanced service to our students, their families, and the citizens of Douglas County. I have a practical/pragmatic streak, but can also think “outside the box”.
Bill Hodges: 28 years business experience in the private sector — with the last 3 years as a partner with three others in a start up financial consulting company. 10 years experience in the public sector as the Asst. Supt. of Human Resources for DCSD. Husband of a retired elementary art teacher. Father of two grown children who graduated via the DCSD system. Two grandsons currently in the DSCD system with two younger grandchildren who will enroll in an elementary school in the DCSD system
Julie Keim: I value public education on many levels. As a student, my teachers helped guide me to become the person I am now. As a parent of three Douglas County students, I see my children learning in so many ways and recognize that a standardized educational model cannot reach all students. I have been very engaged in many aspects of our neighborhood schools for the last 14 years. I know the challenges that schools face to bring the necessary funds and other resources to the level where students are learning. I have extensive experience in the financial management of public entities.
Ronda Scholting: As an elected member of the Parker Fire Protection District Board, I’ve had the opportunity to serve the residents of the South Metro Fire Authority District, and join with fellow board members in closely watching taxpayer dollars while ensuring the district has the resources and personnel we need to keep our communities safe. With two boys who graduated from Douglas County Schools, I have a parent’s perspective on making choices for my children and the experience of working with teachers and building administrators to ensure their education is the best it can be.
Meghann Silverthorn: I have worked for the last four years to represent my constituents.I have developed a reputation for working with people of all backgrounds and viewpoints. I am the only person on the board representing the large majority of citizens in Douglas County with no children currently in our district. I have visited and attended ceremonies for dozens of our schools, including neighborhood, charter, online, and alternative schools. A partial list of accomplishments I have as part of our board includes but is not limited to: Instituted complete financial transparency, eliminated wasteful spending on many non-classroom initiatives, gave raises to teachers for three straight years, and reduced class sizes and provided students with more choices.