Julie Keim’s passion for education grew out an almost-missed diagnosis of her oldest child. Teachers in another school district initially suspected the shy, socially awkward boy suffered from an autism spectrum condition. Keim and her husband rejected that idea, and teachers later realized their son was gifted and talented. Last spring, he graduated a year early from Castle View High School.
That experience showed Keim the power of the parent voice in education. Now she wants to take her years of involvement a step further, serving on the Douglas County School Board.
Keim is the third candidate running for the District D seat, now occupied by Carrie Mendoza. Kevin Leung and Stephen Boyd also seek the post; Mendoza has not yet indicated if she will seek re-election.
A parent of three, Keim served on Larkspur Elementary’s Parent Teacher Organization board after the family moved there in 2004. More recently, she helped launch parent involvement organizations at Castle Rock Middle and Castle View High schools.
During the last two years of her work in schools, Keim noticed a shift in teachers’ attitudes.
“Ours teachers and administrators were really struggling with how to absorb one budget cut after another,” she said. “The failure of the mill levy and bond issues was very demoralizing for our educators.”
A certified professional accountant by trade with experience auditing school districts, Keim also recently started looking into the district’s financials. She doesn’t like what she found there.
“I am concerned that the district does not have a sufficient grasp on its financial position and the impact that has on our students,” Keim said.
Her concerns include a fund balance she believes is unnecessarily high and the accuracy of some financial statements, upon which she publicly commented in a July 2013 Denver Post guest column.
DCSD leaders say their conservative budgeting approach is a safeguard against financial pitfalls endured by other districts and organizations.
Keim also doesn’t support the district’s current style of site-based budgeting that allows principals to decide how to spend money designated to their schools. Instead, she suggests a collaborative process that includes district leaders well-versed in finance.
“They’re trying to create choice and innovation in our schools, and we’re asking them to also run a business,” Keim said. “Yet most of them don’t have any experience in business. If I were the CFO, I’d have budget staff sit down with those principals and ask, ‘How can we fund you so you can be the most successful school?’"
Keim also believes the change to last year's high school schedules could have been prevented.
“I couldn’t believe that was the choice they made — to ask our students to go to school part-time, when they should be preparing for their future,” she said.
An unaffiliated voter, Keim said she has no agenda.
“What you see is what you get,” she said. “I’ve always known that I’d be good on a school board; I possess the administrative, accounting and consulting experience that would be helpful in addressing the financial issues of the district and bringing different perspective to a group of seven people tasked with representing all constituents in Douglas County."