Brad Wann, a supporter of Elevate Douglas County and the former vice chairman of the Douglas County Republicans, plans on canvassing with his alpacas, reindeer and burros before the Douglas County School Board Election on Nov. 7. People, he said, like …
Brad Wann, a supporter of Elevate Douglas County and the former vice chairman of the Douglas County Republicans, plans on canvassing with his alpacas, reindeer and burros before the Douglas County School Board Election on Nov. 7. People, he said, like animals.
“I want to integrate them into the process and have a conversation (with people),” Wann said. “I want this campaign to bring in people that can do the work, that have the background and have the passion to educate kids.”
Douglas County Parents, a political committee registered with the state, has been hosting “Window Wednesdays” for people to paint their cars with the names of candidates running against the Elevate slate.
“We try to do things that are personal, up-close and don't cost a lot of money,” said Maria Lauer, a member of Douglas County Parents.
The race is shaping up as a four-on-four contest, with the stakes being the direction of a school district that since 2009 has been run by a board that has implemented a number of controversial reforms.
In unison, the four Elevate candidates announced their arrival on the campaign scene in July in a news release emailed to local media. Two weeks later, they held an official kickoff party at a regional park in Highlands Ranch. The slate has a website that touts the credentials of each of the four candidates.
Elevate stands for "renewing Douglas County’s tradition of educational excellence, empowering parents to be partners in their children’s education, supporting and respecting educators, and expanding educational options for students," the website says.
Elevate's four opponents in the Nov. 7 election are not calling themselves a slate and their candidacies were made public with little fanfare this summer. But over the past few months, parents and teachers started painting their cars with these candidates' names: Krista Holztmann, Chris Schor, Anothony Graziano and Kevin Leung. The candidates, who largely oppose the reforms of the past eight years, say they represent the community. Parents are referring to the group as “commUNITY.” While Douglas County Parents is pushing for their election, each of the four has his or her own campaign website.
“I have been told that CommUNITY was selected as a way to inform the people of Douglas County that their primary goal was to bring unity back to our community,” said parent Julie Keim, who ran unsuccessfully for Douglas County School Board in 2013.
In the nonpartisan election, the eight candidates are campaigning for four seats on the school board that are currently occupied by reform-minded members Meghann Silverthorn, James Geddes, Judith Reynolds and Steven Peck, none of whom is running for re-election. Silverthorn is term-limited, while the other members are not, but rather chose not to seek four more years on the board.
After six years in which the reform-minded members enjoyed a 7-0 advantage, three challengers, David Ray, Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux, were elected in 2015, leading to a divided board, with votes frequently falling 4-3 in favor of reform-minded members.
While the two sides in this election have shown some differences in campaign tactics, one thing is clear: Both are making a heavy push to reach voters and convince them of why they should be the new faces on the board.
Reaching the community
Graziano has been visiting schools, passing out doughnuts and coffee, talking to parents. His campaign team consists of a manager, treasurer and his wife. Schor has frequented more than 15 house parties, where she talks to community members. She has a campaign manager and some parent volunteers.
“It's a great big brand new experience for me,” said Schor, an educator of 40 years. “I hope that we can engage our community in local politics.”
Elevate has hosted 11 meet-and-greet events around the county, including a campaign kickoff party at Heritage Park in Highlands Ranch and drinks and snacks at Wiens Ranch Arena in Sedalia. Michelle Lyng, a former spokeswoman for the Jefferson County School District, is campaign manager. Lyng is the founder and CEO of Novitas Communications, a public relations firm in Denver. Her professional background includes managing the Mike Fallon for Congress campaign against Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette in 2010, according to her biography on novitascommunications.com.
Elevate's campaign has about 100 volunteers overall and 20 core volunteers, Lyng said.
“We are running a standard campaign,” she said. “The candidates have been walking, knocking on doors, going to community events.”
Using social media
Knowing what is at stake — a transformation of the current majority board — community members are backing candidates in different ways, some of which have been contentious.
Principals from two Castle Rock elementary schools called the police on members of Douglas County Parents who were passing out fliers at “Back-to-school” nights in early August, according to school district officials and a “Speak for DCSD” Facebook page. Displaying leaflets without permission of a building administrator is against board policy, district officials said.
Social media is a big part of the campaigns, with people using sites to promote some candidates and call out others on controversial topics, including charter schools and tax measures for additional funding.
People are using Facebook pages — such as "Speak for DCSD," "Douglas County Parents" and "Elevate Douglas County" — to urge others to canvass and educate their communities on candidates.
Still, some community members believe that speaking directly with community members is the most powerful tactic.
“Face-to-face conversations is the most important way to get information out into the community,” said Jason Virdin, a spokesman for Douglas County ParentsAs convenient as social media is, it still does not replace face-to-face conversation.”
Educating community is key
Some residents are taking it upon themsevles to educate the community on which candidates they support and why.
A CPA by trade, Keim has been researching data from the Colorado Department of Education on the district's performance compared to neighboring school districts. She is looking at ways to relay her findings to the community, but for now, she is talking to community members.
“We live in a privileged community and there's no reason our kids shouldn't be performing amazingly well,” Keim said. “I think this generation of kids has been robbed of a good education under the reforms.”
Wann wants to see more trade skills taught in schools and more teachers with experience in the trade industry, he said. He's confident that Elevate will move the district forward.
Education has got to be different,” Wann said. “Douglas County is a great school district but we don't have it all.”