With three of five seats up for election and at least one incumbent not running, this year’s campaigns for positions on the Jeffco school board promise to be hotly contested.
With the November election still six months away, longtime South Jeffco resident and education veteran Alonzo “Al” Rodriguez has announced a bid in District 5.
“I have a vested interest in Jeffco schools,” Rodriguez said. “I have a son who is a junior at Columbine High School, and 13 of my grandchildren attend Jeffco schools.”
Rodriguez’s main concerns are school safety, fiscal responsibility and transparency. He said his style of leadership is collaborative, and he wants to bring that mentality to the board.
“The more information you have, the better decision you make,” he said. “I’m good at analyzing situations, due to my military experience.”
Rodriguez is running for the South Jeffco seat currently held by Paula Noonan, who said last week she has decided not to seek re-election after one term on the board.
A political newcomer
Rodriguez, who is seeking his first elected office, supported the Jeffco district’s 3A and 3B tax-increase measures on last November’s ballot, and said the additional revenue is “vital” to the district’s stability and success. The boost in property taxes — amounting to a net increase of $36 annually on a home valued at $250,000 — was billed as a way to buoy district finances after several years of budget cuts.
Rodriguez is less supportive of the School Finance Act being debated in the state legislature. If approved, the bill then would hinge on Colorado voters approving a $1 billion state tax hike.
“We just passed 3A and 3B, but then our residents are going to be expected to approve a ($1 billion state tax increase)?” Rodriguez said.
The act, SB 213, has been approved in the state Senate and is currently being debated in the House.
“(The new School Finance Act) is not very equitable (for Jeffco),” he said. “The way it’s currently written, Denver would get a much more significant amount money than (Jeffco) would.”
The bill would revamp how K-12 schools are funded — wealthier districts would bear more of the costs than poorer districts. The act also sets aside more money for districts that have higher numbers of at-risk students and English-language learners.
“There needs to be a better criteria to make this more equitable,” Rodriguez said. “However, I do like the idea of full-day kindergarten (which the act would bring back). (However), I don’t think (Colorado voters) will approve the tax hike.”
Antonio Esquibel, former vice president of student affairs at Metro State University of Denver, worked with Rodriguez at Metro, and the two became close friends.
“He’s way overqualified,” Esquibel said. “You don’t typically find candidates that have their doctorate and have more than 35 years in education.”
Esquibel said Rodriguez knows how to work with people.
“Well, obviously, his military background helps with that,” Esquibel said. “But at Metro, he was a manager and had an entire staff working for him. He knows education and what it takes to get the job done.”
If elected, Rodriguez said, one of the first things he would seek to implement is an effective personnel evaluation system.
“If you conduct an evaluation system and let teachers know what they need to work on, it’s only going to make the classroom and the teacher better,” he said. “Evaluations should be viewed as a productive instrument that is intended to enhance performance.”
Rodriguez earned his bachelor’s degree from Adams State College and his master’s and doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps and was awarded the Erickson Trophy for outstanding leadership in officer training.
Rodriguez has been in education for more than 35 years as a teacher and administrator with Denver Public Schools and Metro State. He said he wants to bring a fresh perspective to the Jeffco board.
“Is our money being spent in the best way to provide a quality education (for the children)?” he asked.
Rodriguez, who has served on a variety of educational committees and task forces at all levels, lives in South Jeffco with his wife, Virginia. Their son, Marcos, is a junior at Columbine High School. Rodriquez has four grown children and 13 grandchildren who attend Jeffco schools.
“I have a passion for children,” he said. “All children are important. We need to invest in their future because they are our future.”
Noonan passes on bid for re-election
Last week, District 5 incumbent Paula Noonan said she would not run for re-election.
“I’m curious by nature, and sometimes that can come across as ‘feisty’ or ‘confrontational,’ ” Noonan said. “That can sometimes make it hard to work with the other board members.”
Noonan said she knew she wouldn’t run again when the board approved realigning representational districts at the March 7 meeting. The vote resulted in “feeder” schools — elementary and junior high schools that “feed” into a high school — moving into different districts.
Noonan presented a model to the board that would keep major “feeder” schools together, but the board passed the realignment plan on a 3-2 vote. Board member Laura Boggs joined in voting “no.”
“I had figured out a plan that would keep the articulation areas together,” she said. “I don’t think the rest of the board realizes how South Jeffco works down here.”
Noonan said she wouldn’t endorse a candidate in the District 5 race and wants the voters to make the decision on their own.
What’s at stake
The Jeffco Board of Education is made up of five members who represent five districts in the county. Board members are not paid, and terms last for four years. Along with Noonan, Boggs’ and Robin Johnson’s terms also end in November. The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.
Jeffco Public Schools is the largest district in the state and is made up of more than 150 schools; it has nearly 86,000 students and approximately 14,000 employees. The annual budget of Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.