Election pivotal for school district

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By Greg Romberg

When Laura Boggs was elected to the Jefferson County Board of Education two years ago, it caught a lot of people by surprise. It looked like incumbent Sue Marinelli was headed for re-election in an uncontested race until Boggs pulled and returned candidate papers just before the deadline. Running under the radar, Boggs upset the incumbent and has been a controversial and polarizing member of the school board in her first two years.
A similar dynamic appears to be emerging in this year’s school board elections. It’s not exactly the same because neither of the incumbents for open seats are running this year, as both Jane Barnes and Dave Thomas are stepping down, but it is very similar in that candidates in each race stepped up early, ran for months with no opposition, and now face challengers who appeared at the last minute and who look to share Boggs’ philosophy.
Lesley Dahlkemper, a former public radio reporter who co-chaired the last mill-levy election for the district, and Jill Fellman, a retired school district teacher and administrator, are running for Sue Barnes’ and Dave Thomas’ seats respectively. Both spent the better part of a year laying the groundwork for their campaigns and then formally announced their intentions and presented themselves as candidates early in the process.
Just before the filing deadline, architect Jim Powers and attorney Preston Branaugh challenged Dahlkemper and Fellman, respectively. Powers and Branaugh are running a coordinated campaign, have virtually identical websites and, if elected, would constitute, with Boggs, a new and radically different majority on the school board.
The website ColoradoPols.com earlier this month stated its belief that Powers’ and Branaugh’s candidacies are ultimately about vouchers for religious schools. In its Sept. 2 edition, it stated, “It’s broadly assumed that a conservative majority on the Jeffco school board, which would be the result if both candidates prevail, will result in an attempt to create a religious school voucher program similar to that introduced in Douglas County.”
Just two years after Boggs made her way onto the school board, the 2011 election has become a referendum on her. People who support her and her vision can complete a takeover of the school board by electing Powers and Branaugh. People who oppose that vision can thwart the revolution by electing Dahlkemper and Fellman.
Despite the fact that candidates run from specific districts, voters from throughout the county can vote in both races. The election will be conducted entirely through the use of mail ballots, which will go out beginning Oct. 11 and must be returned by Nov. 1.
The differences among candidates and stakes of the election are perhaps the most distinctive in the school district’s history. Jeffco voters are obligated to participate actively and make informed choices.
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A number of candidate forums throughout the county have been scheduled for the next several weeks. A link to the list can be found on the Jefferson County School District’s website, www.jeffcopublicschools

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.