Five candidates running for 3 seats on school board

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By Vicky Gits

Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Jeffco school board in the Nov. 3 mail-in election.

Candidates compete against each other in the district they live in, but they are elected by the citizens at large across the whole school district.

All open offices are for a four year term. Robin Johnson is running unopposed in District 1. Laura Boggs is running against board president Sue Marinelli in District 2, which is Conifer and Evergreen. Appointee board member Rick Rush is running against Paula Noonan in Southwest Jeffco’s 5th District.

Ballots should have been distributed between Oct. 13 and 16. The last day to register to vote was Oct. 5.

Ballots can be dropped off at a variety of locations; visit www.jeffco.us.

Five candidates are vying for three seats up for election on the Jefferson County school board in the current election.

Following are question-and-answer sessions with the candidates.

Laura Boggs

District 2


Laura Boggs runs a consulting business that addresses strategy, financial literacy and creating income while people sleep. She has two boys, 11 and 13, at Devinny and Creighton elementary schools and has lived in Green Mountain in Lakewood for 13 years. She is 49.

Why are you interested in running for school board?

Because I have children who are going to live with these decisions. But more than that because I’ll live here all my life, and one of the most important things we do is educate our children.

Describe your former service to the school district and any other elected office.

This is my first foray into the world of legislation. On school level is president of the PTA of Creighton Middle School. I have been on accountability committee at Devinny for six years and have been a member of the facilities usage committee since it started.

Your position on 3A and 3B, the district’s proposed 4.4-mill increase in property tax and $350 million bond issue, which voters rejected in November 2008.

… The community has given us a message, and we need to understand what that is. It’s not that people don’t want to support schools. We’ve got a disconnect between the services we are providing and the community opinion of how we are using the resources to deliver that. 3A and 3B was a wake-up call. I as a parent need a better understanding of what they are doing with our resources. Don’t ask me for any more money until you show me you are doing well with what you have. When we have a 25 percent dropout rate, you could do better with what you have.

What do you recommend as far as future budget cuts?

Some buildings have to be repurposed. Staff size has to come down, but to me that staff should be anything but teachers. There are 25 pages of central staff people (on the website). We need to reduce the central staff as much as possible. Of the district’s 12,000 employees, only 4,200 are teachers. You can use technology to deliver a lot of services in creative ways without increasing the cost.

What do you most hope to accomplish in your role as a member of the school board?

I’m looking at what education should really be. … Kids go to school from September through May. We just don’t live in that world anymore. If you could start from scratch, we will ask why do we have only 7-year-olds in first grade with other 7-year-olds? It means maybe the way we design our classrooms isn’t the most appropriate way to design our classrooms. Maybe a 9-year-old could help a 7-year-old.

What are the most important issues facing the school district?

No. 1, my first priority is to create an engaging educational environment that children are excited to go to every day.

No. 2 is to engage the community. We need a vice president of volunteers whose job is to engage the community so that qualified, safe community members who would like to volunteer are welcome, trained and encouraged to do that. It happens if you are a parent. But it’s a scary, intimidating place for a 65-year-old who would like to read to the kids.

No. 3, we have got to give our teachers the resources, the training, the time to be the best teachers they can be.

What makes you qualified for the job?

… I run my own business, and I know what it is to make tough financial decisions when there are no good options. 2) Because I have children, I know the effects of the decisions on children. 3) Because I sit on the facilities usage committee, I know an infinite amount of details of each school building in District 4. Because I’ll listen. I will do a community meeting every month for as long as I am able to serve.

Sue Marinelli, District 2


Sue Marinelli has lived in Evergreen since 1986 and was a teacher for 31 years. She retired early to run for school board in 2005 and was elected to a four-year term. She was elected president of the board in 2009. Marinelli has three daughters, 30, 29 and 26, who went to Jeffco high schools. Marinelli, 60, lives in Evergreen Meadows.

Reason for running?

We have started a lot of programs that meet kids’ individual needs. One is progress monitoring, which means giving kids brief assessments along the way to help ones who are struggling. We have increased full-day kindergarten programs in more schools and added dropout prevention and retrieval programs. We started this work, and it’s not done yet. We are on the brink of seeing achievement jump.

Former service to school district and other elected office?

She has four years on the school board and serves at least 20 hours a week in board work. She is on the steering committee of the legislative forum.

Your position on 3A and 3B, the district’s proposed $350 million bond issue and 4.4-mill increase in property tax, which voters rejected in November 2008.

I absolutely supported it because I knew we would be in trouble, and we are in trouble. We cut $12 million last year and will have to do the same this year, if not more. People think we have stimulus money, but we don’t. It can only be for Title One and special education. It is only for poverty schools and special ed. What we did was increase service in those areas. Some parts of Title 1 could be used to hire instructional coaches in every school to help teachers be better teachers in every school.

What do you recommend as far as future budget cuts?

One thing is facilities usage. We are taking a look at which are not being fully utilized. We’ll see the recommendations of the facilities usage committee. We will probably have to do that.

Other than budget issues, what are the most important issues facing the school district?

I think it’s closing the achievement gap. We have a huge gap percent with our poverty population of 21,000. Our ethnic groups are scoring much lower. Boys are scoring lower in writing.

What are your main qualifications for this position?

I bring a sense of the classroom into the boardroom. That hasn’t happened for a long time. Either the philosophy is you bring in outsiders, or educators who have some knowledge of development and what best practices are.

Paula Noonan

District 5


Paula Noonan operates two legislatively oriented websites, ccc.coloradocapitolwatch.com and www.capitolcontact.com.

Her son, 32, attended Normandy Elementary, Ken Caryl Middle and Columbine High. Noonan’s grandchildren, 5 and 7, are in Normandy Elementary. Another grandchild, 8, goes to Cherry Creek school. Noonan, 61, lives in Normandy Estates.

Reason for running for the office?

I’ve always been involved with Jefferson County schools. I’m concerned about giving kids the very best education. I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on school issues, especially at the Capitol. I’ve run bond and mill campaigns for the district. I am eager and well prepared. I have the time now because I don’t work for a corporation and (don’t) travel a lot. I work for myself, and my time is more flexible.

Former service to school district and other elected office?

She was chair of Jefferson County district accountability committee and was program chair for Jefferson Foundation from 1996 to 2004. Noonan led three mill and bond campaigns and led the 1992 campaign that built Dakota Ridge and Summit Ridge high schools.

“Today the district is built out, and there doesn’t need to be a lot of new building anymore. …”

Your position on 3A and 3B, the district’s proposed $350 million bond issue and 4.4 mill-increase in property tax, which voters rejected in November 2008?

Based on my experience in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think the district needed to do more work to make the case to the public. If you are going to raise a mill, people are very sensitive. You have to be excruciatingly detailed. While the district had a clear picture, the public didn’t. They are going to vote it down. In the future if the district needs more capital or operating money it will have to do the analysis to specify how you are going to use the money. It will need a more robust and long-term communications plan to get the word out to all the big entities. Apparently not enough of that was done. I’m well informed but I will tell you my neighbors did not have a clue about it… It probably got swamped in all the things and all the initiatives on the ballot.

What do you recommend as far as future budget cuts?

The district is going to have to cut 11, 12 or $13 million in the second half of this year. I’ve done these negotiations. You start to look at every area outside the classroom. Maybe you don’t pave parking lots. Maybe you reconfigure transportation. Is there any way to reduce the cost of benefits packages? I’m sure the district is going to close some buildings. Deer Creek is underutilized because of Falcon Bluffs. There is going to be a push to figure out how to fill up the building. Everybody in the community needs to involved in the discussion. This should be a community decision.

Other than budget issues, what is the most important issue facing the school district?

In the south area we have an opportunity to look at how to configure so the kids get the best value for the education dollar. Deer Creek is a middle school. One idea is to put sixth grades from other schools (Bradford, Meadow and Shaffer elementary schools) into the middle school. Another idea is to close Ken Caryl Middle and send kids to Deer Creek. Instead of closing schools, you should try to figure out if there are ways of maintaining it for other educational purposes, like a community college. The community needs to be a large participant in that discussion. Maybe the classrooms should be used for vocational classes. There are going to be a lot of kids taking classes at community college. Maybe they should offer classes in the school district rather than build new buildings … . (Another issue is) a big achievement gap in our minority and poor community. We have a significant dropout rate up to 25 percent.

What are your main qualifications for this position?

I think my strength is I can think strategically and translate the implications of that at the grassroots level. I have spent a lot of time studying and reading and thinking about what school are about.

I have taught an online course at Jones International and University of Denver … and have worked my whole career as a corporate trainer. … I have an idea what a kid needs to be successful in a work career. What I think I bring to the table is an urgency around how fast education is going to change in the next decade and the innovations that really need to be incorporated in Jefferson County. That will lower the cost of delivery and improve the quality. I look at the district as a platform for all kinds of education in different ways.

Richard Rush

District 5

www. rush4jeffcoschools.com

Incumbent Richard Rush was appointed in October 2008 to replace Vince Chowdhury, who resigned. Rush is a consulting health actuary with Aon Corp. of Denver. He has two daughters, ages 19 and 21, who graduated from Chatfield High, Deer Creek Middle and Ute Elementary schools. Rush, 51, lives in the Canterberry subdivision of Littleton.

Reason for running for the seat on the school board?

Being on the school board is the culmination of a lot of volunteer activities I have done throughout the years. It is one of the few unpaid elected positions in the state. I call school board my second full-time job. I have volunteered in the classrooms, PTA and accountability committee. Two major activities were on the financial oversight committee, composed of professionals who steer and review the district finances. A second committee is the strategic planning and advisory council. Those two committees both advise the board. So I had substantial experience already with the Jeffco schools. …

Other elected office?

No other elected office.

Your position on 3A and 3B, the district’s proposed 4.4-mill increase in property tax and $350 million bond issue, which voters rejected in November 2008.

Was an active volunteer for 3A and 3B both in 2004 and 2008. I was an active supporter in 2004 and 2008. I believe that we need to strike a balance between putting additional funding into the school system and striving for strong financial management and accountability. I believe Colorado in general does not adequately finance public schools. Jefferson County does not supplement at a competitive level compared to Boulder, Cherry Creek and Denver. What we pay in taxes is significantly lower … .

What do you recommend as far as future budget cuts?

We are looking at approximately $15 million in cuts and at the same time pulling additional cash out of our reserves. Through sound management, we have anticipated a time we will pull money out to pay operational expenses. I’m very interested in what the community has to say. … A natural unfortunate consequence is likely to be increased class sizes. … With the size of the cuts that took place before, I believe there is no more fat.

Other than budget issues, what is the most important issue facing the school district?

To balance the need between additional funding and strong financial management of what we currently have. I believe that my role in managing that conundrum is to understand the value of the dollar that we spend and understanding we get the maximum value for what we’re spending. Also to reflect the community interest that if they want more value they will have to spend more to get it.

What are your main qualifications for this position?

I have the greatest financial aptitude of the current board members and those who are running in this race. I can balance the financial needs of the district with the educational requests of the community. I’m an independent voice. I don’t have any allegiances to the political parties or teachers union. My independent assessment is based on community input of what is best for children.

Robin Johnson

Running unopposed in District 1

Incumbent Robin Johnson was appointed to replace Jim Benefield after he resigned. Johnson has lived in Arvada since 2004 and is a native of California. She has three daughters who attend Pomona High and Weber Elementary schools. She has been involved in PTA at many levels since 1998, when her eldest daughter started school. She has served as a local unit president and on the Jeffco Council PTA board. She is a past employee of the Colorado State PTA. She is currently employed with a CPA in Wheat Ridge. In 2010 she plans to attend Red Rocks Community College to begin work on a degree in accounting.