IT specialist and Jeffco parent Ken Witt has announced that he is running for the school board seat in District 5 this November.
District 5 incumbent Paula Noonan said in April that she would not run for re-election. Witt is vying with Gordon “Spud” Van de Water for the seat, which has been held by Noonan since 2009.
District 5 covers the southern part of Jefferson County and includes Columbine, Chatfield and Dakota Ridge high schools.
School board members run in geographic districts in nonpartisan elections, but voters throughout the county cast ballots in all the races. Three board seats are up for election on Nov. 5.
Inspired by a teacher
“The motivation for me to run comes from my early school experience,” Witt said. “I had a teacher, Mrs. Sonnamaker, who rose above the one-size-fits-all education model to make sure I excelled and learned at my own pace.”
Witt excelled in school and was given special treatment and a different, more advanced academic path to follow.
“For (Mrs. Sonnamaker) to step out of the box like that, it taught me to have great respect for teachers,” Witt said. “I received a great education, and now I want to give back to the community.”
A background in technology
“I have a significant expertise in technology matters,” Witt said. “My background is in (information technology) and business management.”
Witt has been involved with several companies — the Aabren Group and Turillion — that deal with data security and storage.
Witt said he was responsible for the security and integrity of data for many Denver area companies, such as Newmont Mining, a specialty in the spotlight recently as the district pilots the inBloom data storage technology.
For Witt, getting the community involved in educational matters is at the top of his agenda.
“I want to increase the opportunities for community feedback and input into education decisions,” Witt said. “It’s critical that the board listens before anyone has made up their mind.”
Witt said he’s been attending school board meetings for about six months.
“I’ve talked to people at meetings, and I think a significant number of people … don’t feel they were listened to while addressing the board,” Witt said. “The community needs to feel they’ve been heard before they genuinely want to be involved.”
School safety and rewarding great teachers are also on Witt’s list.
“We absolutely must recognize and reward great teachers,” he said.
Senate Bill 191, which changes how teachers are evaluated, takes effect this school year. Teachers are now evaluated based on professional growth and student results.
“I think we can implement 191 correctly, and we can implement it wrong,” Witt said. “It’s critical to have a system that recognizes great teachers. We’ll have to see how (191) works.”
Jeffco parents have voiced concern about the district’s plan to pilot and implement inBloom, a “cloud”-based data storage system that would centralize information on Jeffco students.
“It’s critical that we safeguard our children’s information,” Witt said. “It’s important that we collect relevant information and take extreme care in who has access to it.”
Witt said he needs more information on the information-collecting technology.
“If (the district) decides to head down that path, we need to make the right decisions,” Witt said. “Careful analysis of what is done with that information is necessary.”
Jeffco will pilot inBloom for free until the end of 2014. The Board of Education will decide whether or not to implement the system after the testing phase.
This November, Colorado voters will be asked to approve Initiative 22, a nearly $1 billion tax increase to revamp how state schools are funded.
“We’re still in economic recovery,” Witt said. “(Initiative 22) is going to be difficult to sell to the voters. My position is, Jeffco education dollars should stay in Jeffco.”
If approved, Initiative 22 would require wealthier school districts to bear more of the costs than poorer districts. The new system would provide full-day kindergarten for Colorado’s youngsters. It also sets aside more money for districts that have more at-risk students and English-language learners.
“Any legislation that has Jeffco dollars leaving Jeffco, I am not in support of it,” Witt said.
Witt said that, historically, Jeffco has been very supportive and generous regarding education funding and reform.
“I didn’t take a position on 3A and 3B,” he said. “(But) I would never ask Jeffco voters for more money and then put most of that money into reserves.”
Witt said his family stays active in their church and participates in community activities. Witt’s youngest daughter attends Columbine High School.
“My family couldn’t be more supportive (of my decision to run),” Witt said.
Witt graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver with a degree in mathematics.
What’s at stake
The Jeffco school board has five members who represent five districts. Board members are not paid and serve four-year terms. The terms of Laura Boggs, Paula Noonan and the currently vacant District 1 seat (Robin Johnson has resigned) expire in November.
The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.
Boggs, who currently represents District 2, has not decided if she’ll run again. Jeff Lamontagne and John Newkirk have both announced their candidacies for District 2.
Tonya Aultman-Bettridge and Julie Williams are running in District 1.
Alonzo Rodriguez, who announced in April his candidacy in District 5, has withdrawn from the race for personal reasons.
Jeffco Public Schools is the largest district in the state and has more than 150 schools with nearly 86,000 students and approximately 13,000 employees. The annual budget of Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.
The next Jeffco Board of Education meeting is at 5 p.m. Aug. 22 at 1829 Denver West Drive, Building 27, in Golden. The board has set aside time to discuss inBloom technology. The meeting is open to the public but is a study session; therefore, no time for public comment has been scheduled.