Here we go again! There are three seats up for grabs on the Jefferson County Board of Education, and as was the case two years ago when the other two seats on the board were filled, no incumbents are running for re-election. And as also was the case the last time we elected school board members in Jefferson County, there are stark differences between the candidates.
School board elections are very important. Our very future is dependent upon making sure that future generations are educated properly. Additionally, the value of people’s homes is inextricably linked to the reputation of local schools, as one of the most important factors in valuing a property is the performance of nearby schools.
The open seats are in District 1, in the northeastern part of the county, where Tonya Aultman-Bettridge is running against Julie Williams; in District 2, which encompasses the western area of the county, in which Jeff Lamontagne faces off against John Newkirk; and in South Jeffco’s District 5, where the candidates are Gordon “Spud” Van de Water and Ken Witt. While the candidates must live in their districts, all board members in Jefferson County are chosen in elections in which all voters may vote for candidates in each district regardless of where they live.
Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne and Van de Water are running as a slate and share very similar positions. To completely oversimplify things, they believe that while there are things that can and should be improved, the school district is generally on the right track. If elected, Newkirk, Williams and Witt would be advocates for much more dramatic change.
It’s often helpful to look to endorsements in deciding how to vote in nonpartisan elections. The Jefferson County Education Association has endorsed Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne and Van de Water. The Golden Good Government League has endorsed Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne and Witt. The Denver Metro Area Realtors have endorsed Aultman-Bettridge and Lamontagne.
I’m of the opinion that while we need to continually strive to make all of our governmental institutions, including school districts, perform better and that there are always improvements and efficiencies that can be achieved, that Jeffco schools perform well and wholesale changes are not needed now.
But from a broader perspective, the fact that we, either formally or informally, are looking at slates of candidates in school board elections for the second election in a row begs the bigger question about whether we should all be able to vote for candidates in every district or if it would be better if school board members were elected just by the constituents of their own districts. Jefferson County is a large area with a variety of different interests and constituencies. One need only look at the variety of philosophies and viewpoints that Jefferson County legislators embody to see that the variety of opinions of Jeffco residents would likely be represented better if members of the school board were elected by just voters from their own districts instead of the current at-large system.
Your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 5 to be counted. You can either mail it or drop it off at any number of locations throughout the county. Pick the candidates that best represent your views and vote to make sure your voice is heard.
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.