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Q&A with school board candidates

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Six candidates are vying for the three open seats on the Jeffco Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election.

School board candidates run in geographic districts in nonpartisan races, but voters throughout the county cast ballots in all the races.

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 Michele Patterson expire in November.

The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.

Jeffco Public Schools is the second largest school district in the state and has more than 150 schools, with nearly 86,000 students and approximately 13,000 employees. The annual budget for Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.

DISTRICT 1

Julie Williams

In favor of Amendment 66?No.

InBloom: “I believe in having a dashboard for our teachers. I’m sure that it’s possible to have control of our students’ data at a local level and not a national level. I have concerns.”

Arming teachers:“I believe that all options should be put on the table and that we shouldn’t rule out anything in regard to our children’s safety.”

Vouchers:“As long as we have long waiting lines at many of our charter and choice schools in the district, I think that we need to keep our minds open.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything:“I am a Jeffco graduate, as is my husband. We have two children; one is gifted and attends a charter school, and our other has special needs and goes to a neighborhood school. I manage an orthodontic office and work with hundreds of school-age children each week and listen to their school experiences. I have been active in the classroom as well as at district level as the co-chair of the Special Education Advisory Committee. I will be the voice for the parents and taxpayers with simple solutions and common sense and will listen to your voice with value and respect.”

Tonya Aultman-Bettridge

In favor of Amendment 66?Yes.

InBloom:Since the district is offering parents an opt-out for the pilot, I am supportive of the district continuing with the pilot of the system. I would not support full implementation until the current privacy and data security issues are resolved.”

Arming teachers: “I’m not sure our resources wouldn’t be better spent investing in our school resource officer program.”

Vouchers:“I do feel comfortable taking a pledge to not support vouchers for Jefferson County. We need to be accountable to taxpayers and not move any of those resources away from our public institutions.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything:Dr. Aultman-Bettridge has two decades of policy research and evaluation experience in child welfare, juvenile justice, and children’s mental health. She was the project coordinator for the Safe Communities — Safe Schools Initiative, launched by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. She has been a longtime PTA and accountability member, serving four years on the Jeffco PTA Council board of directors. Tonya has been the parent representative appointed to three district committees. Tonya, her husband, Glen, and son Will are all Colorado natives who moved to Jefferson County in 2004 because of its excellent public schools.”

DISTRICT 2

Jeff Lamontagne

In favor of Amendment 66? Yes.

InBloom: “I would say that I certainly support it, but I have some concerns. How do we make our teachers as efficient as possible? InBloom can be a powerful tool to make our teachers effective. But, like all people, I have concerns about data management and security.”

Arming teachers:“I understand the impulse to want to keep our kids safe, (but) I don’t think (arming teachers) is the way to do it.”

Vouchers:“I would take a pledge to not support vouchers. Public tax dollars should be used in schools that are accountable to the public.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything:Jeff Lamontagne's longtime solutions-oriented leadership serving Jeffco schools makes him poised to be an accountable, balanced, and constructive school board member. His two kids attend Jeffco schools, and his wife teaches in Jeffco. He co-founded and led the Second Wind Fund, which was started to help Jeffco kids, then grew to a major mental health provider for youth. Jeff built Second Wind by forging partnerships with thousands of families and scores of faith communities, businesses and civic organizations. Jeff has also served on Jeffco’s Strategic Planning and Advisory Council and the Jefferson Foundation’s board. He’s ready to hit the ground running.”

John Newkirk

In favor of Amendment 66?  No.

inBloom: “I get nervous anytime we collect sensitive data and upload it to a national database. Another concern is the personalization and putting children on a track. Some of us are late bloomers.

Arming teachers:“It’s something that I think would be very difficult to put in place, but I understand the concern. I don’t see it happening without a lot of training.”

Vouchers: “As long as (there are) valid options in Jefferson County, I don’t see vouchers ever coming up.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything:John Newkirk attended elementary school, middle school and high school in Jefferson County. His wife, Melissa, is also a Jeffco graduate, and their three young children all attend public schools. After earning an engineering degree in New York, John returned to Jefferson County and started a business. He currently serves on the Colorado Commission for Judicial Performance, is an active Kiwanis member and WatchDOGS volunteer, and also serves on the advisory board for the Leadership Program of the Rockies. John believes every Jeffco student should have access to outstanding core educational opportunities as well as diverse electives and robust athletics.”

DISTRICT 5

Ken Witt

In favor of Amendment 66?No.

InBloom: “I love the idea of inBloom, but there’s things we need to be intelligent about. If the district decides to head down that path, it’s important that we collect relevant information and take extreme care in who has access to it.”

Arming teachers:“There’s not an easy answer because it’s a complex problem. We need to think it through and realize that it may not be the same answer in every situation.”

Vouchers: “(Parent choice is important, but) I don’t see that vouchers solve problems in public schools. I’m running for a public school board. My focus will be on public education.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything: My priorities are keeping children’s data safe, not sending their information to a national database. Giving parents real choice by expanding programs they want, eliminating wait lists in neighborhood and option schools, and programs. Setting goals to increase the number of third-graders that read at grade level, creating strong foundations for their success. Expanding options for community engagement, ensuring parent and staff feedback is foundational to the board. Ensuring great teachers and leaders are well compensated, focusing resources in our classrooms. My technology security background and experience in Jeffco schools uniquely qualifies me to represent you.”

Gordon “Spud” Van de Water

In favor of Amendment 66?Yes.

InBloom: “The data is already existing in the multiple databases in the district. We are not adding any new data. It allows us to customize learning in ways we’ve never been able to do before.”

Arming teachers:“I am opposed to teachers with guns. People who have firearms and don’t use them often have a high accident rate.”

Vouchers: “(Private schooling) is a perfectly fine choice for a parent, but with that choice comes the responsibility to foot the bill.”

We gave each candidate 100 words to say anything:The Board of Education sets the tone, directs the budget, and makes policy — all of which greatly influence the experience students have during their 13 years in school.  The choice in District 5 is straightforward: Elect me and you get an experienced, moderate, collaborative board member seeking to build on the district’s successes and steadily improve the district’s outcomes. Or, elect my opponent and you can expect new policies like vouchers, arming teachers and teaching creationism. The future direction of our schools hangs in the balance. Please keep the best interests of our 85,000 students in mind when you vote.”