The six candidates running for Jeffco School Board seats discussed their respective positions during a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Jeffco PTA at Pomona High School in Arvada last week.
Tanya Aultman-Bettridge and Julie Williams are running for the District 1 seat, Jeff Lamontagne and John Newkirk are running for the District 2 seat, and Gordon "Spud" Van de Water and Ken Witt are running for the District 5 seat.
Although candidates reside in and represent one district, the election is countywide.
Questions for the candidates ranged from whether they supported the proposed Amendment 66, “Colorado Commits to Kids” ballot issue to their positions on the Common Core standards and recent state mandates.
Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne and Van de Water voiced support for Amendment 66, while Newkirk, Williams and Witt said they oppose the funding proposal.
“For years and years, public education in Colorado has been underfunded,” Lamontagne said. “Amendment 66 would fill in some of that funding.”
“All of the students in Jeffco are going to get more,” said Aultman-Bettridge, adding that the bill also includes more funding for programs like special education, gifted and talented, and English language learners.
Witt opposed the funding proposal, stating that he believed any increases in school funding should come from local mill levy override elections.
Newkirk also opposed Amendment 66, but said he could not explain his opposition in his alloted time.
Four of the candidates oppose vouchers for private schools and two support them.
Newkirk and Williams said they were open to vouchers.
Aultman-Bettridge, Lamontagne, Van de Water and Witt oppose vouchers, noting that Jeffco already provides a great deal of school choice between neighborhood, charter and options schools, and that private schools would not be accountable.
“Public tax dollars shouldn’t be going to schools where there is no accountability,” Lamontagne said.
"Education is a public good,” Aultman-Bettridge said, explaining that private schools are not open to all students.
Witt was also opposed to vouchers, but said that the district should find solutions to make sure there is enough choice to meet demand, especially at schools with wait lists.
Van de Water, who was involved with preparing an earlier set of Colorado school standards, said he believes the new standards will better prepare students.
Lamontagne noted there is a lot of overlap between the original standards and the new ones. At the same time, he cautioned that he was in “wait and see mode,” and wanted to get feedback from teachers and parents as the year progresses.
Williams voiced opposition to the Common Core in part because she said there is a patent on the Common Core standards.
Candidates had sixty seconds to tell the audience why they wanted at seat on the Jeffco School Board.
Aultman-Bettridge told the audience that she wanted to celebrate where the district is being successful and to make corrections in areas where they are not.
Lamontagne said he wanted to “add a balanced and constructive voice to the Jeffco School Board,” and to support innovation and improvement.
Newkirk told the audience that he wanted to make sure every Jeffco student receives a high school diploma.
Van de Water cited the need for continuous improvement and for a more effective, collaborative school board as the primary reasons he was running for a seat.
Williams told the audience she “wanted to be the mom on this board,” and would make common-sense decisions.
Witt told the audience he would commit to bring his business experience to the school board.
Five more candidate forums are scheduled as follows:
- October 1 – 7-9 pm, Lakewood – Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church, 11500 W. 20th Ave.
- October 2 – 7 pm, Wheat Ridge – City Hall, 7500 W. 29th Ave.
- October 8 – 7-9 pm, Littleton – Summit Ridge Middle School, 11809 W. Coal Mine Ave.
- October 10 – 7:30 pm, Lakewood – Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, 920 Kipling
- October 19 – 10 am, Arvada – Arvada Community Food Bank, Community Room, 8555 W. 57th Ave.