New conservative Douglas County school board to vote on GOP-backed charter school application

Unofficial results posted at 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday by the Douglas County Clerk’s office show a conservative bloc making a clean sweep of the controversial Douglas County school board election. The results could have immediate implications for the district as one of the new board’s first items of business will be to vote on a charter school effort being led by a major proponent and campaigner for the bloc, Douglas County GOP Vice Chairman Mark Baisley.

Baisley is board president for STEM High, a proposed science, technology, engineering and mathematics charter school in Highlands Ranch. Baisley actively pushed for four of six Republican candidates, as evidenced in this this email and guest column he wrote at conservative blog Backbone America:

This election is non-partisan; that is, party affiliation (Republican or Democrat) will not be indicated alongside candidate names on the ballot. Candidates are not vetted by the political parties through Colorado’s traditional caucus and assembly process. However, sides have been staked out for these races by the two general political philosophies of conservative and liberal. The Douglas County Republicans and the Teachers Union have endorsed candidates in each district…

Baisley goes on to list the candidates the GOP endorsed and provide instructions on how to vote with a mail in ballot.

Douglas County GOP Vice Chair Mark Baisley

Douglas County GOP Vice Chair Mark Baisley

The school board race was technically non partisan. The candidates names on the ballot did not list their party affiliation. But from the beginning, the race was oddly marked out by the local GOP and its supports as a crucial battle. The campaign featured an intense robo call and email campaign that, on deeply tenuous grounds, tied the candidates backed by the Douglas County Federation of Teachers to conservative hot-button groups and topics like the AFL-CIO, ACORN and President Obama’s health care reform. Two of the Federation-endorsed candidates, however, are longtime and active Republican Party members now disgusted by the politics that characterized the race. Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint against GOP-endorsed candidate Meghann Silverthorn, a Department of Defense employee, for violating the Hatch Act, which forbids government workers from running for partisan office.

According to unofficial results posted at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday night, GOP-endorsed candidates John Carson, Dan Gerken, Doug Benevento, and Meghann Silverthorn defeated Douglas County Teacher’s Federation-endorsed candidates Sue Catterall, Kevin Leung, Kristine Turner, and Emily Hansen, in Tuesday’s election. At 10:45, Gerken had secured the greatest margin, winning 59 percent of the vote in District D; Benevento won by the slimmest margin, winning 56 percent of the vote in District E.

But even as votes were being tallied Tuesday night, the current Douglas County School Board was holding a public hearing on the charter school application submitted by STEM High.

The decision on whether to grant the school a charter will be made by the newly elected board at its first meeting Nov. 17.

Modeled on the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax, Va., STEM promises to set a “higher, more rigorous standard” and to focus on “basic skills in reading, writing, communication, math and critical thinking as the tools to success in later learning, life and work.” Partner high-tech companies will maintain a permanent presence on the school campus in order to “demonstrate how theory becomes profitable, applied science.”

The GOP-endorsed candidate bloc — which will now hold a voting majority on the new Douglas County School Board — may not automatically grant the charter. But the Douglas County GOP pitched the election as a battle for choice in public education, holding up the charter school model. And there is strong affiliation between the local Republican party and the proposed charter school.

In August, the Douglas County Republican webpage promoted an Aug. 24 informational meeting about the school:

Please come to see what big union opponents of Republican school board candidates are disingenuously referring to as Obama’s type change. Senator Ted Harvey, Rep Frank McNulty, House Minority Leader Mike May would all laugh to hear board members in the union’s pocket calling them each Obama radicals. Will union board members sink to nothing?

The local party also endorsed the Aug. 24 event on its Facebook page.

STEM may well be a great asset to Douglas County. But the newly elected candidates will have to work hard to prove that they are thoroughly examining the school’s application in the next few weeks — and not just returning a favor.

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Katie Redding

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