How conservatives could take back the DougCo school board

DougCo board members Judith Reynolds (left) and Meghann Silverthorn (right)

Updated: Below, Board President Meghann Silverthorn responds to the questions about who she might, or might not, pick.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That may be the case for the next person to join the Douglas County Board of Education.

Last month, conservative board member Doug Benevento resigned, stating he had accomplished his priorities and one more year on the board wouldn’t change that.

That leaves the controversial board at 3-3, with three conservative reformers and three members backed by a coalition of community, parent and teacher groups, elected last November.

Two of the three conservative members are board President Meghann Silverthorn and Vice-President Judith Reynolds, who are both under fire for allegedly bullying a Ponderosa High School student in an effort to intimidate her into canceling a protest at the high school, which took place last March. Silverthorn and Reynolds were cleared of the bullying charges, in part because the district has no policy on bullying by school board members.

Board vacancy rules dictate that the board interview candidates and then nominate finalists. But it’s possible — and, according to some, likely — that the board will deadlock 3 to 3 on any nomination.

If that happens, Silverthorn would break the deadlock and pick whomever she wants.

Is there a candidate who has already risen to the top? One parent/teacher group, Speak for DCSD, says it’s possible, and if so, it’s one who already has ties to Silverthorn.

Steven Peck is operations manager at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Anschutz campus. He is a three-year resident of Colorado and a Navy veteran. 

Peck told the board Tuesday night that he was a “founding member” of a charter school in Jefferson County, although he did not identify which one. However, Peck’s LinkedIn page lists him as a volunteer for Golden View Classical Academy, a charter school that opened last year. Its founder, Derec Shuler, is a 2013 graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR).

Peck is also a graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies, the training ground for conservative political candidates and campaign officials. The program educates its students on public policy issues such as individual rights, personal responsibility, free markets, limited government, low taxes, and a strong national defense. LPR alumni also can tune into a built-in “who’s who” network of Colorado’s conservative leaders.

The LPR board includes conservative education reformer Alex Cranberg, the biggest donor to Silverthorn’s election campaigns in 2009 and 2013. Silverthorn is a 2010 graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies.

Tuesday morning, comments on the Facebook page Speak for DCSD, a parent/teacher group that backs the new board members, indicated Peck would be picked by the conservative board members because of his LPR affiliation. An anonymous comment, posted Monday, also opined that Silverthorn would pick an LPR alumnus, and challenged the board president to prove them wrong.

The DougCo board interviewed Peck and four other candidates on Tuesday.

The committee has one more candidate to interview, which will take place before the board accepts formal nominations and votes, which is scheduled for October 18.

Board member Wendy Vogel told The Colorado Independent that she is hopeful the board will be able to come to a consensus on a candidate. The board generally wants someone “who wants to do what’s right for the kids, someone who is willing to find consensus and listen to other points of view, and someone familiar with the district,” although the latter qualification was downplayed by board member Dr. Jim Geddes.

Vogel said the candidates interviewed Tuesday were excellent, mostly familiar with the district, with some who had experience working with the district or directly with the schools.

Student Alec Greven, who participated in Tuesday’s interviews, told the board that students want someone who can build consensus. Students also want to see someone with business and financial expertise, given the district’s budget issues. Several candidates spoke about whether they would favor either a bond proposal or mill levy override to resolve some of the district’s budget woes. Most candidates said they would support or at least consider it, but Peck said in general, he did not favor it.

The board has been discussing either an $23 million mill levy override or a $83 million bond issue to fund urgent district needs, such as school buildings that would cover anticipated student growth over the next five years.

Late Thursday, Silverthorn responded to an inquiry from The Colorado Independent about the selection process.

“Last week, the Twitterverse was positive that I was going to select former Lone Tree City Councilwoman Kim Monson for the position, with another board member going so far as to tell a community member that I had already picked her. When Mrs. Monson did not apply for the position, suddenly everyone was sure I was going to choose Mitch Whitus, a 2010 graduate of DCSD who is affiliated with some organizations that a few community members do not like. [Editors note: Whitus is also an LPR alumnus] When Mr. Whitus dropped out, another quick shift occurred to say that now I have chosen Mr. Peck. I was impressed with the caliber of the candidates, including but not limited to Mr. Peck.

“All this is to say that if I tried to keep up with the rumors, I would do little else. I hope our board can agree on a candidate on October 18. I look forward to interviewing Mr. Kaser and to discussing with my colleagues what they believe the merits of the candidates are.”


Photo: stock photo of DougCo board members Reynolds (L) and Silverthorn (R), photo by Marianne Goodland, The Colorado Independent