A grassroots group is gathering electronic signatures on a petition aimed at limiting the role of politics in the Douglas County School Board race, and urging elected officials to listen to some community members’ concerns.
The group, the Strong Schools Coalition, is a nonpolitical community organization that has often criticized the school board and administration.
The petition, posted Aug. 15, asks state, county and other elected officials to refrain from endorsing school board candidates and to instead hear parent concerns firsthand during a Sept. 25 Strong Schools Coalition-sponsored community forum. By Aug. 22, the petition had gathered 814 of Strong Schools’ hoped-for 1,000 signatures.
Upon reaching that number, Strong Schools plans to submit the petition to a large group of state and local officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, and state and county elected leaders including state Sen. Ted Harvey, state Rep. Chris Holbert, District Attorney George Brauchler and Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver.
“As an elected official, we would like to provide you an opportunity to hear from parents prior to endorsing or promoting any Douglas County school board candidates,” the petition reads. “It is essential that parents have a voice in determining the direction of our school district, and we are concerned that partisan politics may distort the perspective of the very people our district is here to serve: Douglas County families.”
In an emailed statement, Douglas County Republican Chairman Craig Steiner, whose organization recently endorsed four school board candidates, said the petition won’t have the intended effect.
“By taking their petition to the governor — the highest Democratic politician in the state — those who oppose education reform and support union interests are engaging in exactly the kind of political activity that their email campaign claims to reject,” he wrote. “But if they believe that the taxpaying voters of Douglas County would place value in the endorsement of a governor who is seeking to raise taxes by a billion dollars per year, then I'd encourage them to seek his support.”
Steiner referred to a November ballot question seeking statewide approval on a $1 billion income-tax increase for school funding.
Strong Schools president Laura Mutton said Steiner is off base.
“The petition has nothing to do with education reform or unions,” she said. “This petition is a petition to state that there is no clear measurement of parent satisfaction in the district and we want all of our elected officials — whether they are the governor or locally elected officials — to understand the impact of these changes in Douglas County on parents and students before making an endorsement.”
She doesn’t know if any of the elected officials plan to endorse candidates.
“We have heard concern from members of the public that there will be pressure to endorse candidates during this upcoming election,” Mutton said. “I feel when you start endorsing school board candidates, it detracts from the voices of the parent.”
The coalition's community forum is planned for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Highlands Ranch Library.