Four candidates calling for a new direction on the Douglas County school board were victorious in the election that ended Tuesday, with all four opponents conceding defeat in interviews with Colorado Community Media.
The hard-fought Douglas County School Board election – a star political attraction of 2021’s off-off-year election season in Colorado -- featured four seats up for grabs.
The election has been closely watched, and well funded by donors. The winning candidates will make up a majority of the board, which could bring a significant shift in leadership during a pivotal time in public education.
In unofficial returns as of late Wednesday, partial returns showed that four candidates who called themselves the Kids First slate -- Becky Myers, Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar -- were leading the opposing CommUNITY Matters slate, which includes two incumbents, Kevin Leung and Krista Holtzmann, along with Ruby Martinez and Juli Watkins seeking their first terms.
In Douglas County board District B, Peterson led Watkins by 56.3% to 43.7% in unofficial returns. In District D, Myers prevailed with 54.3% over Martinez with 41.5% and Justin V. Mathew with 4.2%.
In District E, Williams had 54.6% to incumbent Leung's 45.4% in unofficial results. And in District G, Winegar led with 55.0% over incumbent Holtzmann with 45%.
“I’m overwhelmed, I’m ecstatic, I’m humbled by the people here in this community," Myers told CCM.
“This has not been the minority standing up for their children," Myers added. "This is a big voice in Douglas County.”
“It made me feel like I’m doing the right thing if there’s all of those people who believe in me," Winegar said. "It shows there’s a lot of parents who aren’t happy.”
“I am humbled like to the core," Williams said. "... I feel like we’ve run the race of a lifetime.”
She added: “I feel like it says that we need a change and we want to put the parents in charge of their kids education.”
In interviews with CCM, each member of the CommUNITY Matters slate conceded in the race.
“I’m wishing them luck and support as we build bridges together to try to support and find solutions for our students,” Holtzmann told CCM. She added: "I do have concerns about the Kids First candidates’ ability and intention to provide accessible, in person learning for each and every student.”
"I want to make sure they fulfill that promise of having a listening tour and trying to take into consideration different groups of people’s voices, not only the ones who yell the loudest," Leung said.
He said the margin of victory was a few thousand votes, adding, "The community is still divided."
Noting the large amount of money spent in the race, Leung said: "I think they outspent us by two to one, and in a large county like this, having a huge amount of money certainly is an advantage."
Leung, an immigrant from Hong Kong, said he wanted "to thank the voters in Douglas County for trusting me the last four years. I come from very humble beginnings, and for me to be able to have a chance for four years to serve, I feel very honored and I feel grateful for this great country."
The Kids First candidates said it’s time for new people to helm Colorado’s third-largest school district, saying they would focus on academics, safety and in-person learning.
Meanwhile the CommUNITY Matters candidates asked voters to let them keep the district headed in a direction similar to its current course.
Although candidates agree on certain issues — teachers need better pay and pursuing a mill levy override is likely, they say — clear fault lines divided them on hot-button issues galvanizing voters in school board elections across the country, like masking and the district’s equity policy.
Anti-masking crowds have filled school board meetings in recent weeks, many urging people to vote for the Kids First slate out of disapproval for the sitting board’s handling of COVID-19.
Kids First candidates have been critical of the board for not offering in-person learning throughout the pandemic and requiring masking.
The district has not budged in its policy requiring that it look to the Tri-County Health Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment for guidance in its COVID response.
The board has consistently relied on experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Children’s Hospital Colorado, among others, in setting its COVID safety policies.
That has at various points in the pandemic led to the district pivoting from masking recommendations to mandates, school closures and widespread quarantines — much to the ire of Kids First supporters, who vowed to “remember in November.”
Masking supporters have shown up, too, with some saying they’re part of a quieter majority in the county that backs the current board. They have praised board directors for standing behind their policies despite a deluge of criticism.
Most pro-masking speakers have not shared which slate they support during public comment at board meetings, although on occasion some have urged support for CommUNITY Candidates or openly criticized Kids First candidates for using public comment as a platform to campaign.
Kids First candidates have also received criticism for conduct of people who support them at board meetings, which have been tense and at times raucous leading up to the election.
For results of other races, including ballot measures in Castle Rock and Lone Tree and city races in Castle Pines, visit ColoradoCommunityMedia.com.
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