GOP retains control of state school board, despite big bucks behind Democrats

Updated 11:30 p.m.  – Two incumbents held onto their seats on the State Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, leaving the board’s 4-3 Republican majority in place.

GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction had a 34,000 vote lead over Democrat Henry Roman, a former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, in the sprawling 3rd District at about 11:30 p.m.

In suburban Denver’s 7th District, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff easily defeated Republican Laura Boggs. With 76 percent of the votes counted, Goff led by about five points.

The state board performs a primarily regulatory function and tends to vote unanimously on most such issues. But there are significant philosophical differences between Democratic and Republican members on bigger issues like the Common Core State Standards, testing, local district autonomy and the federal government’s role in education.

Some education reform groups have been worried that continued Republican control could lead to board efforts to pull Colorado out of the Common Core and the PARCC tests.

State Board races typically are quiet affairs, and anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 fewer votes typically are cast in a board race than in a congressional race. (State Board seats are based on congressional district boundaries.)

But there was heightened interest this year because a campaign committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform pumped more than $200,000 into campaign literature supporting Roman and Goff and criticizing their opponents.

The 3rd District covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo. While the district generally is considered Republican territory, winning vote margins were relatively small in Neal’s 2008 victory and in a prior win by another Republican.

Neal is a former social studies teacher and Mesa 51 school board member who sometimes is a swing vote on the board and who’s been a strong advocate for rural districts. Roman is a former Pueblo 60 superintendent, has worked recently as a charter school consultant and hadn’t previously run for elected office.

The 7th District includes much of Adams and Jefferson counties. Adams County tends to lean Democratic, while Jeffco is pretty evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

Goff, of Arvada is a former Jeffco foreign language teacher and administrator who also served as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. Boggs, from Lakewood, is a former Jeffco school board member who was a one-woman conservative minority before the board changed hands in the 2013 election.

Despite losing her race, Boggs said Tuesday was a good night for education. She said,  “Proposition 104 was a huge win. I’m excited for Marcia Neal. So obviously, I’m disappointed about the results in CD7, but a good number of voters — not all voters, but a good number of voters — spoke loudly that they want to break the one-size-fits-all education system.”

The board’s 1st District seat, which primarily covers Denver, was also on the ballot this election, but the only candidate was retired educator Valentina Flores, who defeated a reform candidate in the June Democratic primary. Flores will replace Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman, who chose not to run again.

Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, ran unopposed for a seat in the state House. A GOP vacancy committee will choose a replacement for his District 5 board seat.

Three board members are in the middle of terms and weren’t on the ballot: Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur (4th District), Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker (6th) and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder (2nd).