Jeffco school board gets a critical new voice as Susan Miller takes seat

A previously unanimous union-backed Jeffco school board will get a new dissenting voice.

Susan Miller, a financial service professional and longtime education advocate who said she would be a voice for students’ needs, won in the District 4 race over Joan Chávez-Lee, a retired educator, who had been endorsed by the teachers union.

“I’m just excited that we’re going to have other voices at the table,” Miller said Tuesday evening. “Our voice really was different. We’re really focused on achievement. We need to be preparing children to access the 21st century economy, and right now, we are not hitting the ball out of the park.”

In the District 3 race, union-endorsed Stephanie Schooley, a non-profit director, won over Robert Applegate, an energy market analyst.

Schooley attributed her win to “a real emphasis around possibility and acknowledging that there are some significant challenges the district has, but framing that in a way that focuses on innovation and possibility.”

Colorado’s second-largest school district has been controlled by a union-backed board since conservatives were ousted in a 2015 recall effort that made national news.

More people voted in the 2019 school board election than in the 2015 recall election.

Schooley and Chávez-Lee had the endorsement of the teachers union and huge fundraising advantages in the Jeffco school board election.

Schooley said she was looking forward to getting to know her fellow board members, including Miller, and building relationships at the schools she’ll represent. She said she was proud of the race she had run with Chávez-Lee and that the split result in the election was “something to reflect on.”

Jeffco Public Schools serves roughly 81,000 students in a district that stretches from the mountains to the Denver border and includes a diverse mix of urban, suburban, and rural communities, along with high-poverty schools and those serving more affluent students.

The current board hired Superintendent Jason Glass, oversaw passage of a long-hoped-for bond measure and property tax increase, rolled out a unified enrollment system, and negotiated a new teachers contract.

The winners of the Jeffco school board election likely will face difficult decisions about school consolidation and closure as enrollment declines in some parts of the district, as well as the ongoing work of raising student achievement and ensuring student safety.