Aurora election results: Charter educator Anne Keke gets most votes, union keeps board majority

(Top left) A woman with black, straight hair smiles warmly at the camera. (Top right) A striking portrait of a man wearing a white dress shirt and glasses, posing in bright, warm sunlight. (Bottom left) A woman with white and blonde hair wearing glasses poses for a portrait with a bright smile as pink flowers hang in the background behind her. (Bottom right) A woman with black, straight hair smiles warmly at the camera.
Voters picked from six candidates to fill four open seats on the Aurora school board. ((Clockwise from top left) Courtesy of Anna Keke, Michael Carter, Tremaine Marcel Duncan, and Debra Ellen Gerkin)

Union-backed candidates appear likely to hold the majority on the Aurora school board, but a charter educator with support from education reform interests was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s returns.

Anne Keke, who teaches at Colorado Early Colleges, a charter school in Aurora, and is a district parent who ran with the goal of representing immigrant communities, raised the most money in the race and led her field with more than 19% of the vote late Tuesday.

“I’m really encouraged that the community of Aurora has spoken,” Keke said. “Aurora is becoming very inclusive and open. It really feels very good to see the direction that the community is going.”

She was followed by Michael Carter, an attorney and parent, and incumbent Debbie Gerkin.

The contest for fourth place was tight, with Tramaine Duncan less than 300 votes ahead of Christy Cummings through Wednesday. The difference is not small enough to trigger an automatic recount, and Duncan has maintained that lead since initial results were first reported. Duncan is a teacher in Denver and an Aurora parent. Cummings is a psychologist and Aurora parent, opposes blanket mask mandates, and ran hoping to improve mental health resources.

Carter said Tuesday he was pleased with the early results.

“If you look at the slate and added with Dr. Keke, that’s all four Democrats being elected,” Carter said.

Six candidates were running for four open seats on the seven-member board. Aurora board members are elected districtwide, with the top four vote-getters winning office.

The 35,500-student Aurora district is one of the most diverse in the state.

The race has attracted a lot of funding from union and reform groups.

​​The teachers union endorsed three candidates:  Gerkin, Carter, and Duncan. Charter advocates and reform groups supported Anne Keke and Danielle Tomwing. Conservative group Ready Colorado also supported Keke and Tomwing, as well as Cummings. 

In money that candidates raised and spent themselves, Keke leads, with more than $28,000 raised through Oct. 27 and more than $17,800 spent by the same date.

Despite Keke not getting endorsed by the union, some of the union-backed candidates said they voted for her, including Carter, who called Keke “one of the hardest-working individuals in the race.” Keke said she was encouraged by the bipartisan support she got.

“Parents don’t care whether it is a traditional public school or as the union calls them neighborhood, community schools,” Keke said. “Parents just want to make sure their kids have the best education the district can offer. That’s the direction we are going to take, not siding on anything else.”

Incumbent Marques Ivey also appears on the ballot, but dropped out of the race last month.

The school district spans two counties. Before polls closed Tuesday, Arapahoe County, where the majority of Aurora voters are, was reporting about 29% voter turnout, with Democratic voters returning more ballots. In 2017 turnout was approximately 33%. That year, 76,210 votes were cast in the school board race.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 96,923 votes counted in the race this year.

The seven-member school board for Aurora Public Schools has been controlled by a union-supported majority that has shaped the district’s direction on school choice and various issues, sometimes going against the superintendent’s recommendations. Last spring they prevented him from doing any staff layoffs, and last year they reversed his decision on restarting in-person learning in the fall.

The new board will oversee efforts to improve student achievement after the pandemic and the rollout of Blueprint APS, the district’s plan to create magnet programs, close some schools, and open new ones where development is booming. The district may present new board members with recommendations on school closures as soon as January.

In the spring, the board will also oversee negotiations with the teachers union for a new contract.

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