At least half a dozen people are interested in the State Board of Education seat being vacated by Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.
The potential applicants include a former candidate for the 3rd District seat, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo, three people with local school board experience and a parochial school principal from Grand Junction.
Neal announced two weeks ago that she’s resigning effective July 31. Her decision was sparked by board dysfunction and personal health issues, she said. (See this story for details on her decision, and this article about reaction.)
Under state law the seat will be filled by a Republican Party vacancy committee. The chosen applicant will have to run for election in November 2016.
Freida Wallison of Snowmass, Pitkin County Republican Party chair, said earlier this week, “We are in the process of setting up the vacancy committee.” She’s set a June 30 deadlines for applications, which consist of biographies and photos.
Applicants have to be registered Republicans who live in the 29-county district, which covers all of the Western Slope from Glenwood Springs west but also includes the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County. No other qualifications are required.
“The inquiries we are receiving are by and large from people who have a connection to education,” Wallison said.
The 13-member vacancy committee will include members of various other GOP committees, representatives from Mesa and Pueblo counties and five other members, each representing a group of smaller counties.
Wallison hopes to convene the committee in July for a single meeting to interview candidates and vote. State law requires the winning applicant to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.
Chalkbeat Colorado talked with people across the 3rd District, including potential candidates, to develop this list.
Jake Aubert – As principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Junction, Aubert said, “I think I bring a unique perspective.”
He said earlier this week, “I am interested and working toward applying for that position.”
Aubert said he’s concerned about the amount of standardized testing in public schools and hears that concern from many other educators. “What PARCC testing and the Common Core mandate is extremely frustrating” for teacher, adding, “Parents are extremely frustrated with the amount of class time their students are missing.”
He added, “The centralization of education is very concerning. A one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work.”
Roger Good – A Steamboat Springs business owner, Good was elected to the Steamboat Springs school board in 2013 and serves as president.
He confirmed Wednesday that he’s applied for the appointment, saying he has “a passion for education and an appreciation for education.”
Good said he would bring “a very open mind” to contentious issues like testing. The two most valuable things about testing, Good said, are that results provide data for comparing schools and districts and that results be timely.
He also said protecting local control of schools is very important for him. “Local control is under attack.”
Michael Lobato – A rancher, Lobato is president of the Center school board in the San Luis Valley and is serving his last term.
Lobato, who has background both on the Colorado Association of School Boards and in Republican politics, said, “I’ve sure had a lot of pressure put on me. Am I interested? Yeah. Have I made a firm commitment? No.”
He said he’s weighing personal considerations before deciding whether to seek the post and indicated he also wants a better sense of who will be on the vacancy committee and of the other candidates.
Lobato believes his experience in Center, where the district has improved academic performance and built a new school in recent years, means, “I think I can bring a lot to the table.” He also feels it would be valuable to have a small-district rural voice on the State Board.
Debbie Rose – A former member and president of the Pueblo 70 school board, Rose has been active on other local and state charitable and government boards.
She’s currently board vice president of the San Isabel Electric Association and ran unsuccessfully for Pueblo County commissioner in 2008 and 2012.
Rose believes she could be helpful on the State Board, “having had personal experience with turmoil on boards.”
“I strongly believe in local control. The community knows best,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about over-testing and about a lack of vocational training in schools.
Reflecting on education in general, Rose said, “I think we need to be rethinking the direction we’re going.”
Rose is a businesswoman in Beulah, west of Pueblo.
Barbara Ann Smith – Having lost to Neal by only 1,783 votes in a 2014 primary, Smith is trying again for the seat. “You bet I’m going to run. I’ve applied for it,” she said.
In a letter she distributed this week, the retired teacher highlighted her opposition to the Common Core, PARCC tests and improper uses of student data. She also says she’s a strong supporter of local school control.
Smith has been active in Republican politics and civic groups in the Grand Junction area.
Neal last year said she wouldn’t run for reelection, but she changed her mind after Smith entered the race. Neal was victorious in the Republican primary, with 26,138 votes, compared to 24,355 for Smith. Neal went on to win the general election by nearly 33,000 votes over Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.
Anita Stapleton – A fixture at State Board meetings and many legislative hearings, Stapleton has become one of the better-known grassroots critics of the Common Core and PARCC testing.
A nurse from Pueblo, Stapleton speaks frequently to civic and political groups about her criticisms of a wide variety of education reforms. She also was active among the parents and activists who monitored testing and data privacy legislation during the 2015 session.
Stapleton said, “I do have other issues than Common Core.” She said schools need to better support both parents and teachers and “rebuild” relationships with parents. “How we’re going about it now is not the answer.”
Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.
If you’ve heard of other people interested in the State Board vacancy, write to Todd Engdahl.