listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Rival Vision

Gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg wants to do away with Colorado’s educator effectiveness law

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

If elected governor, businessman Noel Ginsburg says he would work to expand apprenticeship programs, raise teacher salaries, send more money to schools – and repeal a signature legislative achievement of one of his Democratic primary rivals.

Ginsburg, who is running for elected office for the first time, currently runs CareerWise Colorado, an apprenticeship program that Gov. John Hickenlooper considers one of the chief accomplishments of his administration.

In its second year, it’s still a long way from reaching its goal of serving 20,000 students statewide. Ginsburg is also the founder and CEO of Intertech Plastics, a company that does custom injection molding, and the co-founder, with his wife Leslie, of the I Have A Dream Foundation, which works to increase the state’s high school graduation rate.

Ginsburg released an education platform this week that calls for putting a lot more money into education and giving teachers more of a voice in policy decisions. Teachers unions have already endorsed former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy.

Ginsburg told Chalkbeat he wouldn’t have minded getting their endorsement, but he understands that as a newcomer to politics, he needs to work hard to “claw my way to viability.”

“The teachers union, whether they support me or not, they will be my partners,” he said. “I don’t believe the unions have all the answers, but boy, do they deserve a seat at the table.”

Ginsburg’s education platform calls for:

  • Expanding high-quality apprenticeship programs
  • Filling the skills gap so that more students graduate into good-paying jobs
  • Convincing voters to approve changes to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to let the state keep more money
  • Convincing voters to approve tax increases for education
  • Restoring trust in government when it comes to education
  • Improving teacher pay
  • Repealing 2010 legislation that requires teachers to demonstrate effectiveness and ties teacher pay to student performance

Former state Sen. Mike Johnston, now a Democratic candidate for governor, was the author of that legislation, Senate Bill 191. A former teacher and school principal, Johnston stood behind the law in a 2016 Chalkbeat interview.

But Ginsburg said that in his view, the law had been used as a “club” against teachers and students.

“You need those measurements, but if you are measured by the measures in 191, you are measured by a system that is flawed,” he said. “It was well-intentioned at the time, but I don’t think it’s met the objectives.”

Kennedy’s education plan does not call for the abolition of Senate Bill 191, but supports giving more weight to teachers’ “perspectives and expertise” in evaluations.

Ginsburg has criticized other candidates in the Democratic primary for making promises that will be hard to deliver, particularly around education. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis wants to provide universal access to preschool, and Johnston wants to provide debt-free college in exchange for community service. Ginsburg said he would love to see both those things, but first the state needs to adequately fund the existing K-12 education system.

To do that, Ginsburg says he would lead a coalition to reform TABOR so that Coloradans keep the ability to vote on tax increases but the state gets to keep more of the money generated by a booming economy.

TABOR reform – a premise on which Kennedy’s education platform also depends – might seem just as unlikely if you look at Colorado history. But Ginsburg said he believes that with the right leadership, voters can be persuaded.

Ginsburg also is pledging to lead a campaign for a tax increase to fund education. Colorado voters have twice before rejected such measures, and a coalition of state and local school leaders want to put a tax increase for education on the ballot again this year. Ginsburg said he supports the general idea, but he’s not sure it’s the right proposal.

TABOR reform and tax increases for education don’t seem unrealistic or undoable to Ginsburg.

“If we cannot raise more dollars for education, it would ultimately leave me speechless,” he said. “We can either say we’re not going to make the investment, and we’re okay with declining opportunity for our students or … I cannot fathom a continuation of the current trends because I think it leads to a Colorado none of us can be proud of.”

Ginsburg sees apprenticeships as key to addressing income inequality and preserving the middle class.

Ginsburg said that as governor, he would use his “bully pulpit” to get more businesses involved in apprenticeship programs and to explain the value of these programs to students. He stressed that CareerWise largely does not depend on taxpayer dollars, nor is it a substitute for a four-year college degree for those who want to pursue one. CareerWise apprenticeships allow students to earn money and college credit as they learn work skills.

He described business and industry as missing players in the education world. Teachers are doing their job, he said, but they can’t possibly show students every way that math, science, reading, and writing will be applied in the work world.

“We put all the burden on K-12 and act as the consumer of the final product, and that’s not right,” he said. “We can share the burden.”

Read more about Cary Kennedy’s education platform here.

Read more about Jared Polis’ plan for universal preschool here.

Read about Mike Johnston’s plan for free college in exchange for community service here.

And read our take-aways from the first gubernatorial forum with an education focus here.

Next Generation

Here’s why advocates want Colorado students to ask the questions at a candidate forum on mental health

PHOTO: Andy Cross/Denver Post

When seven candidates for governor take the stage at a Denver forum on mental health next month, they’ll answer questions from Colorado residents who may still have braces and learner’s permits.

Students, that is.

Leaders of Mental Health Colorado, the advocacy group organizing the candidate forum on March 23, say they’re soliciting student questions because many young people already understand the impact of mental health problems.

“Kids are in some ways the best champions because they’re the closest to this issue,” said Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “Even if they’re not old enough to vote, they’re old enough to have a say.”

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and several school districts in the state have grappled with multiple student suicides in recent years.

Mental Health Colorado is asking middle school, high school, and college students to submit questions in advance of the event. The lunchtime forum will also feature some questions from adults.

Romanoff said the recent high school shooting in Florida by a 19-year-old with a long history of disturbing behavior has raised awareness about mental health issues, but doesn’t provide an accurate picture of how people coping with mental health problems behave.

“Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they’re more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator,” he said.

There are “a lot of folks now saying we have to do something about mental health, and we welcome their support,” he said. “I don’t want to suggest that that alone will solve the nation’s gun violence crisis.”

So far, the gubernatorial candidates who have committed to attending the forum include Democrats Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg, and Erik Underwood, and Republicans Victor Mitchell, Cynthia Coffman, Lew Gaiter and Stephen Barlock.

To submit questions for the candidates, students can email deargovernor@mentalhealthcolorado.org. The deadline for submissions is March 19. For more information about the forum, visit the event page.