10/13/2013 05:01:00 PM MDT UPDATED:
10/14/2013 11:13:08 AM MDT
By The Denver Post Editorial Board
Despite their importance, school board elections in most districts are often contests between candidates with very similar views. The stakes are not large. But every now and then an exception like Douglas County appears.
Indeed, the Douglas County school board may be unique in the number of groundbreaking but controversial changes it has overseen in recent years — at least in a high-performing suburban setting. “For a decade or more,” two scholars at the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently, “school reform has been an urban tale dominated by cities with high rates of poverty and troubling records of high-school completion and academic achievement. The tale has been one of superintendents seeking to ‘turn around’ schools in poverty-stricken communities … .” But as Frederick Hess and Max Eden go on to explain in a paper titled “The Most Interesting School District in America?”, the Douglas County district is “pursuing perhaps the nation’s boldest attempt at suburban school reform.” We’d like to see the reforms continue, which is why we’re endorsing the four candidates who are committed to that course. They are Jim Geddes
in District B, Judith Reynolds
in District D, Doug Benevento
(an incumbent) in District E, and Meghann Silverthorn
(also an incumbent) in District G.
Bold change for its own sake is no virtue, of course, but that’s not what’s occurring in Dougco. For example, the district is pursuing new ways of attracting and retaining top-notch teachers that aren’t reliant on the early 20th century industrial model in which employees move in lockstep through pay grades based on years of service and education credentials. It’s an innovative plan that respects teachers and is sure to be imitated.
The board is also a great believer in school choice, embracing everything from charter schools to its Choice Scholarship Program that has been on hold while the courts sort out its legality. In the most recent ruling earlier this year, the state’s appeals court upheld the legality of the voucher plan. That ruling is under further appeal, but we hope the scholarship program survives. It is structured so that it won’t undermine public schools while giving an option to those families who believe their kids would be better served in an alternative setting. Opponents of the district’s reforms say they’ve undermined morale, although the district counters that it has no difficulty attracting the teachers it wants. But it is true that when the board refused to serve as a collection agency for teachers union dues, it sparked a conflict that led to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. So far, however, it’s hard to see how the lack of a bargaining unit has hurt either teachers or, more importantly, classroom instruction and student learning. Perhaps that’s why none of the reform candidates seem to have any intention of inviting the union back. Douglas County may or may not be the most interesting school district in America, but it is certainly one of the more innovative ones. And voters have a chance to keep it that way.