Loud chatter and laughter rang through a sports bar near Lone Tree the night of Nov. 7. Dozens of people occupied the intimate space, some sat at high-top tables, others stood in small circles. They hugged and smiled. Some of them raised their arms into the air and cheered.
Cindy Malone, a parent from Castle Rock, stood in the corner, watching excitement permeate through the room.
"I've seen a lot of changes in the past years and I don't think they've been good," she said, "but this is good. This is going to be a change for the better."
After eight years of an often-controversial majority of reform-minded members, the Douglas County School Board is shifting direction: Anti-reform candidates known as "commUNITY" triumphed in the Douglas County School Board election. Now, all seven members of the board oppose the majority of the district's reforms implemented since 2009.
Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Kevin Leung and Chris Schor each won at least 57.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results posted at 9:20 a.m. Nov. 8. The nearly 90,000 ballots counted represented the vast majority of votes cast.
The four candidates ran against reform-minded hopefuls known as Elevate Douglas County, made up of Grant Nelson, Debora Scheffel, Ryan Abresch and Randy Mills.
At a viewing party at a restaurant near I-25 and Lincoln Avenue, where Malone was in attendance, "commUNITY" candidates celebrated with a crowd of enthusiastic parents, teachers and community members.
"Nobody expected this," said Jen Shocker, a parent of a charter school student. "It just shows you how much the community wants this."
Holtzmann, a former preschool teacher and attorney who lives in Parker, took 57.6 percent of the vote against Scheffel in the race for District G, which encompasses northeastern Douglas County.
"All of our Douglas County public school students are the winners tonight," Holtzmann said in a statement sent out the night of the election. "Students at every school, students at every grade level and students with varying needs, all of them won tonight because our schools can now continue the return to excellence that began two years ago, after it became clear that reform had failed our children."
At a viewing party at a restaurant in Lone Tree, Elevate candidates and their supporters talked quietly as they absorbed the news that they had lost. Scheffel said she enjoyed running for the race because she "supports excellent education."
"I've worked with wonderful people who are passionate about education," she said. "I want to see Douglas County School District succeed - I'm a resident of this county."
Graziano, a Castle Rock resident and director of businesses development in IT, took 58.6 percent of the vote against Abresch in District B, which covers northwestern Douglas County.
"I think what you are going to see from us," Graziano said at his viewing party, "is a transparent and open board."
Leung, a business owner and Castle Pines Village resident, took 58 percent of the vote agaist Nelson in District E, which covers the central part of northern Douglas County.
Schor, an educator since 1977 who taught in Douglas County School District, took 58.2 percent of the vote against Mills for District D, which encompasses southeastern Douglas County.
Mills was expecting a different outcome.
"I thought we would prevail, but it hasn't been that way," he said at Elevate's viewing party. "My platform is vocational training - hopefully they address that kind of thing."
The Douglas County School Board has been in the spotlight since 2009, when a majority of members who embraced reforms such as pay-for-performance evaluations for teachers and a form of school choice that would later include a controversial voucher program were elected.
For six years, supporters of the reforms held all seven seats on the board. They introduced new policies that, to many people, caused an exodus of hundreds of teachers and administrators.
A shift occurred in 2015, when candidates who opposed the reform policies - David Ray, Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux - each won with at least 58 percent of the vote.
The result for the past two years has been a divided board, with votes frequently falling 4-3 in favor of the reform-minded members, Meghann Silverthorn, James Geddes, Judith Reynolds and Steven Peck, none of whom ran for re-election. Silverthorn is term-limited; the other members are not, but they chose not to seek four more years on the board.
As seen in most school board elections since 2009, money poured into individual campaigns and outside interest groups in the months leading up to Nov. 7.
In total, candidates raised $226,000, with Elevate candidates bringing in $146,600 and commUNITY candidates collecting $79,400.
Committees and groups supportive of — but not affiliated with — candidates injected more than half a million dollars into the race. Donations included $300,000 by a national teachers union to a Douglas County-based committee that opposes the board's reforms and at least tens of thousands to a Republican committee that seeks to ensure conservative candidates are elected throughout the state.
The local teachers union said in a statement following the election that the students are the "big winners."
"Douglas County voters have chosen a school board that places students at the center of every decision and believes in the value of an accountable, transparent public education system, not an ideology that fails our students and educators," said Kallie Lebya, president of Douglas County Federation. "With the new, pro-public education board majority, debate and policies will reflect views of educators, administrators, students, parents and other community members. We are eager for teachers to have the opportunity to work with the board on issues that will restore and propel our public schools forward in preparing our students for school, college and career."
The winners of the school board races are elected to four-year terms and will be sworn in on a date after the election is certified on Nov. 24.
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