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Garfield Re-2 school board candidate Q&As

Five candidates are running for three seats on the Garfield Re-2 school board this year.

Seats up for election this year include District A, currently held by Tom Slappey, who is ending a four-year term; District B, currently held by Jason Shoup, who is ending a two-year term; and District E, currently held by Anne Guettler, who is ending a four-year term.

School board member Jason Shoup is running unopposed to once again represent District B. In other districts, new challengers include Britton Fletchall, Jessica Paugh, Lauren Caitlin Carey and Tony May. May and Carey are running to represent District E, while Paugh and Fletchall are running to represent District A.

District A covers the northwest quadrant of Rifle and farther toward the rural west and north. District B covers the northeast quadrant of Rifle, toward the east to Silt and rural north. District E covers New Castle, toward the rural south and north. Districts C and D are not up for election this year.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 11. Nov. 2 is Election Day.

1. COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for administrators, teachers and students. What is the best way of creating a conducive working and learning environment without compromising health and safety?

Re-2 School Board candidate Tony May.

May: What caught my attention one morning at the start of the lockdown was that I observed my wife delivering a Riverside Middle School online class from our kitchen table, and to my surprise, I witnessed the lack of participation of online students. As I dove deeper into the topic, I automatically started to troubleshoot and quickly realized that there was no apparent solution in this model that would increase attendance. I decided to get involved and enthusiastically started attending Re-2 school board meetings. My key objective was to listen and learn about the policies and ideas that were on the table. I applaud the adaptation of the district to move to “in-person learning,” as it was a big step and has been remarkable for student retention. A big thank-you to Re-2 administration, teachers, staff, parents and students for help shaping what our community needs as we move through these new processes.

Re-2 School Board candidate Jess Paugh.

Paugh: Studies show, and my own professional experience indicates, that in-person instruction is most beneficial to student learning. We, as a district, school board and community, rely on medical experts to guide health and safety practices that will best ensure in-person learning for students. Medical experts include public health officials and local doctors. As a school board member, my priority is providing the best environment for learning and will utilize experts in appropriate fields to guide decisions that support a healthy and safe working and learning environment for all.

Re-2 School Board candidate Lauren Caitlin Carey.

Carey: Indeed there has been an immense burden placed on our teachers and staff and especially our students. I have spoken with many teachers who feel this year has been their most difficult ever. Our teachers are teaching because they love children and see the potential of the world in them. Supporting them in the schools is of paramount importance. Following the guidance the Colorado Department of Education provides as it pertains to health and safety, as well as learning environments is the best avenue to allow our teachers to create the environments that help our students blossom and thrive into the world changers each and every one of them are. It is the responsibility of the board to make clear policy based on the best information available so that teachers and school staff can focus on the in-person learning we fought so hard for last school year.

Re-2 School Board candidate Britton Fletchall.

Fletchall: First off, let me say thank you to all the teachers, administrators, custodial staff, bus drivers, assistants and parents who have worked over this last year and a half to keep our kids learning and safe. We are faced with challenges to keep our kids in schools and our teachers feeling safe in this era of COVID-19. I feel we need to keep up our sanitation efforts, personal hygiene practices and staying home when ill. I would like to see a stronger emphasis on promoting healthy kids from exercise, better eating habits and more rapid testing.

Re-2 School Board candidate Jason Shoup.

Shoup: Though COVID-19 has certainly created unprecedented challenges for school districts, I feel these challenges can be overcome while keeping students in schools and in a conducive learning environment by working closely with our local public health officials, adhering to state laws and mandates, encouraging parents to keep their students’ home if they are not feeling well, encouraging and advertising proper hygiene/hand washing techniques throughout schools and having hand sanitizer stations strategically placed throughout.

2. Staffing shortages are always a concern for many Colorado school districts in communities with a high cost of living. What can districts do to attract and retain quality employees?

May: The cost of living is high in this area, and job candidates are well aware from a simple search and have an idea what they’re getting into. The district has started an initiative in the right direction with the production of a short employment video to entice new candidates. We need to further expand the idea of selling the area to the right candidate, along with including a deeper dive workshop of this area’s financial lifestyle prior to signing on a new candidate.

Paugh: The gap between the cost of living and the staff wages is undeniable in this valley. Closing the gap is a challenge that all employers and industries are dealing with and is a long-term, budget constrained issue. The district partnering with other agencies to tackle the beast of affordable housing is a beneficial collaborative effort. Also, many of our first-year instructors are young, fresh out of college, and have no ties to the area. A robust retention program focusing on recreation, social activities, community engagement, etc., is a great way to help young teachers make connections and establish roots in the area.

Carey: The bottom line is that we need to find a way to provide more financial support for our teachers and staff. This means we have to get creative and think outside the box. We want what is best for our children, and for their teachers. I would like to see employee housing be something that is considered, and an increase in pay as soon as possible. We can begin with competitive compensation for our paraprofessionals and respecting the experience they have gained in other districts as they come to Re-2. These individuals contribute more value than most realize to our students’ daily school lives. We can show how much we value our teachers and staff financially, but we can also do it by living the appreciation we have for them.

Fletchall: Unfortunately, staffing shortages are not happening just to our district but for almost every industry in our valley. Why are we losing people? I am interested in reviewing exit interviews with past employees. Most research would show that the No. 1 reason employees leave is a toxic work environment with supervisors. Is that happening in our district? Obviously, cost of living and housing prices make moving here challenging, but we also have so much to offer potential employees.

Shoup: Staffing shortages and teacher retention is a huge problem in our local district. A recommendation that I feel might be beneficial would be to have an outside nonaffiliated party come in and do a market salary analysis/comparison and see where our salaries currently are at. Then hopefully with that data in hand we can look at ways to increase staff and teacher salaries, which would aid in retention. Another option to look at would be to either partner with an outside entity for affordable housing options or possibly utilize some of the district’s unused land for housing, i.e., town homes, apartments, condos, etc., that are strictly used for district staff and teachers only.

3. What are your thoughts on creating more opportunities and more technological accessibility for students?

May: Thinking big. I want to ensure that student achievement is the central focus. Through small steps, I think there is a lot of momentum with computer science with a mountain of resources available to perhaps develop an integrated curriculum path. My vision would create an advisory group to unify competing ideas on computer science instruction and investigate a delivery model.

Paugh: Inequitable access to technology (i.e. internet) creates a huge gap in learning, and ultimately, academic success. This is a nationwide challenge not unknown to the Re-2 district. The county is actively working on broadband access countywide, and neighboring districts are actively working to partner with local municipalities and other entities to disperse fiber networks districtwide. This is important work to create equitable access to technology for all students. Other strategies could include computer lab time after school hours in community libraries and individual schools.

Carey: STEAM (science, technology, electronics, arts and math) opportunities are vitally important for our children to be able to functionally participate in society as they grow into adults. Each student having a ChromeBook (as it is now) is a great step in that direction. Proper and creative funding and collaboration with community members and business partners to provide opportunities for our students to see tech in action will not only provide hands-on technology opportunities and a glimpse into what it means to be a contributing member of society. Providing professional development for our teachers and staff in this regard will only open further the educational opportunities for our students.

Fletchall: I would say our district gets a high mark in my book when it comes to technology and accessibility. I know when we transferred to distance learning, kids were able to check out a Chromebook. Different programs were available for internet access. For our kids to be successful in the new world they have to be computer literate and tech savvy. But have you seen a 16-year-old try and make change for a 20? Painful. I think that accessibility should be available when necessary, but I would like to see more learning that does not relate technology and focus on basic skills.

Shoup: In today’s world, it is essential to be up to date and on par with our curriculum and industry technology. Last year we were able to go from shared classroom tech to one-on-one technology in all schools, and every student now has a Chromebook. As we move forward, I feel that adding more CTE-type classes would be a very good and exciting option for expanding this avenue and would increase technology for all students. This would also give them a broader spectrum of skills to take with them as they look forward to entering today’s work force or even post-secondary education.

4. There are simply not enough Spanish-speaking instructors in a county that boasts at least a 30% Hispanic population. What are your thoughts on this issue, and what will you do in your power to ensure all students are properly being reached?

May: I am interested in working with the Re-2 administration to further understand the Family Resource Center and incorporate ideas from Garfield County Latino Committee, Roaring Fork Schools, D16 and D51. I have already taken the initiative to introduce the Latino advocates from Re-1 and Re-2 and talk with D51 on methods they have in place to retain “at risk” students.

Paugh: It is imperative that our teacher demographics more closely align to the demographics of our student population. Cultural literacy is a challenge that the Re-2 district faces as well as the community as a whole. Teaching and learning happens within cultural and social circumstances. It’s important to have educators that are able to navigate the different perspectives our students enter the classroom with based on their cultural backgrounds. Spanish-speaking educators that come from similar cultural backgrounds as our Hispanic students can effectively help to navigate difficult conversations, acknowledge and challenge bias and prejudice and create inclusive classroom spaces.

Carey: We need qualified interpreters at every elementary school and middle school. I would like to see one at Rifle High School and Coal Ridge High School as well. We need qualified interpreters at the main office. Not having this important need met hampers communication with parents and students, and it must be remedied.

Fletchall: As a father of two sons whose first language is Spanish, English as second-language programs were huge in their early development. Once again, how do you attract teachers and professionals who speak both languages? I am a firm believer that this success is a two-way street. Why are we not teaching more of our students and teachers Spanish? According to most studies, Spanish is the No. 2 language in the world, behind Chinese and all its variations. I believe we are not challenging our English-speaking kids with Spanish as much as we are challenging our Spanish speakers with English. If we want students to truly be ready for the world, arming them with the skill of a second language is huge.

Shoup: With the “No Student Left Behind” approach, I do believe it is critical that every student is reached and has a full understanding of what is being asked of and taught to them. An approach to target and help minimize this Spanish-speaking barrier might be to have instructors enroll and take Spanish classes (paid for or reimbursed by the district) as a new hire coming into the district, and as for the veteran teachers that are willing, they would be able to take such classes over the summer break so they would be ready for the upcoming year. Another recommendation I have would be to start teaching secondary language classes in the earlier years of school rather than waiting till high school. Studies have found that it is easier for younger age children to learn a new language than it is for adults.

5. What are the biggest issues you think the district faces on a regular basis?

May: I have been in agreement with most decisions the board and administration have provided regarding health, curriculum and finances. I understand the legal implications and will not put our students, faculty, staff, administration or purse at risk. I support the policy of no politics in the nonsocial studies/government classrooms. I do not support mandatory vaccines or masks; I support health decisions made by parents. I support the district’s approach to the new, stable financial system. I support the initiatives behind the repairs to Cactus Valley. I support the governance discussions of the Re-2 board-staff CS negotiations process and believe there is a good relationship to bridge necessary gaps to assist streamlining future discussions.

Paugh: As a community member and Rifle resident, I see teacher retention, academic achievement and cultural literacy as consistent issues the district faces. Another big issue to note is that the district does not currently have an updated strategic plan. The COVID-19 pandemic forced district staff into operating in emergency mode to navigate a crisis drastically impacting education across the nation. The last year did not afford time to engage in strategic planning. I am thrilled at the opportunity to work alongside district staff to develop a comprehensive and wildly effective district strategic plan that outlines specific goals/needs, includes measurable outcomes and accountability measures and allows for parent, student, community and staff participation in the process. I am certain that the district has done an excellent job at identifying current and pressing challenges, and I am eager to listen, learn and help support the district-identified goals.

Carey: Value our teachers: providing better compensation, professional development opportunities, and generally taking care of our teachers are key.

Language access: We need certified interpreters in our schools.

Inspire our kids: Our kids are bursting with creativity. Our educators are trained in nurturing these creative juices and helping students learn to harness, develop and grow them into whatever it is they want to be. And here we are back to supporting our teachers.

It’s a cycle. We want our children to do well on achievement tests; we need to support continuing education for our educators and provide them with the tools to create environments our children can thrive in.

I want our teachers to be the best supported in the state, so they can be their very best selves, so our kids can be their very best selves.

Our teachers matter. Our paraprofessionals matter. Our administration matters. Our children matter.

Fletchall: 1. Staffing — do we have the right teachers, do the right teachers feel they have the support of the administration, board and community? 2. Performance of our students at state testing. This is not new or can be blamed on this past year’s challenges. These numbers are only going to get lower. 3. Pride — do our kids have pride in their schools? I would doubt some of that as I see turnout at home games for any of our teams, destruction of school property. 4. Fear — as long as we keep perpetuating fear as the new normal it is a guarantee that kids will fail and our district will fail — over and over again.

Shoup: Some of the largest issues I feel the district faces at this point in time outside of COVID-19 are: student achievement, teacher and staff retention (which I believe also has a major impact on student achievement), and also community involvement and regular communication.

Garfield 16 School Board candidate Q&As

Editor’s note: The original version of this story misspelled Christina Abbey’s name and left off her photo.

Six candidates are vying for three seats on the Garfield 16 school board.

Seats up for elections include Dr. Kevin Coleman, Vincent Tomasulo and Kim Whelan.

Whelan looks to retain her seat, while Vincent Tomasulo, Staci McGruder, Donald Christopher Jackson, Keith Gronewoller and Christina Abbey are all vying for first terms.

All seats on the Garfield 16 are elected to four-year terms.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 11. Nov. 2 is Election Day.

1. COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for administrators, teachers and students. What is the best way of creating a conducive working and learning environment without compromising health and safety?

Chris Abbey.

Abbey: COVID-19 has created challenges that have stressed districts, staff, students and families due to the unknown circumstances and constantly evolving conditions. Schools have had to adapt quickly. Communication needs to be in the forefront with the ever-changing environment that is affecting and possibly disrupting the educational process. There are a lot of unknowns, and things happen very quickly when outbreaks, quarantines and county and state mandates occur. It is imperative that the community have a sense of trust in the district leadership to communicate when the state and county creates orders that public schools must follow. When that trust is absent, it makes it difficult for the schools to operate in what is perceived to be the best interest of the students and staff. School districts need to listen to the community and understand that families are concerned for their children’s mental well-being, learning loss management and overall wellness. Differences of opinions cannot be discounted, and effective feedback needs to occur in order to ultimately do what is best for children.

Garfield 16 School Board candidate Christopher Jackson.

Jackson: One thing that is certain is that COVID-19 challenges us to continue to evolve rapidly. A plan that addresses a quality work and learning environment while addressing health and safety should include feedback from the community, teachers, staff and the students we are educating. I also believe any plan must consider safety guidelines set forth by the state and federal governments. My background in the medical field requires that I stay up to date on the ever-evolving changes in recommended actions. In my opinion, a committee with the representation from the community, teachers, staff, students and authorities from our health department could address policy in a way that meets everyone’s needs.

Garfield 16 School Board candidate Kimberly Sue Whelan.

Whelan: For the vast majority of students, I believe in-person learning is the most conducive to educational success. I also know that in these challenging times with a wide difference in opinions, no school is going to be able to please everyone. The key is allowing individual families and students to make the best decision for them given the circumstances they face. The job of school leadership is to remain informed by trustworthy and reliable medical resources and to make the best decision they can at the moment, recognizing that the information can change by the hour. Changing decisions or policies is not a sign or weakness or ignorance, rather it is a sign of a person/organization that is able to recognize that health situations are a moving target, and you must move your aim in order to hit the target. This is what scientists do every day.

Garfield 16 School Board candidate Staci McGruder.

McGruder: COVID-19 has created challenges that have put pressure on administrators, teachers, students and the community. The ability to be flexible while still communicating clearly to all stakeholders has proven to be a must. The legal requirements that public school districts are tied to creates a balancing act between the county, school and the community. In uncertain times, trust is the key factor. The community needs to be able to trust that the district leadership is adhering to public safety, while also keeping students, staff and community members safe. The breakdown of trust creates a failing system. The community is not to be unheard when they voice their concerns; it is the district leadership’s duty to hear concerns, reflect and make appropriate changes where available. It is important to remember the end goal is to do what is best for our kids. If a plan does not support the students, their well-being and their academic success, then it needs to be revised.

Garfield 16 School Board candidate Keith Gronewoller.

Gronewoller: School districts have been navigating through uncharted territory with respect to COVID-19. First, I would express my deep respect and appreciation for those working to keep the schools open. My wife served as a health clerk in the district for the past two years, and I was able to observe the Herculean effort required to reconcile policy with constantly changing regulations or responding to unexpected COVID-19 exposures. Moving forward, we need to use the experience we have gained to create a big-picture approach that considers multiple relevant issues. Mask and quarantine policies have been common to combat the issue, but they are not without drawbacks. We need to take measured precautions, but I am against creating policies or mandates because they are easy or expedient. Depression and emotional health have been undervalued; they are huge threats to our children and need to be weighed accordingly.

Tomasulo (photo not provided by deadline): The best way of creating a conducive work and learning environment is to tap into all the resources available. That starts with a capable and dedicated staff that is on top of the ever-changing guidelines provided by the health officials and various government entities providing data and other resources. Also, the implementation, communication and execution of internal policies that fit our district’s unique needs. Our team must remain vigilant and flexible. It has learned to change directions quickly. Our district did a commendable job during the 2010-21 school year, as we were one of the very few districts to remain open to in-person learning the entire year.

2. Staffing shortages are always a concern for many Colorado school districts in communities with a high cost of living. What can districts do to attract and retain quality employees?

Abbey: A district’s climate and culture can be the first step in overcoming many of the issues that face staffing shortages. District 16 had a staff turnover rate of approximately 30% last year, and that is a problem. Longtime community members that worked in the district decided to leave. We need to ask why that is happening and make adjustments. If a district wants to ultimately do what is best for kids, they need to make sure they have a trusted, qualified staff that is committed to investing in their community. One of the leading indicators of student success is the retention of qualified and dedicated teachers. Teachers are no longer listing their salary range as one of the most important reasons for continuing in a specific position, but are also looking at criteria such as job satisfaction, a positive culture and climate as well as feeling valued by district administration. Productivity is proven to increase when employees are happy, valued and invested in the community where they work and reside. District 16 is actively seeking solutions to assist with the high cost of living through possible future housing development and increasing the cost of living within salaries, but it definitely needs to work on the climate and culture it offers.

Jackson: Staffing shortages in school districts are a problem across our nation. It is, in fact, one of the issues I would put in question #5. As the housing market and cost of living continue to soar, we need to stay competitive in wages and salaries for our school staff and teachers. I would also write that along with competitive compensation, we need to ensure a working environment that entices people to want to come to our district and stay. In the school board meeting on Sept. 21, it was made clear to me that the school district is already working towards competitive compensation and positive working environments. If elected onto the board, I will continue to work with the team on this issue.

Whelan: This is a simple solution. If we want quality educators that remain committed to our communities, schools and students, we must pay them a competitive living wage. Secondly, our community, administration and parents must support these professionals who are dedicated to educating their youth. They must support them emotionally, physically and verbally. Through your words, face to face, in the home and in the community, they must be shown respect, support and honor. This is the only thing that will retain quality educators in an extremely difficult position.

McGruder: Staffing shortages are a concern for most educational institutions. However, it seems to be even more of a concern for Garfield 16. The number of staff leaving in recent years seems to have increased. In addition to longtime, tenured staff leaving. Research shows that employee stability and retention has a direct correlation to job satisfaction, employee happiness and feeling supported/valued. Garfield 16 does offer a salary scale that is competitive with other local districts, and they are trying to create a plan for affordable housing. However, research shows that people will not stay in a job they are unhappy at, even with higher pay. Building a positive, supportive, collaborative climate and culture is absolutely necessary.

Gronewoller: This is, in my mind, the greatest issue facing school districts across the state. While Garfield 16 is competitive with other area schools regarding staff salaries, we need to get creative and see what can be done to further increase compensation. Funding is limited, and there are no easy answers, but I believe there are three areas that should be focused on. We need to take a hard look at finding ways to create new money or identify other areas where the budget may be reduced to help fund staff salaries. We also need to consider alternative benefits (e.g. child care, housing assistance), and third, we need to cultivate the culture within the district and community to promote appreciation and support of the staff. Community involvement and appreciate is critical to this effort. Teacher retention rates must increase, or the district will continue losing valuable resources to the development of employees who are not retained.

Tamasulo: The districts must work with the community, as a whole, to provide teachers and their families with a safe and vibrant community in which they can live, play and thrive. Many of their needs cannot be met by the district solely. What is within the district’s control are competitive salaries, growth opportunities, a safe environment (both physically and psychologically) and a sense of team and mutual respect.

3. What are your thoughts on creating more opportunities and more technological accessibility for students?

Abbey: Education is one of the only sectors where almost every citizen has completed a 12-year internship. People tend to have a preconceived opinion on the traditional education system based on their personal experiences. With the rapid changes occurring with technological access, education needs to embrace change in major areas in order to keep future citizens competitive upon leaving public education. It is imperative that schools continue to evolve and take advantage of technological advancements in educational programming and accessibility so that students are able to learn the necessary skills to become productive citizens. Widespread structural changes to the educational model may be needed in order to adapt in a rapidly evolving and fast-paced environment. Curriculum and resources need to reflect those evolutions in society, and schools need to be prepared to step outside the box so that each child has opportunities to learn in a personalized capacity.

Jackson: Our school district has done a tremendous job over the past few years in ensuring more technological accessibility to our students. The district, with the help of some grant monies, upgraded all the fiber optic lines in their facilities to support faster internet service. This district has also invested in several computer programs and equipment to enhance the students’ and staff’s experiences. I would continue to support taking advantage of opportunities to increase the students’ exposure to technology. Tech is in our lives now and will continue to be a larger part of society; we need to ensure our students are ready for life after school.

Whelan: I am not an expert in the field of technology, but from my perspective, our schools have done an excellent job of building programs to enhance this accessibility for all students. In my experience with other districts, many much larger and more financially strong, we have given students what they need to be successful in any field of technology.

McGruder: “Opportunities” seems a bit ambiguous, but the answer is yes. Opportunities for students in all realms is ideal. The traditional school system has always done a decent job with creating opportunities for students in traditional tracks: universities, colleges and postsecondary education. However, as we prepare students for the ever-changing future, for jobs that haven’t even been created yet; opportunities in areas that support technical school, trades, alternative pathways, etc, would help support large student populations who don’t follow the traditional path. Along with opportunities comes the ability to access and be successful in those opportunities; technology allows students this success.

Gronewoller: This is a critical challenge that the district will face in the coming years. While reading, writing and arithmetic will always form the foundation of education, the world is advancing at break-neck speeds when it comes to technology. Preparing students to be agile and flexible to constantly changing technology is crucial to developing them to succeed in life after school. I am greatly in favor of any programs or opportunities to challenge students with new technologies, and I feel this should be a top priority of the district.

Tomasulo: This is something the district has been actively pursuing for quite some time. Every student in Garfield 16 has a district issued Chromebook. The district has also, recently, installed a fiber optic network connecting all their buildings for improved speed and connectivity. There are more steps to be taken to ensure every student in the district has internet access from home. It is critical our students and staff are up to speed, as much as possible, with the rapid changes in technology and means of access to available learning tools.

4. There are simply not enough Spanish-speaking instructors in a county that boasts at least a 30% Hispanic population. What are your thoughts on this issue, and what will you do in your power to ensure all students are properly being reached?

Abbey: As with technology, our educational systems need to evolve with the rapidly changing demographics we are seeing within our communities. Schools need to make sure they are fostering an environment that teaches to all students and not just the students that fit well in a traditional model. Schools and communities need to invest in their Spanish-speaking community members to encourage their participation in the community and hopefully encourage their bilingual citizens to remain in and reinvest in the schools and community. Schools need to ensure they are personalizing educational needs and providing resources for students that may normally struggle due to language barriers. Districts can partner with their community liaisons to provide mentorships and support to students that may be English-language learners. Districts need to invest in this area to ensure they are not only helping develop productive citizens but productive bilingual citizens as well.

Jackson: Being able to communicate with your student is, in my opinion, foundational to a successful education. In emergency services, when we encounter Spanish-speaking patients, we often rely on the children in the household to communicate with their families, because, oftentimes, the child is the only one who can speak both English and Spanish. I am currently learning to speak Spanish now, because I realize the importance of communicating to our Spanish-speaking community. I am in support of providing training and even hiring bilingual employees to address this barrier.

Whelan: Teachers do not need to be given one more responsibility. As a teacher, I invested my personal time and continuing education to improve my Spanish language. I desired to connect with my students’ culture and language and to show them I was interested in them personally by being able to communicate somewhat successfully in their native language. However, that being said, I do not think this is a necessity. It is not the job of the classroom teacher to speak Spanish to their students. It is our job to respect and accept their language/culture and show interest in them as students. It is also our job to improve their use of the English language, including spoken, written and reading. The job of a second-language acquisition teacher is the same. We are very unique in that in our area, we typically deal with only one additional language or culture. Schools across the world are exposed to multiple languages and cultures within their walls. Would we expect our teachers to be fluent in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Finnish? Of course not. Our teachers need to be loving, caring and accepting of all students and content experts in the field that they are assigned.

McGruder: The Colorado Department of Education is currently in the process of creating a requirement for licensed educators to have an ELL certification added to their license renewal requirements. This will hopefully support this population of students, not only in Garfield county but statewide. In addition to the CDE requirement, it would be beneficial to have more access to translators to help with communication.

Gronewoller: This question is very highly tied to the previous question regarding staffing. We need to take a hard look at how we can recruit and retain talent to address all concerns, including language barriers. As with any profession, teachers and support staff learn and improve year over year, and it is important that our district is not simply a training ground for young teachers before they move on to other areas. Teachers of all disciplines need to be trained and retained so that their knowledge and professional growth can benefit our children every day in the classroom.

Tomasulo: More effort is needed in recruiting capable, bilingual teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals so that we provide the structure many of our students need to master the English language and navigate through the educational system as a whole. The language barrier inhibits their learning at all levels. In addition, resources for parental outreach are needed for these students so that they can get the support they need at home, too.

5. What are the biggest issues you think the district faces on a regular basis?

Abbey: Education has become a thankless and often politicized area that affects every sector of our society. Less and less people want to become teachers each year. Without good teachers, you will not have qualified physicians, business owners, leaders or any other important role in society. Potential education-minded students see that teachers are undervalued by society, overworked, subject to abusive leadership, students and mandates. Their favorite teachers are often stressed, tired and overburdened with administrative tasks that detract from their day-to-day interactions with helping students. This is not how we advertise for future educators. Districts need to stop piling on duties as assigned and concentrate on creating a culture that makes students and staff never want to leave. They need to foster an environment that places value on the people that deliver the necessary curriculum while establishing valuable professional relationships with students that result in higher graduation rates, better educated communities and reinvestments into our society as a whole.

Jackson: One of the biggest issues that this school district is facing is addressed in question # 2. As our housing market cost and cost of living rapidly increase, there is great concern with hiring staff and teachers at a salary where they can afford to live. Student success in their education is another big concern for any school system. Creating and running a system that gives the student everything they need to succeed will always be an issue that has to stay in the top priorities. Funding will continue to be a big issue for our school district. As our oil and gas economy continues to decline, so will the assessed valuations that make up a portion of the budget. Our school district will have to continue to find any available resources, as they have been doing with their grant work, etc., in order to stay progressive. Another pressing concern for this district is informing the community on the recent legislation passed that now requires school districts to raise their mill levies over a period of time or they lose money. I believe there will be some angry voters, and it will be a huge task to inform the voters of this requirement and why it is happening.

Whelan: 1. Teacher recruitment and retention.

2. Mental health of the student population.

3. Family stability and support at home.

McGruder: By far the biggest issue that Garfield 16 faces on a regular basis is staff turnover. Student success is tied to knowledgeable, qualified, staff who are established in the district. Creating a climate and a culture that supports staff and their professional development would be beneficial in staff retention.

Gronewoller: Three of the biggest issues have already been addressed, those being COVID-19, staffing and keeping up with the advancement of technology. One other topic that I would point out is a focus on greater community input, involvement and support. The school board directors hold an elected position and, as representatives of the voting base, should seek public input to properly represent those who elected them. Increased public involvement in board meetings, focus groups and surveys are all productive ways to accomplish this.

Tomasulo: One of the biggest issues the district faces on a regular basis is change. The COVID-19 epidemic is a perfect example. Plans were implemented before the 2020-21 school year, and all was turned upside down in the blink of an eye. This district has also, over the past couple of decades, dealt with cyclical changes in the oil and gas industries and the “boom and bust” cycles. As a result, our district has learned to be nimble and flexible. We’re also affected by funding pressures. The cost of everything is going up as funding gets more difficult to find and justify. A great deal of effort goes into managing our finances and seeking additional resources to provide the salaries our teachers need, the tools our students require and the level of education our community expects for their children.

Rifle City Council candidate Q&As

Eight people are vying for five seats on Rifle City Council during this year’s election.

November’s election pits incumbents Joe Carpenter, Clint Hostettler and Sean Strode against first-time council hopefuls Bud Demicell, Tamara Degler, Alicia Gresley, Chris Bornholdt and Derek Davis.

Current Mayor Barbara Clifton and Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Hamilton are termed out.

For Rifle City Council, The four candidates receiving the highest number of votes will each be elected to a four-year term. The one candidate receiving the fifth-highest number of votes will be elected to a two-year term. Once council is sworn in, council members will vote for mayor and mayor pro tem.

All seats are at-large and represent the entire city — not districts.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 11. Nov. 2 is Election Day.

1. Like many communities across predominantly mountain areas of Colorado, affordable housing is an issue in Rifle. If you were elected to City Council, what would you advocate for and do to help address this long-standing issue?

Rifle City Council candidate Chris Bornholdt.

Bornholdt: With the price of lumber and labor increasing, building affordable housing is challenging. Land prices are also increasing at a rapid rate in the Rifle area. Teaming up with an organization like Habitat for Humanity could be an option to help with the costs. A possible expansion of King Crown Mobile Home Park may be the cheapest housing option for families.

Rifle City Council candidate Sean Strode.

Strode: As a City Councilor, I have already had the opportunity to advocate for housing projects that have come before council. In permitting processes, I have lobbied for more affordable duplex-style housing over expensive single family homes and have supported efforts by Habitat for Humanity. In the past few years we have discussed existing discount fee initiatives for workforce specific housing and assessed the impact fees for new construction. We lowered the fees to make building in Rifle more attractive. There are three areas that I focus on for continued housing development. One is to optimize smart growth in our town that utilizes existing infrastructure by creating infill. Second is to focus on all of Rifle’s residents. This ranges from single family homes to multifamily apartments to senior citizen homes. It’s important to make sure that no one is priced out of our area. The final piece is to explore options along Airport Road where people can possibly live close to work and have easy access on/off the interstate.

Rifle City Council candidate Clint Hostettler.

Hostettler: I would continue to do what we have been doing, which is support every entity that wants to build or fund affordable housing. One of the ways we can support this is by reducing building permit fees from the city, similar to what we did a few months ago with Habitat for Humanity. I in no way think the city should get into the affordable housing business but should continue to do everything we can to support and facilitate these projects that our community needs so people can afford to live here.

Rifle City Council candidate Derek Davis.

Davis: I would like to see the city give a discount of building and tap fees to teachers and city workers. They would need to live in the city for five years or would be required to pay back the discount. There are also some programs for workforce housing. I would be in favor of seeing if these could be beneficial for our citizens.

Rifle City Council candidate Tamara Degler.

Degler: This is an incredibly important issue to address as a community. I would advocate for hearings that bring together the City Council, financial experts, real estate developers, local real estate agents and citizens. Launching an ongoing discussion in a task force format would be helpful. It is my past experience that such meetings can generate valuable ideas. It would also be beneficial for the City Council and our city leaders to network with other communities facing this issue to learn best practices on how to address the issue. We should also be evaluating the fees the city charges for new construction. The city needs to provide creative and innovative solutions to the problem.

Rifle City Council candidate Alicia Gresley.

Gresley: Speaking about communication and community engagement is something you will hear and see often in my responses and campaign, as it is key to seeing us move the needle on all these type of issues. We need to collaborate with our neighboring cities and towns on their approaches as well as seek input from businesses or developers who may see some benefit in building new affordable communities on available land. There is a responsible and productive way to do this. Looking at the City 21-22 strategic plan, I see assessing the city property inventory/areas and their potential for selling or maybe development as a step in the right direction. We also need to listen to those who have objections to proposed ideas and work through a compromise; asking why and for community ideas/input.

Rifle City Council candidate Bud Demicell.

Demicell: I do not believe it is the role of City Council to get involved in the housing market. However, I do recognize housing costs as an issue that many of our residents face. I am in favor of asking relevant sectors (Realtors, contractors, land developers and community members) to come together and brainstorm ideas to combat this issue. City Council can add some relief by cutting permit fees, looking at red tape that might be hindering new builds, and ensuring that government is not in the way.

Rifle City Council candidate Joe Carpenter.

Carpenter: City Council put a program in place last year involving reduced fees for contractors. We extended it for several months this summer, we also have been approached by Habitat for Humanity to approve a project south of the river. Unfortunately, property and material costs have skyrocketed this year. We are continuing to explore avenues for affordable housing. However, I don’t think the city should get into the contracting process. That’s best left up to professionals in the housing industry.

2. What is the best way to improve downtown commerce and attract more foot traffic?

Bornholdt: Ongoing public events can help drive positive awareness of the city’s downtown area. Bringing people from the entire county downtown on a regular basis, once a week or even just once a month. Online marketing will make citizens aware of the unique amenities that exist in the central part of the Rifle community.

Strode: The city is at the tail end of a large effort to make the city more pedestrian friendly. While the construction downtown serves many purposes, improved walkability and modernizing are part of the master plan. The construction replaces and upgrades nearly all of the inferior infrastructure, but it also creates better sidewalks, helps slow traffic down in that corridor and creates more outdoor spaces for people to enjoy our historic downtown. With time, as funding becomes available, the idea of connecting a walkable downtown is where the city would like to move towards. Many economists predict a more local emphasis on small businesses post-pandemic, and with a refreshed downtown, that could be the case for Rifle.

Hostettler: I think that our downtown beautification was a great step in this direction and our businesses will see a large benefit from these improvements. I think it is important to maintain an open line of communication between the city and businesses to make sure we as a city are doing everything possible for these folks to succeed. I have and will always support small business in our community; not just in the downtown area but throughout the city limits. I would like to see more organized downtown activities to show off all the work that has been done and to let people see all the great businesses we have downtown.

Davis: The city has done a good job with updating and improving the downtown area. I would be in favor of continued physical improvements to the areas entering downtown. Putting up signs on Interstate 70 and throughout social media about what Rifle has to offer would help. I think the city could host events like 5Ks and bike races starting or ending in the downtown area. The city could also have street parties with live music on Friday and Saturday nights. We could also invite our local schools to come and perform plays or concerts. Most of this could be done through volunteers and not cost the taxpayers more money. I also think it is important not to forget the areas outside of downtown. There are a lot of businesses on Airport Road. For example, we need to make sure these areas stay updated and look nice as well. We want all of Rifle to be a magnet to I-70 traffic.

Degler: As the owner of Crescent Moon Spiritual Goods in downtown Rifle, it was and still is painful going through the Rifle Revitalization Project. Businesses downtown look forward to the construction ending and welcoming visitors with the new improvements. I am especially excited for the foot traffic that the updates will generate. However, the updates alone won’t attract visitors — we need to have more events and festivals downtown. Events that have been canceled by COVID-19 have been greatly missed by the community. Western Adventure Weekend is already a success, and the addition of the new Grand Hogback bike trail should help it become a major attraction. A festival celebrating our Hispanic community would also be a welcome addition. While I believe the items above would increase downtown traffic, Rifle is more than its downtown area. We need to amplify business throughout Rifle and strive to attract more customers to all areas.

Gresley: Improve the foot/bike paths alongside the creek and Railroad to encourage residents to use their feet to come to downtown. We would often ride bikes in to have dinner or push the stroller to events at the fairgrounds but not without our concerns over lack of lighting, trash/needles and limited access to certain streets. Understand if there is a desire for periodic events on Third Street, shut down to traffic and allow for outside dining or food trucks and bar service in the street. Heat lamps for the cooler evenings. We need to promote events via modern channels where people can engage. Again, working with our neighboring towns to encourage additional participation. Miner’s Claim has a golf cart shuttling diners around Silt if they don’t want to drive. Family friendly events at the splash pad, the space is underutilized. I’ve lots of ideas but you only allow so many words.

Demicell: The biggest hindrance to downtown activity is parking, for customers and employees alike. Between Third Street employees, Ute Theater traffic, post office and bank customers, there is rarely parking for retail shoppers. Unless and until the parking issue is resolved, it will be difficult to attract foot traffic. People do not utilize the parking structure on First and Railroad because it’s too far to walk to downtown. I would explore revamping the existing parking lot, on Fourth Street across from Ute Theater, into a parking structure. Yes, we can have street parties or festivals, but that does not create ongoing patronage. And the parking issue still exists.

Carpenter: I think that’s been partly addressed by the project undertaken this year. As far as attracting new businesses we have to make it easy to do business. I have 48 years of experience in retail, banking and financial services in Rifle. In my experience, a giant step has been taken with the projects this summer involving upgrading infrastructure and improving the appearance of downtown. New business is vital to downtown. I’ve thought that perhaps we could make an effort to recruit entrepreneurs to the downtown corridor.

3. What major improvements can Rifle make when it comes to infrastructure, commerce and recreation?

Bornholdt: The remodel of City Hall is a much-needed upgrade for city staff. The Recreation Department has many projects that need to be completed to enhance what the City Parks already offers to its citizens.

Strode: It’s my opinion that infrastructure is one of the primary roles of city government, and there is continual progress in this area. I don’t believe there is one major improvement to make; more importantly, the best thing we can do is have a good strategic plan. Fortunately, we already have many of these plans in place (streets, water, facilities, etc.); now it’s a matter of being smart with our money to remain financially stable, while executing improvement plans within our allocated budget. For commerce, we need to focus on local stores that offer more niche products and services. Stores that compete with Walmart or Amazon — unfortunately, they have less chance of longevity. It’s important that we bolster our relationships and support with small business owners to improve commerce in Rifle. We’re in a very interesting time because Rifle is no longer a small town, but we’re not a big town, either. As we continue to grow, small- and medium-size retailers will begin to set up in our town. Then the biggest problem isn’t how to get commerce, it’s how to preserve the quality and integrity of our city.

Hostettler: The city has been working diligently to find the places that need the most work and get them fixed and or updated. We are really working on improving our water and sewer, our streets and our broadband. All these things are and will continue to be a priority.

Our recreation in Rifle is second to none — we have great parks and programs. We also have great people in this department that are always trying to creatively improve and add to what we already have. The city has a lot of awesome things on tap in our strategic plan in the coming years. Building a new park up in North Pasture/Promontory neighborhood, along with big plans for our river area. Commerce fits hand in hand with infrastructure and recreation. If you have great infrastructure, it draws businesses and gives them a great chance to be successful. The more recreational options you have, the more time they will spend outside enjoying our town and visiting from other places, and this will drive commerce.

Davis: For recreation, I think we can do better at making use of the Colorado River. With the city spending $400,000 on the island and another $80,000 to remove the debris, I would like to make sure the city capitalizes on this investment as soon as possible. The city is putting out a survey asking what would be the best use of the island. After the citizens have weighed in, we should come up with a plan that meets the findings. Hopefully this will benefit citizens, as well as draw in visitors. As far as infrastructure and commerce, we need a long-term plan. Our city charter should be updated to have a five-year strategic plan instead of the one year plan it has now. Changes to infrastructure, commerce and recreation, for that matter, will take time and planning. To be wise stewards of the people’s tax dollars we need a plan. Otherwise the city will always be shooting from the hip. We will miss valuable opportunities and insights without planning ahead.

Degler: As a resident, I have noticed that safe travel on our roads is an ongoing issue, especially during the winter. We need to continually assess our response to weather events and improve safe travel when possible. In discussions I’ve had with residents and tourists alike, common concerns are a lack of wireless internet accessibility, healthy eating options and outdoor recreation equipment access. Since internet access is an ongoing issue, the city needs to keep pace with the advancements in technology. We need to attract new businesses, especially healthier restaurants and outdoor equipment rentals. Our beautiful parks, paths and natural attractions such as Rifle Arch, Rifle Mountain Park and Rifle Falls should be marketed more to increase tourism, a major economic driver in the area. I would seek to balance encouragement for new businesses with an eye on keeping our small-town vibe.

Gresley: Access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet and options to ensure competition. 50% of revenues come from sales tax; in 2021, a lot of it has come from online purchases. How many people now work from home or kids who are now completing online school? As we look to the future and how our world has changed and is evolving, this is an imperative infrastructure improvement we cannot neglect to improve. I am excited for the potential of Paradise Island from a recreation standpoint, some sort of river park or recreation area would be beneficial for citizens and attract visitors who would spend time (and $$) in our city. Keep focusing on the great work various groups are doing to create world-class mountain biking and hiking trails as well as promoting Rifle Mountain Park more. Whiteriver Avenue and some of our side streets need some love, too.

Demicell: Everywhere I go, I hear that our broadband service is in dire need of improvement. Most everything we do these days is reliant on our connectivity and coverage area. Rifle also has several roads that are graded as “poor,” thereby needing replaced — not repaired. Commerce can be improved by upgrading broadband (GPS) and having adequate parking. I think the County Fairgrounds is underutilized. We could host regional and state competitions, concerts and other events, which would increase commerce and provide additional recreational activities for our community. Additionally, I’d like to look at a long-term plan to build a recreation center utilizing land adjacent to the pool that is already owned by the city.

Carpenter: We did that this summer with our improvement projects. Infrastructure is something we need to stay on top of; for example , the utilities replaced this summer were up to seven decades old and in very poor condition. We have a great new pool, we have a very impressive series of bike trails that are open and being improved all of the time. We are also on track to finish the Veterans Memorial Park north of town.

4. What are the major social issues facing Rifle and what do you think can be done to help?

Bornholdt: The Rifle community is a diverse society, and the discussions of inclusion as whole community is important for the city to grow. Increasingly, cities have sought to broaden opportunity and human rights, and in response have faced opposition and pre-emptive policies from their state governments. Council should view opportunity and inclusiveness as critical benchmarks of a successful community and may find that they are putting up a fight for these values.

Strode: There are very few social issues that are uniquely specific to Rifle. Many social issues can be identified nationally. There are countless psychologists and social scientists trying to figure out what can be done for national issues. However, Rifle has a secret weapon: community. I can disagree with my neighbor on a social topic here and there, but yet I’ll still happily lend that person a tool or wave when they drive by. For the most part, respectful differences in opinion aren’t a bad thing in a community; it’s when the community stops supporting each other that gets worrisome. And I don’t think Rifle is at that point. The social issue I believe is unique to Rifle, is growth. As a councilor, I regularly contemplate how we can grow as a city but yet maintain our uniqueness and community. Honoring our history is part of what makes Rifle Rifle. I feel that in the next 10 years it will be a social issue that challenges our roots.

Hostettler: We need to continue what has already been started on making our city as inclusive as possible to all who want to live here. There is always more work to be done. We need to support any and all programs that help our youth, our elderly, the mentally unstable, those who suffer from addiction and any other person or people that need it. I do not think that it is the job of council person to save the world, but it is our job to make the people of our city feel safe and healthy. This is my mission.

Davis: I am concerned with unity as a community. I would like to see the city reach out to the citizens with service projects to better our city. Such as cleaning up trash along the river or cleaning up graffiti under the bridges. When we serve together, we become more unified. The pay scale for jobs here is also too low. People have to drive so far to work they miss valuable time with their families. With the changes to the world, including internet business, we should be discussing how citizens of Rifle can benefit. Amazon brings in the third highest tax revenue for our city. If we could train our local businesses to do affiliate marketing for Amazon and Walmart, Rifle businesses could be selling their products across our nation. If people can provide better for their families, it will strengthen our city. Many of the social issues, including drugs and crime, facing the city of Rifle can be overcome with stronger families. The family is the central unit of society. We need to do all we can to strengthen our families.

Degler: We should focus on community safety and mental health. Rifle is below the national average for violent crimes, but recent data shows us close to the national average for property crime. The City Council needs to encourage our neighborhood watch groups and to ensure we have a strong law enforcement approach to this issue. I am certain our new city manager, Tommy Klein, will continue to leverage his law enforcement background, guide us towards ways we can minimize these crimes and make the community feel more safe. As for mental health, this last year has left many people feeling isolated. We need to encourage community events that draw us together. Even small, neighborhood events should be encouraged. I’d like to see more peaceful community projects for people to center themselves. Perhaps a community garden or labyrinth could be something to consider.

Gresley: There is a lot of divisiveness in our community as is around the world during these times. If I am elected, I want to work hard to ensure our sense of community and working together is front and center. We all have a different story and opinion on all matters, and if we take the time to listen to each other, we may find that we’re actually not that different, we have similar values, and want to just have the opportunity to live as we choose. In my opinion, that comes down to ensuring sustainable livability for our citizens. What I mean by that is ensuring every household can have a safe roof over their heads, take care of whomever they need to within their own circle, access to child care/schooling and health resources and some left over for doing what you love. Awareness around and commitment to providing resources to address mental and emotional health.

Demicell: It does not fall under the purview of any government entity to address social issues. Under the U.S. Constitution, elected officials are obligated to secure the rights of individuals — not groups.

Carpenter: Lack of affordable housing, and the number of Rifle citizens living below the poverty level. There appears to be many jobs available; however, meaningful, good-paying jobs are hard to come by in this end of the valley. Once again, we could seriously look into recruiting businesses to relocate to the Rifle area.

5. Has Rifle handled the COVID-19 pandemic well? What can the city do moving forward?

Bornholdt: Overall, the city did really well implementing practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and working with Public Health. The best action for the city is to continue to follow what Garfield County Public Health provides, as they are getting their direction from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Strode: I feel confident that Rifle has handled the pandemic as well as it could. As a municipality, we thought it was best to strictly follow county, state and federal guidelines set forth by public health agencies. As a council, we tried to provide as much assistance as possible by channeling Cares Act funding to local businesses, quickly. We provided hundreds of thousands of dollars from state and federal funds to local businesses and Rifle-based nonprofits in grants and forgivable loans. This didn’t fix the problem, but we believe it helped. We also used funds to help citizens who got behind on water bills, allowing them to apply through a nonprofit organization to receive funds to pay their bills. Council even spent more money on cleaning and sanitizing parks so that families and kids could be outside playing safely. Since we don’t know what next week brings, it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what is the best action for the city moving forward. The best action is to support our businesses and citizens as needed and as things change.

Hostettler: I think we have done everything a city should do in this situation, which is to take care of our businesses, citizens and our employees. We have done all this without the federal government making things political. I am very proud of how our city government and our citizens have fought through this pandemic and continue to do so.

Davis: I appreciate the “Smile and Wave” program the city came up with. I think it is important to physically distance, not social distance. Overall I have felt very blessed to live in Rifle through this pandemic. Moving forward we need to keep businesses open.

Degler: The pandemic caused significant impacts to our community in terms of physical/mental health, financial strain and was very isolating for families and individuals alike. I’ve had many conversations with friends, neighbors and customers about the impacts on their lives. The city has made an effort to support our businesses by providing outdoor spaces for dining downtown, grant monies to offset our losses and did not institute a mask mandate, all of which I support. Now that the threat that the virus poses is waning, I would like to see an increased emphasis on community gatherings that bring us back together to foster support and re-engagement.

Gresley: From my position and from looking at the data of death, hospitalizations and cases, yes, Rifle fared reasonably well during the pandemic, although even one life lost is too many. I appreciate the access to testing and vaccine clinics the city and county has made available and from being in and around the community most are respectful of others, their space and what they need to do to stay healthy. In saying that, we need to focus on making sure we are addressing the mental, emotional, physical and financial toll this past 18 months has had on us all and provide resources and guidance to help people come out of this in a positive way. It is imperative we learn from our experiences, assess the failures and the wins and make a plan for managing future crises. How we adapt and evolve is how we will measure how well we have done.

Demicell: Yes, I believe Rifle City Council handled the pandemic well. As your city councilman, I would defend your rights and do what I could to ensure that the council did absolutely nothing related to the pandemic going forward. It is not the place of government to interfere in your private lives or your businesses. It would also be my obligation to protect your rights from overreaching state government or unelected, unaccountable bureaucratic agencies (CDPHE, CDC, WHO). Less government. More freedom. Personal responsibility.

Carpenter: According to our sales tax revenue figures, we have handled COVID-19 well. Even with the downtown infrastructure projects, we saw an increase in revenue. Sales tax revenue is about the only source of income for the city, and we have fared well through these difficult times.

Quality of education a focal point in Roaring Fork School Board candidates forum

Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidates, from left, Chase McWhorter, Kenny Teitler and Kathryn Kuhlenberg, attend the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen / Post Independent

Meeting the diverse, ever-changing needs of students through improving teacher compensation and promoting parental involvement was a central point of discussion in a forum for the four Roaring Fork School District candidates at the Morgridge Commons in the Glenwood Springs Library on Monday night.

The Issues & Answers Forum introduced Glenwood Springs’ ballot measures for the upcoming election and asked questions of the candidates for the Board of Education’s two vacating seats.

Chase McWhorter is running against Kenny Teitler for the District A seat. Kathryn Kuhlenberg is running against Steven Fotion for District E.

Kuhlenberg and Teitler are both educators by trade, while McWhorter and Fotion are business administrators touting an outsider’s perspective.

In their evaluations of the state of education locally, Teitler and Kuhlenberg both focused on how the expectations for teachers have changed and made quality education a moving target. McWhorter and Fotion both felt the bar has been lowered nationally.

Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidates, from left, Kathryn Kuhlenberg and Steven Fotion, attend the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

“Our expectations for educating have become skewed, if you will, since we started teaching to testing instead of teaching to think,” Fotion said.

With all candidates believing there is room for improvement locally, the question became of methodology. Parental involvement, meeting students’ individual needs — especially across the English/Spanish language barrier — and increasing teacher wages for means of retention were all mentioned.

Kuhlenberg highlighted the newly mandated universal preschool programming in the state of Colorado as a way to set up students for success early.

“This program can go very well or very wrong,” Kuhlenberg said on the implementation of the programming in 2023-24. “(Early childhood education) is our only chance to prevent an achievement gap from forming. … If we can prevent this gap from forming, we’re not playing catchup with 13-year-olds, 15-year-olds.”

Kuhlenberg said utilizing mill levy override funds successfully can help promote universal preschool. She and Teitler came out in heavy favor for the mill levy override increase that would source $7.7 million from property owners to increase salaries to increase employee wages.

Fotion said he is “currently” against ballot issue 5B, but his position is shifting as he learns more about where the funds are going. McWhorter expressed a similar concern, saying he’d want to be sure the money was going to teachers.

“This one is tricky for me because I would say, in general, I’m usually against any sort of taxes unless you have exhausted cost cuts,” McWhorter said. “I completely empathize with the cost of living here. My main concern with the mill levy in supporting it is you would want a microscope on that money to make sure it is going to teachers.”

In a presentation earlier on the 5B ballot issue, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein and Glenwood Springs Middle School Teacher Autumn Rivera said the funds would result in a 10-12% raise for most staff — including maintenance, bus drivers and others — but not district leadership.

In a district with a majority Latino population, the issue of reaching these students directly was considered. Teitler, a bilingual veteran of the Roaring Fork School District, said more needs to be done to bridge the achievement gap between Latino students and their Anglo peers. He said the latter tests at 40 points higher.

“We do need to look at what children need according to their background, their education,” Teitler said. ”If you have a student who is starting kindergarten who doesn’t speak English, you can’t teach them the same way you can teach another student who’s coming into kindergarten who is fluent in English.”

All candidates agreed that promoting parental involvement is an immediate way to help foster student success. All said some form of increasing access to the school board would be a benefit, though McWhorter suggested including boundaries and Kuhlenberg suggested assigning a board member to act as a point person for a selection of schools.

Ballot Measures

Before the board candidate forum, panels on each of the Glenwood Springs sample ballot issues were held.

On Amendment 78, the Custodial Fund Appropriations Initiative, Michael Fields of Colorado Rising State Action provided a statement in favor via a provided statement.

Fields also wrote in favor of Proposition 120, the Reduce Property Tax Rates and Retain $25 Million in TABOR Surplus Revenue Initiative. Marianne Virgili of the Colorado Mountain College board of trustees spoke against it, saying lowering property taxes does not directly translate to lower rent rates.

On ballot issues 2A and 2B, which would increase taxes and the city of Glenwood Springs’ debt for construction work relating to the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, Mayor Jonathan Godes submitted a statement in favor. Gregg Rippy, of the Federal Mineral Lease District and a pilot, said, “This ballot issue is an exorbitant price tag not being asked for by the current airport users.”

Rivera and Stein addressed concerns on 5B, the mill levy override increase.

“What we’re looking at is cutting programs, increasing class sizes, because we’ve reached a point where there’s nothing left to do,” Stein said.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 8. The election is Nov. 2.

Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidate Q&A

Sorted by district and alphabetical order, from left to right, Roaring Fork School District Board of Education 2021 candidates Chase McWhorter, Kenny Teitler, Steven Fotion and Kathryn Kuhlenberg.

Two candidates vie for each of the Roaring Fork School District’s soon-to-be vacated seats for District A and District E.

Steven Fotion and Kathryn Kuhlenberg are running for the District E seat, currently held by Jennifer Scherer. Chase McWhorter and Kenny Teitler are competing for District A, currently held by Jen Rupert. Chris Becker will remain on the ballot for District E but is not actively campaigning and endorsed Kuhlenberg and Teitler. He was not asked to participate in this questionnaire.

Ballots will be mailed out before Oct. 16 for the Nov. 2 election.

As election day draws nearer, the Post Independent issued a questionnaire to each of the four candidates.

Why are you running for the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education?

Chase McWhorter, District A: We are starting a familiar bureaucratic cycle that needs to be stopped: 1. Problems with performance are blamed on factors “out there.” 2. Increasing revenue via taxes is the only solution. 3. Performance continues to lag. 4. Repeat. Housing costs, staffing issues, changing demographics, etc., are all blamed for why performance lags. We need a board that pushes back on this standard narrative and offers other solutions to these problems that all other school districts across the U.S. face.

Kenny Teitler, District A: During my 26 years working as a teacher in the Roaring Fork School District in Basalt and Carbondale, I often thought how amazing it would be to have a teacher’s perspective on the school board. Having retired from teaching two years ago, I am excited to be able to put to use the experiences and perspective that I gained from being in the classroom. Additionally, having two daughters who attended Carbondale public schools K-12, and who have recently graduated, will allow me to bring a parent’s perspective to this position. I understand how district level policies directly impact schools and teachers, and, as a result, student learning. I will work to help make sure that district decisions will support teacher effectiveness and student productivity.

Steven Fotion, District E: After coming to the conclusion that more parental participation is required, I decided to run for the school board. With the current state of education, a balanced input is critical from both parents and educators. If you are not happy with the direction things are heading, then action is required. The action I have chosen to take is actively participating on the school board if elected.

Kathryn Kuhlenberg, District E: First and foremost, I am passionate about our district and the education of our students. My three children are just starting their student careers in the RFSD, and, as a family, we have about 17 years ahead of us in our public schools. Our district depends on committed volunteer school board members to devote their time, energy and efforts toward our shared community goal of student success. And I have always wanted to offer more to our district. I am now at a point in my own life and career where I have the time and energy to serve the community in this way. Our board needs to be made up of a dynamic group of individuals who can move mountains in order to elevate education. If elected, I will do exactly that.

What are your qualifications, and how do you believe you will benefit the organization?

McWhorter, District A: I believe I have three key qualifications: 1) I’m not beholden to any current staff or agenda, so my loyalties would be evenly distributed to all stakeholders never losing sight of the ultimate objective of improving student performance. 2) I am open-minded yet objective, so I would be willing and able to listen to current board members and staff. 3) I have 12-plus years’ experience identifying operational inefficiencies and improving systems within organizations with an emphasis on finances.

Teitler, District A: During my years teaching, I was involved in many leadership positions that will help me be an effective school board member. I was a member of the school accountability committees at Basalt Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary School and at Carbondale Middle School. I also served on the district accountability committee. I was on numerous principal hiring committees and on a committee for hiring a previous superintendent. I was a teacher representative on curriculum and development committees in math, English language development and reading. I am a good listener, I value multiple perspectives, I create positive relationships with others, and I have a strong understanding of this district and its communities. My decision-making process will be based on what is best for all students.

Fotion, District E: As a general contractor, business owner and project manager, budgeting, scheduling and negotiating are critical skills that I use every day and are a definite prerequisite for this position, along with negotiating, listening and problem solving.

Kuhlenberg, District E: I have an extensive educational background and professional experience related to education, education policy, employment, finance and children. I have spent many years studying education and have been involved in various capacities. I have undergraduate degrees in education policy and child psychology, as well as a law degree with specialties in education policy and civil rights. Professional roles include: teacher, administrator, employment attorney, parent advocate, intern at the U.S. Department of Education, attorney representing students and teachers in a suit against a school district, and attorney advising school districts on aspects of employment. I currently own, operate and teach in a preschool that serves 50-plus families at any given time. My entire life and career have been focused on education. I am ready to use all of this in service to our district.

What do you see as the most important issue facing the school district?

McWhorter, District A: Student performance. Voters need to decide whether performance in RFSD is on the right track, and this goes back to leadership. Staffing issues, demographic changes and budgets are problems all school districts face, and often these become scapegoats for falling performance. Going back to question No. 1, we need to get out of this cycle, otherwise we will be hearing the same problems/solutions every four years. Leadership needs to be more accountable and resourceful in serving students. It all starts with leadership.

Teitler, District A: I believe the most important issue facing the school district is to ensure academic success for all students. Our district has a diversity of learning needs, and we need effective programming in place to meet all of those needs. The district needs to continue to expand offering advanced placement courses and concurrent enrollment classes through CMC. The district needs to offer effective programming to close the achievement gap for our second language learners while continuing to promote programs such as the Seal of Biliteracy and native language literacy that value bilingualism. I also would like to see the district continue to explore more vocational education opportunities for its students. On top of all that, teacher recruitment and retention are important for ensuring positive student growth.

Fotion, District E: Funding and staffing.

Kuhlenberg, District E: I could list any number of problems that we all see and feel: budget concerns, staffing, low wages, achievement, mental health concerns, COVID-19 learning loss. But, that wouldn’t be what I have repeatedly heard from parents and teachers as the most pressing concern. It is difficult to identify this problem, but it is representative of our society at large. There seems to be a deep division in our district and a breakdown of communication channels. This has impacted our ability to communicate and work together toward solving the more commonly identified problems. As a school board member, I will work to resolve this issue by rebuilding trust from the top down. I will reassess how the board is gathering input and disseminating information. I am committed to developing clear, consistent and frequent channels of communication so that we can mend the divide and move our district forward together.

In 2018-19, 55% of the student population in Roaring Fork schools identified as Hispanic. Per the 2020 census, the Latino population increased in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Silt, though it declined in Carbondale and Basalt. How do you plan to educate yourself on and serve the Hispanic student body?

McWhorter, District A: As a starting point, I’d listen to parents, teachers and my fellow board members on what has been done to date and what they believe is needed moving forward. As a general perspective, it often appears these are the types of issues that are addressed in echo chambers. I want to listen to what has worked and what has not worked and make decisions accordingly.

Teitler, District A: I have had a lot of hands-on and educational experience that would benefit our district’s Hispanic student body. I have an undergraduate teaching certificate in linguistic and cultural diversity, and my master’s degree is in reading with an emphasis on second language learners. I have taught English as a Second Language classes throughout my career, as well as having taught in bilingual classes in both Basalt and Carbondale. I am fluent in Spanish and have led many Spanish-language parent meetings throughout my career. I know how important language and culture are to each other, and will work hard at making sure that the parents of our Hispanic student population feel comfortable participating in school activities and decision-making processes.

Fotion, District E: We need to find out why they are being treated as second-class citizens on the basis of educational opportunities and if they actually feel as if they are being treated this way. We need to work on communications and solutions that would allow them the same opportunities as the rest of the student body. … Their potential to contribute is far underrated.

Kuhlenberg, District E: Anyone seeking this position needs to either have or develop a thorough understanding of the needs of our Hispanic student population. I have some experience acting as a legal advocate for Hispanic students and teachers challenging changes to curriculum, but I have not had those experiences here in our valley. As a board member, I will seek input directly from students, parents, stakeholders and organizations already established and committed to supporting this portion of our community and student body. I will work tirelessly to remove barriers, close the achievement gap, and facilitate equitable outcomes for all students.

Are you in favor or against the mill levy override? Why?

McWhorter, District A: This is clearly a trap question since the mill levy is “for the teachers,” so to be against it would mean you are “against increasing teacher pay.” I’d support it this time, but here is where I would focus my attention as a board member after it is passed: How much is going to retention vs. how much is going to bringing in new teachers from outside the district? In general and in the future, I believe cost cuts should be exhausted before jumping to a mill levy override.

Teitler, District A: Yes, I very much support the mill levy override! Teachers are the lifeblood of our district, and they deserve to be compensated accordingly. According to the RFSD’s homepage, the Roaring Fork School District has the third highest cost of living among Colorado school districts, but district teachers have only the 37th highest average salary among Colorado school districts. The vast majority of this mill levy override is dedicated to raising teacher salaries. This mill levy override will help the district stay competitive in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.

Fotion, District E: My knee jerk response is no. However, much more information is required. The mill levy should not be changed until all cost savings and budgetary analysis have been thoroughly surveyed.

Kuhlenberg, District E: I fully support the mill levy override and will work diligently to ensure that every dollar is spent effectively and efficiently. Our valley’s public education system is in the midst of a major crisis — our schools are critically underfunded. There simply aren’t enough dollars to support the level of education that we want and need to offer our students. Colorado currently ranks 47th in the nation on per pupil funding; we receive almost $3,000 less per student than the national average. At the same time, the cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley is more than 30% higher than the national average. Our teachers need and deserve wage increases that correlate with the cost of living in this valley. Beyond that, we need support staff that will be there for our children — to make them lunch, to drive them home, to keep our schools clean. We can’t do these things without people, and we can’t attract and retain these people without money to pay their wages. Providing quality education is directly dependent on recruiting and retaining a high quality, professional and committed workforce.

What do you believe is the best way to solve the staffing crisis?

McWhorter, District A: This is a large/complex issue that all organizations are facing, so I don’t think there is a quick fix or a “best” way. I’m not just going to say something catchy like “increase teacher pay.” I can say the starting point would be getting multiple stakeholder perspectives on the root cause when it comes specifically to our school district. Is it as simple as housing costs and pay or is that just what teachers who go to other districts tell us? I’ve spoken with many teachers who have left the RFSD for other reasons other than pay/housing.

Teitler, District A: The first thing that is important in solving the staffing crisis is to raise teacher salaries. Too often teaching positions are offered to great candidates, yet these prospective teachers turn down the position when they realize the cost of living in our valley. Also, we need to continue to work on supplying teacher housing. In addition to district teacher housing, we need to continue to collaborate with outside organizations. A fine example of this is the work that went into creating the Basalt Vista Affordable Housing Community. We also need to look at ways of continuing to work with Colorado Mountain College and other universities also, to return our graduating high school students to the valley as certified teachers.

Fotion, District E: Affordable housing, income adjusted to allow prime teaching candidates to afford to live here in our valley.

Kuhlenberg, District E: Attracting and retaining high quality, professional educators is imperative for our students and our district. We are only as good as our teachers. The district needs to open lines of communication between the board, staff and administrators to determine how we can best support one another. I will work with all stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan outlining how we can better support staff in their roles and improve morale and school culture. Additionally, the district needs to work hard to pass the mill levy override and use those funds to pay our teachers a wage that correlates with the cost of living in our mountain community. As a board member, I will look at this issue creatively and collaborate with community partners to create housing and other local benefits for teachers.

How do you think Roaring Fork School District should approach mask-wearing for students?

McWhorter, District A: First, mandates like masks should not be driven by financial incentives from state or federal government. Second, do we anticipate masks will be a four-year topic/problem that will be relevant the entire four-year term? Masks have become a partisan distraction from the core mission of educating. Leadership, budgets and curriculum should be in focus this election. From a decision-making process, I do think there should be a more transparent, democratic process rather than dictating to families and taking a one-size-fits-all approach as students range in age, health needs and ability to process information.

Teitler, District A: I believe that the Roaring Fork School District should follow CDC and Colorado Department of Health guidelines that determine when masks should and should not be worn in school.

Fotion, District E: Freedom of choice! This topic being very controversial needs intense, non bias research to come to a safe and effective conclusion. I do strongly support the parents’ rights to choose, since the risk assessment threshold is different for every single individual. I am vehemently opposed to mask wearing mandates.

Kuhlenberg, District E: It isn’t ideal that our kids and teachers are masked — it’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to manage, and it’s another reminder that we are battling a pandemic. As a parent and as a school board candidate, my top priority is keeping kids and teachers in classrooms. We know the benefits of that, and we know that we all need it for our mental health, our students’ learning and achievement and for so many other reasons. So if masking and vaccines are what we need to be in classrooms and they are what is recommended by our local, state and national public health agencies, then I defer to them. There are so many other pressing issues facing our district, and I believe those are the issues that deserve the majority of our time and attention.

Incumbents in, challengers anticipated for April Glenwood City Council elections

The three incumbents are declared, and challengers have until Jan. 25 to gather nominating signatures to run for Glenwood Springs City Council April 6.

Formally announcing their intentions over the weekend for reelection to the Ward 2 and Ward 5 seats, respectively, were Ingrid Wussow and Jonathan Godes. Their announcements come on the heels of At-Large Councilwoman Shelley Kaup’s Thursday announcement that she, too, will be seeking a second consecutive four-year term on council.

As of Friday, petitions had been picked up for all three seats, Acting City Clerk Steve Boyd said.

Candidates have until Jan. 25 to gather the required number of signatures and submit their nominations. Signatures can come from registered city voters, either citywide for the At-Large seat, or from within one of the wards for those seats.

Ward 2 takes in the northwestern portion of Glenwood Springs west of Traver Trail and north of the Colorado River. Ward 5 encompasses the south Glenwood area, west of the Roaring Fork River and south of 27th Street.

City Council nominating petitions available

Those wishing to run for a City Council seat in the regular election of the City of Glenwood Springs on April 6 may pick up a nominating petition from the City Clerk at City Hall, 101 W. 8th Street, Suite 325, by appointment by calling 970-384-6406.

There are three City Council seats up for election — Wards 2 and 5 and one At Large seat — all for four-year terms.

According to a city news release, all candidates must be a citizen of the United States, have resided withing Glenwood Springs city limits for one year immediately prior to the date of the election, and be a qualified elector as defined by the laws of the State of Colorado. Candidates wishing to run in Wards 2 and 5 must reside in one of those wards.

Petitions must be returned to the City Clerk no later than 5 p.m. Jan. 25.

There is no party affiliation designation or requirement to be seated on City Council.

For more information, contact the Assistant City Clerk at 970-384-6406.

Godes seeks second term

Jonathan Godes

Godes was first elected to the Ward 5 seat in April 2017, and currently sits in the council-appointed position as mayor.

“There is critical work we must continue in order to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID 19 pandemic and the Grizzly Creek Fire,” Godes said in a prepared statement announcing his intentions to seek reelection.

“The economic, infrastructure and public health toll this has taken on our community needs to be our focus in the next several years.”

Godes also said he will continue to be a leading voice against expansion of the Rocky Mountain Industrials (RMI) limestone strip mine just north of town.

“I hope to continue this fight, and to make sure that we win,” he said.

Godes noted that he helped to secure more than $10 million in federal and state grants for the 27th Street Bridge replacement and the South Midland Avenue reconstruction.

“In the next six months, South Bridge, after nearly 20 years, will be ’shovel-ready,’ and we have the first $24 million designated towards its construction,” Godes said, acknowledging that the city has worked with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Colorado Department of Transportation to reduce costs for that project by $25 million.

“These projects are what motivated me to run for City Council four years ago, and their completion will be my priority in my next term,” he said. “I was also a strong public health voice for making vaping products harder to get for our kids, and for the early adoption of an indoor face mask order.”

In addition, Godes pointed to ongoing city investments in fiber internet and renewable energy sourcing.

“The next several years holds exciting opportunities and a need for further community conversation around (several) questions,” he said.

Those include, how best to diversify the city’s economy, how to “find the right balance between protecting our local businesses and the health of our citizens,” how to revitalize the West Glenwood Mall, and how to maintain “small-town character” while meeting housing needs.

Wussow seeks election to appointed seat

Ingrid Wussow

Wussow is seeking formal election to the Ward 2 seat that she was appointed to fill last fall, replacing former Councilor Rick Voorhees.

She is a fifth-generation local and longtime resident of West Glenwood.

“I’m looking forward to representing constituents of Ward 2 as well as the Glenwood Springs community at broad,” Wussow said in a statement. “I recognize the importance of making solid plans that respect our present economy, pay heed to our past and support our future.”

As a past member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for the last four-plus years, she said that has helped her understand the growth and development issues facing Glenwood Springs.

“My goal is to never lose sight of first serving the people who live here while still creating an environment that welcomes visitors and supports the tourist economy,” Wussow said.

“There are so many different perspectives to any issue, that requires slowing down and hearing all sides,” she said. “I plan to listen and will make easily accessible opportunities for West Glenwood community members to be heard.”

Wussow gave a nod to the challenges businesses have faced this past year during the pandemic restrictions, and said she looks forward to providing continued support.

She also said she supports the continued efforts to fight the RMI mine expansion.

“Taking care of locals is a huge priority to me,” she said. “That means making sure we manage growth with common sense, invest in infrastructure and create recreational opportunities that support our locals.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Final Garfield County election tally seals seventh term for Commissioner John Martin; Soto applauds ‘historic’ voter turnout

In what ended up being a record voter turnout year for Garfield County, unofficial final election results released Friday handed an equally historic seventh Garfield County Commission term to John Martin.

After the remaining ballots that were in play following the Nov. 3 general election were counted, the long-time Republican incumbent came away with 14,718 votes to 14,217 for runner-up Beatriz Soto, the Democratic challenger, and 1,315 for unaffiliated candidate Brian Bark.

The 501-vote difference between Martin and Soto was not quite as close as Martin’s respective 365- and 229-vote wins over Democrats Stephen Bershenyi in 2008 and Greg Jeung in 2004, according to Garfield County Election archives and Post Independent files.

The margins of separation were 1.17% versus Jeung, 1.65% versus Soto and 1.67% versus Bershenyi.

The unofficial final results for Garfield County also confirmed the win for fellow Republican County Commissioner Mike Samson, who had 15,394 votes, or 51.7%, to Democrat Leslie Robinson’s 14,401, or 48.3%.

Garfield County also had a record 85.4% turnout, with 31,245 out of 36,582 possible ballots cast. That was up from just over 84% turnout in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Martin, in an earlier interview, called the close outcome between he and Soto a “great awakening,” and said it’s time to “find common ground” and to work through some of the issues that are so polarizing, both locally and on a state and national scale.

“I never hold anything against anyone, and I do want to learn from folks for the benefit of all our people here in Garfield County,” he said. “Now that the politics are over, it’s time to take care of people.”

Soto congratulated Martin on winning another term, and encouraged future candidates for county commissioner and other local offices to “connect with all their constituents, including Latinos and younger voters.”

“We joined a tough race late in the game and still made history,” she said.

“We had historic voter turnout in Garfield County, from left-leaning and progressive voters as well as Latino voters,” Soto said. “While many of us wanted a different outcome, I want to encourage the people that did not vote for the incumbent to stay positive, engage and allow ourselves to celebrate our wins.”

The final tally for Garfield County voting also confirmed that Congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert of Rifle, though she won the overall Colorado 3rd Congressional District vote, lost in her own backyard to Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush.

Mitsch Bush had 15,531 votes in Garfield County to Boebert’s 13,756, for a 51% to 45% difference. A pair of third-party candidates picked up 3.8% of the county’s votes.

Boebert won the overall 3rd District race with 51.4% of the vote to Mitsch Bush’s 45.2%, Libertarian John Keil’s 2.4% and the Unity Party’s Critter Milton’s 1%.

Garfield County also followed the voting statewide and nationally in choosing Joe Biden over Donald Trump for President of the United States. Biden had 15,427 of the county’s votes (49.8%) to Trump’s 14,717 (47.5%).

The unofficial final results for the county are to be canvassed and certified as official this week.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Biden, Harris win White House, vowing new direction for divided US

WASHINGTON — Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, positioning himself to lead a nation gripped by historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil.

His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed the processing of some ballots. Biden crossed 270 Electoral College votes with a win in Pennsylvania.

Biden, 77, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. The strategy proved effective, resulting in pivotal victories in Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Pennsylvania, onetime Democratic bastions that had flipped to Trump in 2016.

Biden was on track to win the national popular vote by more than 4 million, a margin that could grow as ballots continue to be counted.

Trump seized on delays in processing the vote in some states to falsely allege voter fraud and argue that his rival was trying to seize power — an extraordinary charge by a sitting president trying to sow doubt about a bedrock democratic process.

As the vote count played out, Biden tried to ease tensions and project an image of presidential leadership, hitting notes of unity that were seemingly aimed at cooling the temperature of a heated, divided nation.

“We have to remember the purpose of our politics isn’t total unrelenting, unending warfare,” Biden said Friday night in Delaware. “No, the purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everybody a fair shot.”

Kamala Harris also made history as the first Black woman to become vice president, an achievement that comes as the U.S. faces a reckoning on racial justice. The California senator, who is also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, will become the highest-ranking woman ever to serve in government, four years after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

Trump is the first incumbent president to lose reelection since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992. It was unclear whether Trump would publicly concede.

Americans showed deep interest in the presidential race. A record 103 million voted early this year, opting to avoid waiting in long lines at polling locations during a pandemic. With counting continuing in some states, Biden had already received more than 74 million votes, more than any presidential candidate before him.

More than 236,000 Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 10 million have been infected and millions of jobs have been lost. The final days of the campaign played out against the backdrop of a surge in confirmed cases in nearly every state, including battlegrounds such as Wisconsin that swung to Biden.

The pandemic will soon be Biden’s to tame, and he campaigned pledging a big government response, akin to what Franklin D. Roosevelt oversaw with the New Deal during the Depression of the 1930s. But Senate Republicans fought back several Democratic challengers and looked to retain a fragile majority that could serve as a check on such Biden ambition.

The 2020 campaign was a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has shuttered schools across the nation, disrupted businesses and raised questions about the feasibility of family gatherings heading into the holidays.

The fast spread of the coronavirus transformed political rallies from standard campaign fare to gatherings that were potential public health emergencies. It also contributed to an unprecedented shift to voting early and by mail and prompted Biden to dramatically scale back his travel and events to comply with restrictions. Trump defied calls for caution and ultimately contracted the disease himself. He was saddled throughout the year by negative assessments from the public of his handling of the pandemic.

Biden also drew a sharp contrast to Trump through a summer of unrest over the police killings of Black Americans including Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Their deaths sparked the largest racial protest movement since the civil rights era. Biden responded by acknowledging the racism that pervades American life, while Trump emphasized his support of police and pivoted to a “law and order” message that resonated with his largely white base.

The president’s most ardent backers never wavered and may remain loyal to him and his supporters in Congress after Trump has departed the White House.

The third president to be impeached, though acquitted in the Senate, Trump will leave office having left an indelible imprint in a tenure defined by the shattering of White House norms and a day-to-day whirlwind of turnover, partisan divide and the ever-present threat via his Twitter account.

Biden, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and raised in Delaware, was one of the youngest candidates ever elected to the Senate. Before he took office, his wife and daughter were killed, and his two sons badly injured in a 1972 car crash.

Commuting every night on a train from Washington back to Wilmington, Biden fashioned an everyman political persona to go along with powerful Senate positions, including chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Some aspects of his record drew critical scrutiny from fellow Democrats, including his support for the 1994 crime bill, his vote for the 2003 Iraq War and his management of the Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings.

Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign was done in by plagiarism allegations, and his next bid in 2008 ended quietly. But later that year, he was tapped to be Barack Obama’s running mate and he became an influential vice president, steering the administration’s outreach to both Capitol Hill and Iraq.

While his reputation was burnished by his time in office and his deep friendship with Obama, Biden stood aside for Clinton and opted not to run in 2016 after his adult son Beau died of brain cancer the year before.

Trump’s tenure pushed Biden to make one more run as he declared that “the very soul of the nation is at stake.”

___

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Hanlon concedes Senate District 8 race after margin moves to Rankin’s favor

The close race for Colorado Senate District 8 is decided, and incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Rankin has won formal election to the seat that he was appointed to fill last year.

His challenger, Democrat Karl Hanlon, called Rankin Thursday morning to formally concede and offer congratulations.

“I got into this race to bring a new voice to rural Colorado and fight for working families on issues that matter to them,” Hanlon said in a message posted to his campaign Facebook page. “I’m really proud of the work my team has done to get us this far and all the supporters throughout the district who believed in a vision of change.

This morning I called Senator Rankin to formally concede and congratulate him on his victory.I got into this race to…

Posted by Hanlon for Colorado on Thursday, November 5, 2020

“While I wish the outcome had been different, I remained heartened by the tens of thousands of voters in Senate District 8 who made their voices heard,” Hanlon concluded.

With ballots still being counted Wednesday and early Thursday in the seven counties that make up SD 8, Rankin’s lead grew past the margin that would have triggered an automatic recount.

Vote tallies reported by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, as of just before 9:30 a.m. Thursday, gave Rankin 50.59% of the vote to Hanlon’s 49.41%, with 986 votes separating the two.

As of the Thursday morning report, Rankin had a total of 42,128 votes to Hanlon’s 41,142.

“I’m very humbled after going through this campaign, and know you should never take for granted the opportunity to serve,” Rankin said Thursday of earning the voters’ nod to keep the senate seat.

“My main issues really had to do with the state of the economy because of the COVID impact, which is not good,” said Rankin, who serves as the senior member on the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. “There is a responsibility with that to help lead the discussion.”

Starting next week, the JBC will be having full-day meetings to start working on the budget and related bills. Rankin also applauded voter approval of Amendment B, repealing the Gallagher Amendment, which he said will go a long way to help with state education funding and help special districts maintain their tax bases.

That’s especially important for fire districts and the special Colorado Mountain College District, which stood to be severely impacted in coming years under Gallagher’s restrictions on maintaining residential property tax rates in Colorado.

Rankin said he also plans to introduce a new bill, titled Wildfire Mitigation, Detection and Suppression, which would dovetail with Gov. Jared Polis’s initiatives to better address wildfire protection in the state after a record wildfire season.

Recount averted

In close races, state law requires an automatic recount if the margin is within 0.5%. The margin between Rankin and Hanlon stands at 1.18% after the latest vote totals.

Senate District 8 includes Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Grand, Jackson and Summit counties.

“We knew it was going to be close, especially with 40% unaffiliated voters now in the district,” Rankin said late Wednesday afternoon. “We knew we had to get some of those votes to win.”

Rankin congratulated Hanlon on a “hard-fought campaign,” but decried some of the outside negative advertising directed at him.

“Karl and I had a civil campaign, but there were a lot of negative mailers, and that could have made a difference,” Rankin said of the close election.

Hanlon had taken the early lead Tuesday night based on returns from the mountain resort areas, but the race narrowed as returns came in from the more-conservative western parts of the district.

“This is a district that is really focused on the issues, and is trying to find a way to the candidate who can represent them on the issues that are really important to people,” Hanlon said on election night.

“I had always said when we talked about this race during the campaign that it would come down to a couple hundred votes,” Hanlon added in a follow-up interview on Wednesday.

Returns had Hanlon, from Carbondale, winning in Routt and Summit counties, while Rankin had the edge in Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Grand and Jackson counties.

Rankin, also from Carbondale, formerly served nine years in the state House of Representatives. He sought election to the SD 8 seat he was appointed to in January 2019, replacing disgraced former Sen. Randy Baumgardner who retired after sexual harassment allegations and a subsequent investigation.

Rankin defeated Debra Irvine of Breckenridge in the June Republican primary. He serves as the senior member of the Joint Budget Committee.

His wife, Joyce Rankin, won reelection Tuesday to the state Board of Education from Colorado’s Third District over Democrat Mayling Simpson of Steamboat Springs.

Hanlon is a municipal and special district government and water attorney, who currently serves as the contract city attorney for Glenwood Springs.

He and his wife, Sheryl Barto, run the Smiling Goat Ranch, which provides equine therapy services for autistic children and veterans with PTSD.

Hanlon ran for the 3rd Congressional District seat in 2018, losing in the primary to Diane Mitsch Bush. He won this year’s primary for the state senate seat over Democrat Arn Menconi of Eagle.

jstroud@postindendent.com

Martin apparent winner for seventh term on Garfield County Board of Commissioners; Soto not yet conceding

Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin appears to have won reelection to a seventh term after a hard-fought and heavily funded challenge for the District 2 seat by Democrat Beatriz Soto.

However, Soto said late Wednesday that she is not conceding the race just yet with potentially more than 500 votes outstanding.

A fourth and final day-after-election update from the Garfield County Clerk’s Office gave Martin 14,424 votes, or 48.7%, to Soto’s 13,907 votes, or 47%.

Brian Bark, who ran as an unaffiliated candidate for the seat, claimed 1,279 votes, or 4.3%, according to the Wednesday afternoon tally.

Garfield Clerk Jean Alberico said 535 ballots could still be counted for the election, including ones held out of the count for various reasons such as signature and other discrepancies. Those ballots can still be cured by voters up until Nov. 12, and are to be tabulated on Nov. 13, she said.

“We want to respect those voters, especially because the race is so close,” Soto said. “It’s just fair, out of respect to each voter and to hear all voices and what they want for the future of their community.”

“Five-hundred and seventeen is better than three-hundred and seventy-seven,” Martin said Wednesday afternoon of the difference in the number of votes between he and Soto late election night compared to the new total.

Should the apparent outcome hold up, “I just want to thank the voters for a new four-year term, and to say that I will do my very best,” Martin said. “And a big thanks to Jean and her group. They’ve been under tremendous pressure, and are working through a lot of challenges.”

Martin touted his “one-man committee and word-of-mouth” campaign, as well as modest funding — $9,581 compared to Soto’s $73,417, as of the Oct. 30 financial reports filed with the state.

“The people won because the outside money didn’t win,” Martin said. “It was the people who voted.”

That aside, Martin said he’s willing to sit down with Soto and any of her base of voters to discuss the issues.

“I never hold anything against anyone, and do want to learn from folks and use some of that for the benefit of our people here in Garfield County,” he said. “Now that the politics are over, it’s time to take care of people.”

Martin took the lead in the race late Tuesday after Soto had led most of the night based on early returns.

Soto said she is optimistic about the future of Garfield County with the coalition she was able to build.

“I want to thank the almost 14,000 voters who supported my campaign, which I believe represents a new movement in Garfield County,” she said. “People are coming together to create a change that is going to run deep. I’m optimistic for our future and know that we’ll continue to grow in the right direction.”

Soto said late Tuesday as the race narrowed, “Regardless of the election result, we will continue to fight for local racial and social justice, and to add voices to protect our environment and public lands.

“I’m incredibly thankful to all our staff and volunteers,” she added. “We all worked side by side to help build a local grassroots movement.”

County commissioners are elected county-wide, but must reside within a representative district in the sprawling county that stretches from Carbondale on the east to the Utah state line on the west. The other race this election saw incumbent Republican Mike Samson win reelection over Democrat Leslie Robinson for the District 3 seat.

Martin has served as chairman of the board for many years since fellow Republicans Samson and Tom Jankovsky joined the board in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

Martin said the 82% voter turnout in Garfield County is indication that people are engaged now more than ever.

“It’s a wonderful day for our voting public,” he said late Tuesday, noting several of his past reelection bids have been close, as well.

“People are motivated and involved, and with all of the division in our country everything is extremely polarized,” Martin said. “We will work through this, and find common ground. It is a great awakening.”

Soto, from Glenwood Springs, came to the Roaring Fork Valley with her Mexican immigrant family as a teenager and recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Soto entered the race in July, replacing former Carbondale Trustee Katrina Byars as the Democrats’ candidate for the District 2 seat, after Byars decided to bow out.

Soto based her campaign on a call for broader representation in Garfield County on a wide range of issues, including the economy, social justice and the environment.

She is a co-founder of the Roaring Fork Latino Network, an initiative of Voces Unidas de las Montañas which formed last spring in an effort to give stronger voice to the Roaring Fork Valley’s Latino population.

Soto works as an architect, and graduated from Basalt High School in 1999. She immigrated to the United States with her family from Mexico as a teenager. She is now married with two sons.

Bark, from New Castle, petitioned his way onto the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate in June for the District 2 seat, saying Garfield County residents deserve non-partisan representation on their county board.

jstroud@postindependent.com