OPINION: Keeping Denver billionaires out of our local school board

Robyn Parker

Individual opinions about gun rights aside, it’s scary to imagine what the Second Amendment or the special interests of a billionaire with no connections to our community have to do with Mesa County’s school board election.

Someone or another in our community is always kicking and screaming about Western Slope interests being ignored while the Front Range takes everything it can from us. Our local secessionist movement has impressive backing with our Mesa County Commissioners even demonstrating interest in the idea.

How, then, can it possibly make sense to allow our local school board to be bought by Front Range special interests? According to news reports, Denver billionaire Edward McVaney recently contributed $5,000 to each of his three chosen D51 candidates: Pat Kanda, Michael Lowenstein and John Sluder. As first reported in the Daily Sentinel Oct. 24, the checks were personally delivered by Mark Baisley, vice chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, with a recommendation from McVaney that the recipients purchase campaign materials from the business Baisley owns.

Our kids and teachers were spared last spring when our school board voted against arming teachers, despite demands by local gun advocates. However, the two board members, whose positions are not currently up for election, are strong gun proponents, who would likely relish the opportunity to work with board members backed by a political big shot who favors guns above all else.

To wit, Baisley wrote recently on a forum at “I don’t care what your political bent is. I only care about our 2A (Second Amendment) rights and that we band together to protect our 2A rights…”

Regarding the interests a Denver billionaire may have in Grand Junction schools, we can really only speculate. McVaney is not acquainted with the men whose campaigns he’s funding nor has he ever claimed any interest in our community. What we do know about him comes from his history of financing other school board elections.

McVaney’s game in Douglas County has been to fund the election of candidates opposed to public schools. School board members elected on his dime have strangled public schools and siphoned millions of public tax dollars into vouchers which were then used to build Valor High School, a $90-million private school with an annual tuition of $15,000.

There is no doubt that Valor students are receiving a top-notch education. Academics, sports and student accomplishments are impressive. What advocates of “school reform” and the business model of school management fail to mention is that vouchers cannot begin to pay for such an education. In Douglas County, which has much better funded schools than our own, student vouchers for school of choice are only $4,500 per year. That leaves an annual bill of over $10,000 for parents to foot on their own and a heck of a lot of kids whose families can’t afford a private education.

Baisley argues that school boards should be run like the board of directors of the multi-billion dollar, mega-corporation Caterpillar, according to an article he penned at That might make sense if children were pieces of steel on an assembly line where they all start out identical to one another and the goal is for them to turn out just the same as everyone else.

The problem with thinking as Baisley, McVaney, Kanda, Lowenstein and Sluder do is that treating schools like profit-driven businesses does nothing more than separate the have’s from the have not’s. As we see in Douglas County, if profit is the motivation, then resources will be directed toward the students with the greatest potential for creating profits while the vast majority are left behind.

School boards were never intended to be about politics. They’re supposed to be about people who care about kids and schools and who want to develop the best community and citizenry we can. School board members are supposed to be people we can trust to make the best decisions for our students.

There are three candidates on the ballot who are backed by respected community members who have built their businesses here and raised their families here. The people most invested in our community are supporting John Williams, Tom Parrish and Greg Mikolai rather than Front Range special interests.

A fourth generation Coloradan, Robyn is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at

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