When first results came in at 7:08 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 5, Jefferson County Board of Education candidate Stephanie Schooley was shown to be leading over Rob Applegate, while Susan Miller led over Schooley's running mate, Joan Chávez-Lee — reflecting a split that candidates and voters are now left to analyze.
By Nov. 8, results showed Schooley won by about 7 percentage points, earning 53.4% of the vote. Applegate earned 46.6%.
In District 4, Miller also won by about 7 percentage points at 53.5%; Chávez-Lee received 46.5%.
A total of 164,597 ballots were counted for the District 3 race, and 163,749 in the District 4 race.
The seats represent two of five on the board, with board member Ali Lasell vacating the District 3 seat and board member Amanda Stevens vacating the District 4 seat.
District 3 encompasses the northwest corner of Jefferson County, comprised of Coal Creek, Applewood, Denver West and parts of Arvada, among other areas.
District 4 lies southeast of District 3 and primarily includes portions of Lakewood.
Board of Education members serve four-year terms and are elected at-large, even as they represent a specific district.
Schooley works as executive director of higher education nonprofit Campus Compact of the Mountain West. Applegate serves on the Colorado Military Academy Board of Directors as secretary and treasurer.
Chávez-Lee is a former Jeffco teacher and administrator. Miller has served on several school district committees and multiple PTSAs.
All four candidates have expressed that, if elected, they would advocate for increased teacher compensation and a deeper, district-wide look into how Jeffco Public Schools could improve standardized test scores.
But the slate candidates were perceived as most aligned with established district values by district unions and several current board members, including Lasell, Stevens and board president Ron Mitchell, who each contributed financially to one or both campaigns.
Schooley acknowledged this perception, saying she supports the district's general direction, particularly its master plan, Jeffco Generations. However, she added that it's too soon to tell how she'll vote on specific issues, as she'll be approaching each matter on a case-by-case basis.
Meanwhile, Miller and Applegate have campaigned as the “independent voices” of their respective races, Miller said.
They especially highlighted that they “come from very analytical and mathematical backgrounds,” Applegate said, and promised to push for improved data analysis.
As for why slate candidate Schooley won in District 3, and slate opponent Miller in District 4, “I have been thinking about it, and I hesitate to assign any sort of cause,” Schooley said.
Perhaps voters perceived all four of the candidates' messages as different from one another, instead of as groups of two saying the same thing, she said.
Others still may have wanted the variety, choosing only to vote in one slate member, Miller said.
She also said that she felt the differences between her and Chávez-Lee, particularly related to their approval of district priorities, may have been greater than the differences between Schooley and Applegate.
But even if she will represent the only “independent” voice on the board, her win showcases that the public is looking for some sort of change — and her message successfully communicated that she could deliver, she said.
“Our achievement needs to be focused on the reading, writing and math,” she said. “That's what our economy is calling out for and that's what people resonated with.”
Regardless of the outcome, Applegate said the new board members are sure to put in as much effort as it takes to best serve Jeffco students.
“There's different ways to go about it, but we all want what's best for the kids,” he said. “I wish Susan and Stephanie, and the three other board members, the best of luck.”
In a press release, unions Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) and Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) likewise expressed hope for future of the new board, despite the unexpected split.
“We are thrilled to have Stephanie Schooley joining our School Board, and sad to see the loss of her slate partner Joan Chávez-Lee,” the release said. “We sincerely hope to work in collaboration with Susan Miller and trust that she will respect our collectively bargained agreements.”
With Schooley and Miller to swear in Dec. 2, the two said they already have plans for their first steps as elected officials.
“First and foremost, I want to begin to get the know the educators and administrators,” Schooley said, “and really meet with folks who represent interests of various kids and start to establish that communication.”
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