On September 9, Anthony Graziano, Krista Holtzmann, Kevin Leung and Chris Schor began campaigning as a part of the commUNITY Matters slate for election to the Douglas County School District Board of Education.
The group ran on a platform against the school voucher program, which has been a source of bitter controversy in the school district since the election of 2009. The candidates also ran for election in hopes that they would be able to reverse the rate of teacher turnover in the district, which they believe is due to the fact that the voices of teachers and parents in the community had been ignored.
After two months of campaigning and years of planning, the work of the four candidates culminated in a victory in the school board election November 7.
Their election essentially ends the movement to implement the nationally-driven voucher program in schools previously advocated by Republican-backed candidates and shifts the focus locally to the students of Douglas County.
“We want to focus on students because we’re the school board and the public education system is about the students,” Schor said.
The new board members see resolving the issue of teacher turnover as paramount to equipping schools with the tools necessary to ensure student success. In order to accomplish this, they plan to work to a mill-levy override, which would provide DCSD funds to use that are not restricted to the district’s capital need, which includes costs for repairs needed to buildings and other district facilities.
“[The mill-levy override] is something that we absolutely need to pursue from day one,” Graziano said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of great support from the community, including the current (interim) superintendent who believes we need to pursue this because our current fiscal situation is unsustainable. For us, once we get into office it’s something that we really need to have conversations with our community about getting that on the ballot in 2018.”
According to Holtzmann, this financial policy would help the board in ensuring that money meant for the classroom reaches the classroom. The board would need to vote after acquiring adequate community support to place the request on the ballot.
The newly-elected officials, who will take office on a date determined following official validation of the election, credit a mass outpouring of support from the voters of the county for their victory. Parents and teachers took to social media, made phone calls and canvassed neighborhoods to share their opinion supporting the candidates. “We want to be a mouthpiece for everyone out there in the community,” Graziano said.
Jason Virdin, creator of the Facebook page Douglas County Parents, has been fighting against education reform and for representation like Graziano, Holtzmann, Schor and Leung via his social media platform since 2015. He was present at the watch party election night for the candidates and shared in their excitement at the victory.
“[We need] board directors that actually listen to the community,” Virdin said. “That’s one of the biggest problems we’ve seen in the past few years. We have had parents who have tried to alert the board to some of the problems in the district. We’ve had teachers who have tried to do the same thing and have either been ridiculed or just outright ignored. It’s not the way to run a school district. Parents and students are stakeholders in your district. You’ve got to listen to the parents and the teachers and make sure their needs are being met.”
When it all comes down to it, the commUNITY slate characterizes their policy as simply doing what they believe is best for the students. Although a high level of tension existed between members of both slates and supporters of each group of candidates, Graziano, Holtzmann, Schor and Leung indicated they hope a positive community can be formed.
Utilizing open and transparent communication, the board members said they hope to hear from community members on both sides of issues to compromise and guide the district to solutions that benefit all kids receiving an education in Douglas County.
“The most exciting thing is that we can finally start doing what we have been wanting to do,” Holtzmann said. “We can serve our community, we can volunteer our time and do our best for the students.”