Gloves Coming Off in Local School Election Brawl

Candidate Forums Kick Off This Week

Trevor Phipps

Teller County residents should have received their mail-in ballots for the 2021 election, meaning that the various races are now in full swing.

Even though there are no county, state, or federal seats up for grabs this time around, the local contests are getting quite heated.

Cripple Creek and Victor have city government openings, but the hot topic in the region now is who will get elected for seats on the Woodland Park RE-2 District School Board.

Even though the school board positions are non-partisan, the contests are quickly turned into a battle between two slates of candidates in what some describe as  a conservative vs. liberal bout. But some community leaders disagree with this portrayal. However, one fact remains certain:  These two opposing candidate camps and their respective supporters won’t be exchanging holiday greeting cards anytime soon, with the gloves coming off in the final stretch of the campaign season.

 The election this year is significant because it is the first school board election being held in more than a decade. Over the last several years whenever a position opened up, only one person ran for the spot, meaning that an election didn’t need to be held. In fact, some school board positions have been appointed by the board itself.

Out of the four positions that are open this time around, there are a total of nine candidates bolting from the starting gates, which marks a definite record.

When the race first began, four of those candidates (David Illingworth II, David Rusterholtz, Gary Brovetto, and Suzanne Patterson) grouped together and started a mutual campaign that urged people to “vote conservative.” They were also quickly backed by leaders of the Teller County Republican Party

Later, another group of four candidates (Amy Wolin, Paula Levy, Dale Suiter, and Misty Leafers), decided to group together for campaigning purposes as well. However, they have not claimed to be associated with a political party and they have stressed that the school board should stay non-partisan.

The local newspapers have been flooded with letters to the editor with district residents  expressing their opinions for one side or another.  Rhetoric has been heated, with verbal bouts resembling fist fights that are unprecedented for school board races.  The showdown has been capped further by concerns over such national and state issues as mask mandates, critical race theory, scholastic accountability and student enhancement.

 This week, the preliminary talk will stop and turn into actual candidate forums.

Residents of the district will have the chance to hear directly from the candidates through four forums that the school district is hosting. The forums will be one hour for the District E, C, and D positions and two hours for the at-large position.

Former Woodland Park City Council Member Carrol Harvey will serve as the moderator, and she will be reading questions submitted to her. The Woodland Park High School’s student council and debate team will also be there helping with the timing and other aspects of the process.

On Monday, Illingworth and Leafers were scheduled to hit the stage at the Columbine Elementary School Gym. On Tuesday Patterson and Suiter will be featured at the Summit Elementary School Gym.

Next Monday (Oct. 25)  Brovetto and Levy will be at the Gateway Elementary School Gym. And, next Tuesday (Oct. 26), Rusterholtz, Wolin and write-in candidate Aron Helstrom were all invited to the Woodland Park High School Auditorium.

 Check with TMJ’s web page at and view us on Facebook for continual election updates.