Heated Woodland Park RE-2 School Board Races Reach Grand Finale

Conservative Slate of District Candidates Win Big; Policy Changes Expected

Trevor Phipps

The highly contested and controversial Woodland Park Re-2 School District Board elections have finally reached a conclusion.

And similar to a trend that occurred throughout the Pikes Peak region and even the nation, conservative candidates, and those endorsing parental choice rights, won big.

As soon as the race started four of the candidates grouped together and campaigned as the district’s “conservative choice” for the open board positions.

This competition for four open seats grabbed the spotlight throughout election 2021 in Teller County, with four district-sponsored forums. No competitive elections have occurred in the district for years.

At the end of the highly anticipated 2021 Election Night, all four of the conservative candidates proved to be the winners. Three of the conservative winners beat out their opponents by more than 10 points, two of which were incumbent school board members.

 In fact, the only race that came close was the position for the gateway Elementary boundaries that included former city council member Gary Brovetto and local business owner Paula Levy. When the preliminary results first came out, Levy was ahead by less than 100 votes. But then, once the majority of the ballots were counted toward the end of the night, Brovetto came out on top by over 200 tallies.

Once the results came in, leaders of the Teller County Republican party rejoiced the conservatives’ victory. The party heavily supported the slate of conservative board candidates during their campaign.

During the forums before the election, the conservative group of candidates  — David Rusterholtz, David Illingworth II, Gary Brovetto and Suzanne Patterson, all voiced similar sentiments. One main topic that came up was changing the structure of the school board so that the elected members had more control over the school district’s staff and curriculum. They also said they thought the board should be more proactive and not rely solely on the leadership of the superintendent.

The newly elected board members all voiced their concerns about the decreasing enrollment within the district. Many of them also brought up complaints surrounding the Summit Learning Platform that is used in some of the schools in the district.

They all said during their campaigns that they wanted more control so that the parents in the community had more say in what was being taught to their children. The candidates mentioned that they want to make sure subjects like Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project do not get taught in any of the schools.

Since the Woodland Park School Board has only four volunteer members, the new members will now have the majority. The four members will serve four-year terms. The current board secretary Chris Austin will serve in his District A at large position until November 2023.

Meet the New School Board Members

In the District B at large race, David Rusterholtz beat out former board member Amy Wolin by a 20 percent margin. Rusterholtz is a Florissant resident and he previously ran for Teller County commissioner.

During his campaign, Rusterholtz said he had ideas of how the district could increase its enrollment including by offering more school choices. He wants to review the Summit Learning Platform and restore trust in the district’s parents.

Rusterholtz said that he has talked to several teachers and the superintendent. He said that they are all on the same page and excited to work with the new board.

“A lot of people are concerned about what we are going to do and they think that we are going to be firing teachers, I have heard that,” Rusterholtz said. “We have absolutely no plans to do something like that. I would like to assuage people’s fears that we are just going to come in there, tear the place up, fire everyone and start over again. That is not our intention at all.”

According to Rusterholtz, the new board plans to change some board policies and to put public comment at the end of the meetings as well as the beginning. He said they hope to get input from teachers and the community to find ways to grow enrollment within the district.

The new at large school board member also said that the board plans to change the structure from being a policy governance board to one with more control within the first 60 days of being in office. He said that the new board wants more control to help the superintendent lead the school district.

“In order to do that, we have to have a complete reading of the policies of the board,” Rusterholtz explained. “The board has quite a bit of latitude according to the Colorado Revised Statutes Title 22, very wide latitude. We want to reserve for ourselves that capacity of government. But, it doesn’t mean that we are going to use all of the powers that are available to us. Our superintendent has a lot of experience so we are going to rely heavily on him, but we are going to work with him in any capacity necessary.”

David Illingworth II overcame incumbent member Misty Leafers in the District C Columbine Elementary Boundaries seat by over 800 votes. Illingworth is a prosecutor for the district attorney’s office and his wife Katie Illingworth is on the steering committee for Woodland Park’s new Merit Academy.

During the forum at Columbine Elementary, Illingworth promised the crowd that if he and his conservative counterparts were elected the board would change from being only a policy governance board to one with more control over the district. He also stressed the importance of listening to parents’ complaints about the Summit Learning Platform and to take action to address them.

After the last bit of the ballots came in for the District D Gateway Elementary Boundaries competition, Gary Brovetto received nearly 52 percent of the votes versus Paula Levy who racked in 48 percent. Brovetto served in the Air Force and he previously held a seat on the Woodland Park City Council.

Brovetto has said that he wants to promote traditional education with a focus on history and civics/government. He also said that he wants board approval authority for educational curriculum and the hiring of school principals.

In the race for the District E Summit Elementary Boundaries spot, Suzanne Patterson overcame Dale Suiter by the largest margin, 62 percent to 38 percent. Patterson brings previous financial management experience to the table as she previously worked for the Department of Defense in Finance and Accounting.

One main topic Patterson addressed during her campaign was the importance of transparency when it comes to the district’s budget. She also mentioned how she wants to keep decision making in the district at the local level.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the district office