Conservative School Board Maintains Control; But District Remains Heavily Divided
After months of heated debates, name calling and even reported fist fights, probably the county’s most controversial election has finally reached a conclusion.
The voters have now officially decided who will fill the three open spots for the Directors of the Board of Education for the Woodland Park RE-2 School District, a verdict that could determine the direction the district is headed for the next several years.
Weeks before the election, three incumbent school board directors (Cassie Kimbrell, Mick Bates and David Illingworth) teamed up to campaign against three candidates challenging the status quo (Keegan Barkley, Seth Bryant and Mike Knott).
The incumbents basically ran on a platform of staying on course with what has happened in the school district over the last two years. The three challengers though, stressed that more transparency and community involvement was needed in decisions made by the school board.
However, even though the two groups of three seemed to campaign together, that is not how the results worked out. In the end, incumbents Mick Bates and Cassie Kimbrell were elected, but Keegan Barkley beat out Illingworth, the board’s former vice-president.
Altogether, the numbers were very close. At first the challengers were ahead, but then when around 400 votes came in on Election Day, Bates and Kimbrell moved to the top.
At the time this article was written, most of the results were finalized except a handful of ballots that needed to be cured. These included ballot envelopes not signed, or ones having erroneous signatures or inadequate ID documentation for first-time voters. The deadline for the rest of the ballots took place last Wednesday. But according to the Teller County Clerk’s Office, the ballots, which may still have to be tabulated, would not be enough to change the election outcome.
And even though Bates and Kimbrell each won by slim margins (less than 100 votes) the margin was not small enough to force a recount. According to the unofficial results posted by the clerk’s office on Nov. 9, Bates beat out his opponent Bryant by 56 votes, and Kimbrell won over Knott by 77 votes.
Barkley beat out incumbent Illingworth by the biggest margin of 200 votes. The board directors will be sworn in 10 days after the election gets certified, which should take place sometime this week.
Election Shatters Spending Records
The election saw big turnout numbers with more than 11,000 ballots cast making up just over 59 percent of the 19,000-plus active voters in Teller County. The turnout was much higher than the approximate 7,000 residents who voted in the school board election in 2021. But it was lower than the nearly 14,000 people who voted in the 2022 general election.
However, the turnout stunned many residents and political insiders, considering it was an off-year election. In the past, these types of elections have garnered turnouts of about 40 percent, according to clerk officials.
Even though the recent election may not have had the best turnout ever, the amount of money raised and spent shattered the highest numbers recorded in the history of elections in the county.
Out of all the candidates for the school board race, more than $139,000 was raised and nearly $97,000 was spent on campaigns for the election. Challenging candidate Seth Bryant raised the most with just over $26,000 and incumbent David Illingworth came in second with around $25,400 raised.
These spending numbers are substantially higher than campaign dollars generated in recent elections. For example, during the last school board election in 2021, just over $20,000 was raised with eight candidates running for the four open seats.
Other local elections have spent and raised much less. For instance, during the 2022 election for Teller County, just over $2,500 was spent by candidates combined.
But as the results show, spending or raising the most money does not guarantee a victory when it comes to elections.
The Political Climate of the School Board
In 2021, four of the school board director candidates who ran on the slate as being “Conservative” were elected, drastically changing the make-up of the board. Director Gary Brovetto and Chris Austin resigned leaving the board to appoint Kimbrell and Bates who are both active members in the local Republican Party.
The recent election decided four seats while Director Suzanne Patterson and President David Rusterholtz retained their positions. If the three challengers would have won, it would have left only two members of the board claiming to be conservative and given the challengers the majority.
But since Barkley was the only challenger that won, she will be the only board director that did not run on a campaign as slated as conservative. Therefore, it could be difficult for Barkley to enact the changes promised during her campaign as she will be in the minority. Of all the challengers, Barkley was probably the most critical regarding changes proposed and implemented by the current administration during a candidates’ forum, hosted by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce.