Strong Schools group tries to keep politics out of race for board

An assemblage of local business professionals and educators have become the latest group to endorse candidates in the District 51 School Board race.

Strong Schools, Strong Communities sponsored the candidate’s first forum 
Sept. 23 with Colorado Mesa University students. After the forum, the nine-member board chose to endorse John Williams in District C, Tom Parrish in District D, and current school board president Greg Mikolai in District E.

The candidates are the opposite of the ones endorsed last month by Mesa County Republican Women: Pat Kanda in District C, Mike Lowenstein in District D, and John Sluder in District E. But the selections made by Strong Schools, Strong Communities were not picked as a partisan response, according to the group.

In fact, the group formed in August for the specific purpose of attempting to keep politics out of the non-partisan school board election.

Strong Schools member Chip Barbieri, Chief Executive Officer of DT Swiss, said members of the group got together after noticing the school board election “was starting to get very political.”

The only time the group, which includes former Fruita and Grand Junction mayors Ken Henry and Teresa Coons, respectively, and former school board candidate Rick Langley, discussed political affiliation was to make sure they had an even split of Republicans, Democrats and independents. It turned out they had three of each.

“The nice thing is, with all those differences we don’t gripe like we see in a lot of things, we don’t let our biases get in the way,” Barbieri said.

Coons said the group wanted to select candidates based on non-partisan qualities, including experience in education, willingness to collaborate with other board members, and knowledge of current issues in public schools.

Member Sarah Shrader, chief financial officer for Bonsai Design, said the group liked that Mikolai had experience on the board, Parrish has experience as a former District 51 teacher and administrator, and Williams was recently appointed to the school board and is involved with the Explore D51 class and the District 51 Foundation.

Group member Gayla Slauson, a Colorado Mesa University professor, said she worries some people will vote for a candidate based on political views. Slauson, a Republican, said she wants voters to look at a candidates’ educational qualifications rather than what party a candidate belongs to.

Langley said the group, which may continue after the election, hopes to serve as an example for the board of how people from various political backgrounds can get along.

“You can function without politics involved,” he said. “We want to re-emphasize leaving that political card at the door.”


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