Voters reject reform candidates
District 51 School Board President Greg Mikolai narrowly defeated opponent John Sluder in Tuesday’s election while board member John Williams and candidate Tom Parrish defeated their opponents, Pat Kanda and Mike Lowenstein, by larger margins.
Williams, Parrish and Mikolai had the endorsements of local parent group Save Our Students and citizen group Strong Schools, Strong Communities but drew the most attention from an endorsement and campaign contributions from District 51 teachers union Mesa Valley Education Association. Kanda, Lowenstein and Sluder were endorsed by Mesa County Republican Women, the Mesa County Republican Party and conservative District 51 School Board members Ann Tisue and Jeff Leany. The trio also received a total of $21,000 in donations from Front Range conservative education reform advocates Ralph Nagel and C. Edward McVaney.
Mikolai said the election results indicate a majority of voters want to keep non-partisan school board elections non-partisan but said recent discussion of reform will not go ignored.
“Whatever we’re doing that we’re doing well we should continue doing. We need to look at things that are not working well and improve them. I am not going to be satisfied until all students are moving forward,” he said at an MVEA and Save Our Students gathering at the DoubleTree.
Mikolai said he believes it is his role as the longest-serving member of the board to try to unify the group after the candidates Tisue and Leany endorsed lost. Williams said better internal board communication also is one of his goals.
“It’s so bizarre how divided it gets in that room,” Williams said. “I would like to see the whole board come together and have more informal meetings.”
Parrish was not available on Election Day due to a pre-planned trip. His campaign manager, Barbara Butler, said he will be ready to begin work on the board after he returns before the likely swearing-in date of Nov. 21.
Sluder said he plans to continue making an impact on education as a teacher at Western Colorado Community College and added he may run again for school board someday. He said he believes his message about preparing students for higher education and the workforce is what made his race with Mikolai so close.
Lowenstein was brief with his comments at a Republican gathering Tuesday evening at Blue Moon Bar & Grille.
“The people have voted and they’ll get what they deserve,” Lowenstein said before walking out of the restaurant early in the evening.
Kanda said he plans to stay involved in schools as a tutor at Central High School and hopes to roll out some additional math programming there. He said he predicted his loss but feels like District 51 kids won because the race generated interest from seven candidates.
“The community needs to figure out what it wants in education,” he said. “Some of the change may be painful but in the long run it’s worth it.”