Boulder Valley school board candidates at a Wednesday forum fielded questions on closing the achievement gap, setting budget priorities and the best strategies to ensure school safety.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Boulder County, Boulder Valley’s District Parent Council and Impact on Education.

While there are four open school board seats, only one is contested. The contested seat, for District A, is currently held by Shelly Benford, who is term limited and cannot run again.

Courtesy photo

Jai Rajagopal

Vying for her seat are Jai Rajagopal and Lisa Sweeney-Miran.

Rajagopal, a 2018 University of Colorado at Boulder graduate, most recently was a policy intern at Colorado Common Cause. Sweeney-Miran is the executive director of Mother House and has taught at September School, a private high school.

Sweeney-Miran, who has two children in elementary school and one in preschool, said her ideas for addressing the district’s wide achievement gap include hiring more teachers of color, ensuring representation of people of color in the curriculum and adding more dual-immersion bilingual programs.

“Our budget priorities should always focus on the students with the highest needs,” she said.

Rajagopal, who credited his education for his success, said investing in students “as early as possible” is the key to reducing a gap that starts before they enter school. When deciding budget priorities, he said, more money should go to schools with the highest needs.

When asked about class sizes, Rajagopal said reducing class sizes should be a priority because smaller classes mean more individualized attention for students.

Sweeney-Miran said it’s more important to provide extra support for specific students, such as those with special needs, in classrooms than to reduce class sizes across the board.

Both supported comprehensive sex education and teaching students about gender identity. Both also said they don’t see a need in the district for additional charter schools.

Neither candidate supported arming teachers or other staff members, while Sweeney-Miran said she would even prefer that school resource officers didn’t carry guns while in schools.

Instead, she said, increasing social emotional support for students is the best way to make schools safer.

“There’s not a day I don’t think about whether my kids are going to be safe,” she said. “But guns are not the answer.”

Along with not supporting arming teachers, Rajagopal said he doesn’t want to see schools add metal detectors or more security cameras.

“We should find a balance between safety and freedom so our students don’t feel like they’re learning in a prison,” he said.

He said school board members also should make it a priority to advocate for state measures that would increase funding for education, including Proposition CC.

Proposition CC, on this year’s ballot, would allow the state Legislature to keep more money generated by taxpayers, instead of refunding them when  required by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, constitutional amendment.

The ballot language doesn’t specify how the money will be divided, but the state Legislature promised to divide it equally among K-12, higher education and transportation.

Coutesy photo

Lisa-Sweeney-Miran

If CC passes, Sweeney-Miran said, the district should use any additional revenue to increase services for families in need, including hiring more social workers at targeted schools.

Rajagopal said his priorities for additional funding would include expanding bilingual and dual-immersion programs and adding air conditioning to schools that don’t have it.

The other three open school board seats, in Districts C, D and G, each only have on candidate.

Incumbents Richard Garcia and Kathy Gebhardt are running uncontested for two of the seats. Stacey Zis, a senior consultant with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, is running uncontested for the third.

All three participated in Wednesday’s forum.

Boulder Valley school board members represent different geographic areas, but are elected by voters in the entire district.  Board members, who serve four-year terms, are unpaid.



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