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Gazette Premium Content Cripple Creek school districts considers switch to at-large board members

By Debbie Kelley Published: August 11, 2013

A parent-initiated movement in Falcon School District 49 to ask voters to switch from five at-large school board seats to two at-large and three representing specific geographic boundaries has fizzled.

Meanwhile, Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1's board is toying with the idea of bringing forth a ballot measure to do the opposite - change its structure from five directors who each represent the area in which they live to five at-large seats.

In June, D-49 parent Kevin Butcher argued that redistricting would provide "better governance" and asked the board to place a question on the Nov. 5 ballot.

But he didn't get enough support.

"It was pretty devastating - I was hoping the school board would get behind it because that's really who should put this on the ballot," he said.

Some board members said they were concerned that altering the configuration of the seats would not improve the number or quality of candidates.

Butcher vowed to initiate a petition drive to collect more than 2,400 signatures from registered voters to propose a citizens' initiative for the ballot. He said last week that he ran out of time.

"We thought we had plenty of time, but our attorneys found out that we didn't," he said. "We'll see what happens this year. We may revisit it."

On the other side of the region, residents of Cripple Creek, Victor and surrounding areas appear to support removing district boundaries and having five at-large seats.

The board is scheduled to take up the issue at its monthly meeting Aug. 26.

Most of the 50 respondents to a recent survey the district conducted to gauge community desires want the governance structure changed, said acting board president James B. "Brent" Kennedy.

But it's pretty clear that the "vast majority" do not favor another survey question, he said - extending term limits beyond the current two consecutive four-year terms. So that issue has been tabled, Kennedy said.

Rural school districts often face the problem of attracting enough candidates, particularly if they must live within certain boundaries of the district.

"We always seem to have an open board seat, and typically we fill it, but it doesn't get filled very quickly - it takes months," Kennedy said. "We may have interested parties, but they live in a different district, so they're restricted."

When a former Victor city councilman, Don Daniel, was sworn in as a board appointee in April 2011, it was the first time in 18 months that all five of the board's seats were filled.

This year, two board members have quit. Former board President Karen Casey-Svetich abruptly resigned before the Feb. 25 meeting, citing reprioritizing her commitments. Nancy Byers, who had taken over as president when Casey-Svetich left, resigned in June, citing family matters.

Two candidates asked to be considered for Casey-Svetich's seat, Kennedy said, and Dennis Jones was appointed. Byers' seat has remained vacant, with no one expressing interest, Kennedy said.

The various appointments mean that all five board seats will be open in November.

"I'm sure it doesn't happen very often at all," said Cripple Creek-Victor RE-1 Superintendent Sue Holmes. "Typically, every two years we have either three seats or two seats up."

Kennedy agrees it's somewhat of an odd situation to potentially have a whole new board come fall. Although he's term-limited and can't run again, Kennedy said some of the three existing board members - all of whom were appointed and not elected - may run on the November ballot.

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COMING MONDAY

Voters in November will fill 54 seats on school boards in the Pikes Peak region. Read about why people run for the unpaid positions - and how you can join them.

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