Board of Education races upcoming in three districts

By Marianne Goodland

The November ballot will include elections for three members of the seven-member state Board of Education. The seats are in Congressional District 2, CD 5 and CD 6.

In CD 2, Democrat Angelika Schroeder will be running for the first time, although she has been on the board since 2009, when she was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Evie Hudak, who had been elected to the Colorado State Senate.

In CD 5, Republican Peggy Littleton is not running for re-election; she instead is running for a seat on the El Paso County Commission. One candidate, Republican Paul Lundeen of Monument, has entered the race and is to date unopposed.

The only contested race is between two Republicans in CD 6. Attorney and former state legislator Barry Arrington of Centennial, and educator Debora Scheffel of Parker.

Arrington is the founder of the Jefferson Academy, a K-12 public charter school in the Jefferson County school system that is located in Broomfield. The school focuses on core knowledge and academic rigor. Arrington said his three children attended Jefferson Academy, although all eventually graduated from Wheat Ridge High School.

Arrington is a native of Texas. He holds a business degree from the University of Texas-Arlington and a law degree from the University of Texas law school. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1987 and has been a CPA and an attorney, with his practice focused on business, non-profit law, contract law, school law, real estate and constitutional law, especially regarding the First Amendment. Arrington served in the Colorado House for one term, from 1997 to 1998, and was secretary/treasurer for the Independence Institute and a former member of its board of trustees. He also is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Family Council and the Colorado Coalition for Children and Families. Arrington represented six of the families whose children were killed at Columbine High School.

Arrington is also known in intelligent design circles; he is a contributing writer and has been the Web master at Uncommon Descent, a blog that serves the intelligent design community. However, Arrington told The Colorado Statesman that intelligent design, which has been the subject of controversy in some school systems around the country, is not on his agenda and is a separate issue.

Arrington told The Statesman he is running for the state board of education because the board is an extraordinarily important body that influences educational decisions for a wide range of issues. “It’s important to have people on the board who believe in parents’ rights, educational choice and education reform,” Arrington said.

Arrington complimented the outgoing board member, Randy DeHoff, who is term-limited, saying DeHoff has done a good job as a conservative Republican. But Arrington said he is also a conservative Republican with a proven track record of conservative activism, cutting taxes, fiscal conservatism, social conservatism and that he is an education reformer and passionately pro-life.

“We should emphasize education in the early years,” Arrington said. “If you get it wrong in the early years it won’t matter what you do later; if you get it right, it doesn’t matter what you do later.”

Arrington’s opponent in the congressional district assembly on May 21 is Debora Scheffel of Parker. Scheffel is the dean of the School of Education at Jones International University, although she is on loan to the Colorado Department of Education as a special assistant on literacy to Education Commissioner Dwight Jones until September.

Scheffel has lived in Colorado off and on for many years. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Denver, specializing in special education, learning disabilities and emotional disturbance. Scheffel was awarded a PhD from Northwestern University in Illinois, with communication science and communicative disorders as her area of study.

Scheffel began her teaching career in Douglas County Public Schools as a special education teacher for children with learning disabilities. She has had a long career in many facets of education, including eight years as a tenured professor in special education at the University of Northern Colorado, eight years at Fort Hays State University as a special education professor, and four years at the Colorado Department of Education, where she has been director of Colorado Reading First and in charge of literacy grants and initiatives. Scheffel has authored or co-authored several articles on assessment, reading improvement, classroom strategy and learning disabilities.

She is a member of the Colorado Literacy Council and serves on the editorial boards of several journals for learning disabilities and reading. She also is the sister of state Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.

Scheffel said she is running for the board of education seat in CD 6 because the board has a lot of say about what happens in the public schools. She has attended many board of education meetings while working for CDE, and said, “it’s important to have people on the board who understand special education and working with challenged kids and their teachers.”

Scheffel said she supports the recent passage at the state capitol of SB 191, the teacher tenure reform bill, stating there is a lot of detail to be worked out now that it has passed. “It’s important that teachers are held accountable for student achievement,” she said. “Teacher quality is one of the major leverage points in increasing student achievement.”

In addition, she said changes are on its way for the Colorado Student Achievement Program (CSAP), the result of the passage of SB 09-212. Scheffel has served on a state standards committee on reading, and noted that the board votes on the standards for education and curricular choices. She said that since the standards from SB 212 are new, the program would need new assessment, which has been part of her focus in the public schools and colleges where she has taught during the past 25 years.

She says the voters of CD 6 are concerned about public education, and want to know what they’re getting for their investment. The role of the state board of education will be to look at the excellence issue and make sure taxpayers are getting the right return. People in CD 6 also care about school choice, she said. “Increasingly, their values are essential. Parents want to know their values are being supported in the schools, and if those values are not supported they want choice, she said.”

Scheffel said she supports charter schools and doesn’t want to de-fund public schools. However, some of the delegates she has spoken to have brought up the program for funding education in Georgia. In 2007, that state’s legislature passed a law creating the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program, which provides up to $13,500 for children with special needs to attend private or parochial schools. Scheffel said if parents believe a child’s needs are not being met in the public schools, and they want to choose a private or parochial school, they should be able to get financial relief in order to do so. That should apply to situations where their values are not being represented, she said.

Charters, however, are a good option, and parents are excited to have more of them. Charter schools allow parents’ voices to be heard on curricular issues and they can have more influence over the model the school embraces, she said.