School board candidates square off about funding | VailDaily.com

School board candidates square off about funding

Disrict E candidate for the Eagle County School board, Carrie Larson, answers a question posed by the moderator during an open forum held at the Colorado Community College in Edwards on Tuesday.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

EDWARDS — It’s money that matters, and how to get more of it and where to spend it were hot topics at Tuesday’s school board candidate forum.

No money will be spent on board member salaries, though. They don’t get paid, not one thin dime. They do this for free.

Still, nine people are running for the four available seats. All four seats are being contested for the first time in the better part of a decade.

Not only was the head table crowded, so was the gallery. Colorado Mountain College’s lecture hall was packed, and the event was televised live on local public access television, Channel 5. It will be rebroadcast and is available online.

Money matters

Although the state’s economy continues to grow, state projections say school funding will shrink, or “experience negative growth.”

Candidate proposals ranged from taxing hotels and lift tickets, to raising property taxes, to looking for more efficient ways to do business. Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment also took some direct hits.

Incumbent Tessa Kirchner was first elected in 2011 and saw the district through $9 million in budget cuts in two years. She said that for Colorado education funding, TABOR is the Death Star.

“It looks great hanging in the sky, but it’s tough to navigate through. In Colorado and in this district, it’s about the money,” Kirchner said.

Ryan Geller, Kirchner’s opponent for District A, said it might be time to “tax people who tax us the most.”

He suggested a possible lodging fee — 0.6 percent, which could raise $3 million for education, and a possible lift ticket tax that could generate another $5 million.

“They tax our community and it’s time to tax them,” Geller said.

Felicia Battle is an incumbent, appointed to fill a board vacancy, and said she worked for local and state funding initiatives, finding ways to increase funding. She co-founded the Education Fund for Eagle County, to help provide funding directly to schools.

“I learned how dismal our state funding is because of TABOR. It’s the devil,” she said.

Bob Ticer, Avon police chief running against Battle for District D in Eagle, said that while Colorado voters might have been approved TABOR to increase transparency, it also ties the school board’s hands in recruiting and retaining teachers.

“Teachers starting pay should be higher than the current $39,000, a wage difficult to live on in our community. That negatively affects students’ classroom performance,” Ticer said.

Ticer added that local schools should be recruiting the best teachers from all over the West, but the starting pay makes that difficult.

Battle agreed that the starting pay should be boosted, but said it goes beyond salaries to things like professional growth opportunities, lodging, and lifestyle opportunities.

Ticer said the school board’s top priority is to “strategically manage the budget, $95 million of hard-earned taxpayer money.”

Three in District E

Kevin Kottenstette, Robinette Hoppin and incumbent Carrie Larson are running for the District E seat, representing Gypsum and Dotsero.

Kottenstette is a retired teacher whose two sons attended schools in Gypsum.

Hoppin graduated from the University of Colorado business school and works with the school district’s accountability committee, gifted and talented programs, and her sons attend Gypsum Creek Middle School.

Larson was appointed to the school board two years ago. Her two children attend the Eagle County Charter Academy in Edwards, because, she said, its programs are best suited for her children’s reading difficulties.

Education is more than a tax-supported industry, Kottenstette said, it’s a path out of poverty.

“I come from poverty, and I’m one of nine brothers and sisters. We rose out of poverty through education,” Kottenstette said. “I bring my teaching experience, being around the children, knowing their need, and knowing that education is the greatest weapon against poverty.”

Robinette said her work on the district accountability committee helped her work across all schools, and beyond the schools in her district.

Larson said she brings passion and perseverance to the job, along with her experience on the school board.

“It takes a lot to jump into this,” she said.

Keep vs. Cotton

Carolyn Knox-Keep and Mary Cotton, running for District C around Edwards, both said schools of choice can benefit the school district but came at the question from different perspectives.

“I want all future generations to have the same quality of experience my family has had in Eagle County Schools,” Knox-Keep said. “I believe we’re on the right path. … I look forward to paying it forward and keeping it going.”

Knox-Keep, whose grandfather George Knox founded the Vail Trail newspaper in 1965, is a product of local schools. She said she chose to send her two kids to bilingual schools — Edwards Elementary and Berry Creek Middle School — because of their Spanish language immersion programs.

Cotton chairs the Eagle County Charter Academy board of directors, where her children attended school. They graduated from Battle Mountain High School.

Cotton said studies show that schools of choice increase parental involvement, and that parental involvement is paramount in education.

About school funding, Cotton said, “I tend to be an optimist, but I’m also a realist. The governor has already predicted that next year’s budget will shrink.”

Cotton is an officer with the Philanthropic Education Organization, which supports women’s education and provides grants to teachers.

Knox-Keep said that the governor has made it clear that another round of funding cuts is at hand.

“The governor has said that money is going away and it is not coming back,” she said.

Knox-Keep said the school district is stretching taxpayer dollars as far as it can, but voters might have to be asked for a property tax increase.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.