Littleton school board candidates tackle issues

Budgets, school safety, anonymous coalition debated

Posted 10/5/19

Achievement gaps, budget woes and a disturbingly high suicide rate. The four candidates vying for two seats on the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education — Crysti Copp, Lindley McCrary, …

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Littleton school board candidates tackle issues

Budgets, school safety, anonymous coalition debated

Posted

Achievement gaps, budget woes and a disturbingly high suicide rate.

The four candidates vying for two seats on the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education — Crysti Copp, Lindley McCrary, Jessica Roe and incumbent Robert Reichardt — discussed these and other challenges the district will face in coming years at a candidate forum on Sept. 30.

Reichardt, who is running for a second four-year term, told the audience at Littleton High School that the board's foremost challenge is to “not screw things up.”

Reichardt also said he hopes to continue bridging achievement gaps for children with disabilities, who he said still lag other students in test scores and other benchmarks.

McCrary, who serves on several LPS boards, said as the parent of a child on a 504 plan — a set of accommodations for students with disabilities — she is familiar with advocating for students with different needs. McCrary also said Colorado's education funding model is among the most pressing issues facing the district.

“I'd like to partner with our neighbor districts to advocate for changes to how funding is calculated” at the state level, McCrary said.

Copp, who also serves on several LPS boards, said the district could stand to improve communication with the community on what she called the state's inadequate support of public education — a sentiment echoed by the other candidates.

Jessica Roe — who made headlines last spring as the public face of an anonymous coalition said to include parents, teachers and students alleging a toxic atmosphere at Arapahoe High School — said the district should ensure programming is effective for kids who aren't the right fit for a traditional college education.

School safety and approaches to addressing mental health were also high on candidates' lists of priorities.

“The increase in the youth suicide rate over the last decade is staggering,” Reichardt said. “We've made investment in mental health care, but there's more work to be done.”

Copp said she's been impressed by the district's approach to school safety.

“The safest our kids are all day is when they're at an LPS school,” Copp said.

With the district facing possible budget cuts in coming years as enrollment remains flat and the district runs low on surplus cash, the candidates said the board will face tough decisions on where cuts should be made.

“We must not dip into teacher pay,” Roe said. “That's just not on the table.”

McCrary, who sits on the district's finance committee, said local budget cuts only increase the urgency to reform state-level funding. McCrary called cutting teacher salaries or positions “the last option.”

Copp said budget cuts are a tough matter, and said she “couldn't promise teachers or programs won't be cut until we dive in.”

“We've got to be as creative as we can to see where we can find cost savings,” Copp said.

The reality is that personnel costs are among the district's largest expenditures, Reichardt said, so it's too soon to say that cutting staff positions wouldn't be on the table.

The candidates agreed that the board will have to look for creative ways to fund the district's planned career and technical education center, a sort of vocational school planned for an old car dealership beside Littleton High School, with all four endorsing a plan to seek partnerships and scholarships through local businesses and industries.

The candidates found common ground on other issues. All four said they do not support arming teachers as a response to mass shootings. The four also said they agree that the rollout of the district's new school start times — which saw middle and high school students start later, but elementary students start earlier — has been bumpier than some predicted, with athletic and bus schedules proving difficult, thought they offered cautious optimism that the change was a net positive.

A discussion of the board's communication with parents drew the forum's most heated interchange, largely surrounding Roe and the anonymous group she once represented.

“I worked with a couple hundred parents who felt unacknowledged” by the board in their concerns about Arapahoe High School's culture, Roe said. The size of the membership of Roe's group, the Arapahoe High School Community Coalition, could not be verified.

Reichardt responded: “The board is very open. We'll meet with anyone. The first time we heard from (Roe) was a letter from her lawyer.”

Reichardt also criticized Roe and the group for calling for the firing of Arapahoe Principal Natalie Pramenko, saying the board cannot and should not fire individual employees.

Roe shot back, calling Reichardt's remarks “not appropriate.”

“You don't know what I did or who I spoke to before we sent that letter,” Roe said, saying that the idea to call for Pramenko's firing came from the group's attorney, Jessica Peck.

Peck repeated the call through numerous news outlets over several days last spring. Roe said Peck “overstepped.”

Roe's coalition and accusations came up in other ways. In response to a question about what makes an effective principal, Roe said she is “scared of principals who are everyone's friend,” echoing accusations she leveled against Pramenko last spring that she was too chummy with student athletes and high achievers.

McCrary seemed to allude to Roe's group as well during a question about how to handle complaints about employees.

“There's a process in place to address issues with staff,” McCrary said. “That process must be respected. If you don't follow proper channels, you can cause a lot of pain.”

The candidates will hold one more forum, at the district's administration building at 5776 South Crocker Street, at 8 p.m. on Oct. 16. Election day is Nov. 5.

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