15 January 2007

Elaine Gantz Berman Takes State Ed Board Post

Elaine Gantz Berman was elected yesterday to the 1st Congressional District position on Colorado's Board of Education, filling a vacancy created when Rico Munn tendered his resignation in connection with his appointment to lead the Department of Regulatory Affairs in the Ritter Administration.

She will join a fiercely partisan board with 4 Republicans (the most polarizing of whom is Bob Schaffer) and 3 Democrats (including herself). Almost every Democrat present at the vacancy committee meeting soundly criticized the current Commissioner of Education, who is appointed by the Board and has served for the past ten years, as a serious impedement to positive change in the Department of Education.

Berman served eight years on the Denver School Board, ending two years ago. Half of those years, she served as President of the Board. She was nominated by Ken Gordon, who stressed her facility at working with a Republican Governor and legislature to accomplish something for Denver schools. She was a commanding orator herself, in a field of seven candidates for the post.

She won on the third round of balloting over Beverly Ausfahl, who served for six years as President of the Colorado Education Association, and took the hardest line against charter schools. All candidates expressed opposition to vouchers, but all but Ausfahl took a moderate line on charter schools (no candidate absolutely ruled them out in all cases).

Polly Baca, a former state senator with a long standing focus on education policy and current executive director of LARASA was removed from the running on the second ballot, despite numerous endorsements from sitting state legislators, as was Shawn Morris, a policy expert with two young children about to start school.

Three men, one with a policy consultant background, and the other two with experience as involved parents, also ran and were eliminated in the first round of voting.

The meeting was run, extraordinarily efficiently, by former Mayoral candidate Penfield Tate, in exactly two hours after check in was completed. About 54 people, easily a quorum, were present when the meeting convened, although the number present increased a little as stragglers came in slightly late. Each candidate had five minutes to speak (divided between any nominators and the candidate personally), and another two minutes to respond to a question about charter schools, vouchers and the candidate's priorities. Voting was by paper ballots pre-printed with the candidate's names and prepared on the spot. A large share of the elected officials and party notables in the 1st Congressional District were present.

Vote tallies at each round were not released publicly at the meeting. My understanding is that the top two candidates in the first round of voting were identical to those who made it to the final round of voting, and that the final round of voting was very close.

Honestly, there weren't huge differences on policy between the candidates. Experience was clearly important in the eyes of the vacancy committee members (myself among them), and Berman, Ausfahl and Baca all had a clear lead in this regard.

Berman joins the Board with basically two, non-exclusive, options: win the support of swing votes within the Republican majority, and use the threat of action from a united Democratic Governor and legislature to persaude the Republicans on the Board to be reasonable. It will be a challenging job.

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