AURORA — Four union-backed candidates running as a slate swept to victory Tuesday in the Aurora school board election, bring uncertainty to a long-struggling district that has shown recent signs of improvement.
The winning coalition of four teachers union-endorsed candidates — Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Debra Gerkin, Kevin Cox and Marques Ivey — ran as “Aurora’s A-Team.”
Cox and Gerkin finished with the highest percentage of votes, followed by Armstrong-Romero and Ivey.
Significant changes could be coming to the district as a result. The current board, though not always unified, has largely backed Superintendent Rico Munn’s strategies, which include recruiting high-performing charter schools to Aurora.
None of the winning candidates on Tuesday night hinted at big imminent changes, but their previously stated positions indicated that Munn’s vision may not align with theirs.
Ivey said Tuesday that he plans to start his term on the board with an open mind, working with the current school board members and giving Munn an opportunity to work with the new board.
“We want to make sure our traditional public schools are up to par first, but we’re not trying to close our charter schools either, or come in with an agenda” Ivey said. “That’s my attitude about it.”
Cox, who has been the most vocal in opposition to charters said it’s too early to say what the win will mean for charter schools, but said the slate’s win will mean they will “fully be able to support public schools.”
In response to Chalkbeat’s candidate questionnaire, Cox had said, “We should focus on building our public schools up to the desired level before trying to replace them with charters. With that being said, this is not a black and white issue.”
Gerkin, who in addition to support from the teacher’s union reported a $100 contribution from Democrats for Education Reform, said charter schools “do not offer a clear advantage for students” and said she was concerned about how they pull money away from “traditional classrooms.”
Two candidates who had the next highest number of votes — Miguel In Suk Lovato and Gail Pough — support charters and the school district’s current direction, and have been backed by pro-education reform organizations.
Munn, four years into his role in the district, has led work to create a friendlier process to accept and review charter applications. Munn also took the step last year of inviting DSST, a high performing charter network, to open a school in Aurora, offering to cover half the cost of a new building for the school.
Last year, the district also decided to close a low-performing school for the first time, turning over management to a charter school that is now in the process of phasing in.
The union has been vocal in opposing many of those moves.
The district showed enough improvement to earn a higher state rating this year, which pulled APS off the state’s watchlist for persistent low performance.
Outside groups have spent more than a quarter of a million dollars trying to influence voters this year, including groups affiliated with the state’s teachers union and Democrats for Education Reform. Individual candidates also recorded donations from Daniel Ritchie, a former chairman of the Denver Center for Performing Arts, and Patrick Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes. Both men are regular donors to Denver school board candidates, but were contributing to Aurora candidates for the first time.
Bruce Wilcox, president of the Aurora teacher’s union, said at a watch party Tuesday night that the campaign had help from teachers around the metro area and from as far away as Colorado Springs.