By Mike McKibbin
Jefferson County School District R1’s board of education will remain the same, after voters returned all three incumbents in the Nov. 7 general election.
In District 1, Brad Rupert was retained by a 73,684-48,209 tally over Matt Van Gieson; District 2 incumbent Susan Harmon defeated Erica Shields by a 72,632-49,190 count; while incumbent Ron Mitchell was unchallenged for his District 3 seat. He had 96,438 votes.
The board has five members, elected to alternating four-year terms.
Rupert said he was relieved and excited “that the voters approved what we’ve done for the last few years.”
“We can’t ever assume that everything we do is the right thing to do,” he said.
Two years since Rupert and several others were elected in a controversial recall election, the district has stabilized, he added.
“I think we’ve reminded ourselves of the importance of caring for our schools and we’re back on a constructive course,” Rupert said. “I’m not trying to beat my chest and say I’ve done everything right, but we have a chance to get this district to a great place.”
“I wanted to bring a voice of the people that wasn’t being heard” by the current board, Van Gieson said. “I think I helped do that.”
Van Gieson said he and Shields got their opponents to admit the district has an over $1 billion budget. That figure had been disputed by Rupert and Harmon.
The acknowledged split between the challengers and incumbents on issues such as vouchers and the pending move of most sixth-grade students to middle schools should not be a distraction to the school board, Van Gieson added.
“It’s kind of a necessary evil” to have differing points of view, he said.
Harmon said she “had a good feeling as (Election Day) got close.”
“But I’m also kind of excited to put it behind me and re-engage with our new superintendent and board members and start moving the district forward,” she added.
Harmon said she did not see stark differences between herself and Shields.
“We disagreed about things like vouchers and the sixth-grade move,” Harmon added. “But overall, I’m not sure how much difference there was.”
Shields said she ran to offer voters a choice to the current board’s direction.
“A school board should be diverse and work together with communities,” she said. “This board is now a 5-0 majority on one side, so it will be interesting to see if that’s a good thing or they end up working against people.”
“I hope they continue to listen to the 40 percent who voted for us and make sure the decisions they make are the right ones for all of Jefferson County,” she continued.