Establishment candidates emerged victorious Tuesday night in two races for the State Board of Education, setting the stage for a November election that could tilt the balance of the board.
As of 9 p.m., Democrat Rebecca McClellan, the former mayor pro-tem of Centennial, held a 25-percentage point lead over her opponent Ilana Spiegel, an activist and former educator, in the state’s 6th Congressional District.
“I’m pretty relieved,” McClellan said. “It was a well-run campaign by both of us. I feel honored.”
Spiegel said she’ll continue to advocate for the issues she and her supporters care about.
McClellan will attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Deb Scheffel. Scheffel, who lives in Parker, is dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University.
The 6th Congressional District race between McClellan and Scheffel will be the one to watch this fall.
Considered one of Colorado’s most competitive districts — voter registration is roughly split evenly among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters — it spans a diverse mix of suburban areas from Highlands Ranch to Aurora, Northglenn and Thornton.
A win by a Democrat in the 6th district could reshape the board, creating new power struggles over some of the state’s thorniest education issues.
Meanwhile, Republican incumbent Joyce Rankin, who was appointed to her seat last August, held about a 11 percentage point lead late Tuesday over Anita Stapleton, a vocal critic of the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, in the state’s 3rd Congressional District.
Stapleton, in an interview Tuesday night, acknowledged that she could not defeat Rankin, who had raised nearly $17,000 to Stapleton’s $878. However, Stapleton was optimistic the margin would narrow.
“I want to wait and see how close it does come — because I think that says a lot,” Stapleton said.
Rankin, a former school principal and wife of state Rep. Bob Rankin, did not immediately returned calls requesting comment.
Although Republicans hold a 4-3 edge on the board, votes don’t always fall along party lines. Denver Democrat Val Flores has sided with Republicans on issues such as testing but breaks with them over other issues, including charter schools.
The board faces immediate questions about the search for a permanent education commissioner after Rich Crandall’s sudden resignation in May.
Katy Anthes, who previously served as the education department’s chief of staff, is filling the position on an interim basis.
The board also must oversee the development of the state’s new education plan, required by federal law. Some members, including Scheffel, want the board to have a larger role in developing the plan.
And starting in 2017, the board is expected to begin handing out sanctions to some 30 schools and eight school districts that have failed to improve student achievement on state tests during the last five years.
Rankin will face off against Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, a lawyer from Pueblo who once served on the city’s school board and unsuccessfully ran for the State Board before.
A third race between Republican chairman Steve Durham and Democratic challenger Jeffery L. Walker Sr. will also take place in November. Neither candidate had a primary opponent.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.