As school boards become new battlegrounds for the country's bitterly divided electorate, voters in the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education election rejected hot-button issues, electing candidates steeped in public education experience.
The race itself proved to be an outlier among other board races in districts across the Denver metro area, such as Douglas County and Cherry Creek, that saw tensions rise between candidates over mask-wearing policies. Candidates for LPS school board largely stayed above the fray, unanimously agreeing that masking policies had to be followed.
One candidate, however, staked much of his campaign on his opposition to critical race theory, another divisive flashpoint that has swept across school districts. Dale Elliott, an Air Force veteran, came in last in the race, signaling most voters' lack of desire to engage in the issue. Instead, voters' top two picks for board seats were a board incumbent and a community college educator.
Angela Christensen, who was appointed to finish a term on the board last year, topped the other four candidates with 26.2% of the vote.
Christensen has volunteered more than 8,500 hours for LPS and has served on several educational committees.
“I feel like it was evident that our district values experience,” Christensen said in an interview with Colorado Community Media. “It felt good that what I thought was true was actually true.”
In second place was Joan Anderssen, a current faculty member at Arapahoe Community College, who secured 22.7% of the vote. Anderssen said she is excited to get to work on projects that will fundamentally improve students' learning experience.
Two key campaign pledges for her were bolstering the recently unveiled Career Exploration Center to hone students' trade skills for employment following high school, as well as shoring up concurrent enrollment, in which students simultaneously earn high school and college credits.
"I think we're going to have a strong board," Anderssen said.
The third and final seat was won by Andrew Graham, president and CEO of a healthcare consulting firm, with 19.8% of the vote.
Graham focused on mental health during his campaign and said the district needed more resources and open discussions about the ever-present crisis amongst students, faculty and staff.
“(Students are) still going through a very rough social time,” Graham said. “Mental health is at the center of coming back together.”
Jon Lisec, a software engineer, fell short of the votes needed to win a seat on the board, coming in fourth with 17.1% of the vote. Elliot, the air force veteran, came last with 14.2% of the vote.
Along with critical race theory, Elliott had made several comments during an Oct. 6 forum that veered into controversy. On equity, Elliott was the only candidate to explicitly say he opposed tailoring students' education to meet their needs, saying it was “hard to achieve” and that “in our country today we're trying to force that.” He also said he thinks Planned Parenthood “kills kids,” eliciting several gasps from audience members.
But most voters did not choose to elect Elliott to a board seat, instead opting for candidates who largely refrained from politically charged messaging.
Christensen, the board incumbent, said she was encouraged that LPS “kept politics out of the board” during the race.
“We have something really special in LPS that some of our larger neighboring districts have lost,” she said. “We've preserved the integrity of the education of the board of LPS.”
Graham, the healthcare consultant, said he still welcomes a diverse set of views from board members and the community but that everyone needs to strive to work together.
“At the end of the day we are a pretty cohesive, looking out for ourselves group,” he said. “I'm proud of us.”
By avoiding much of the furor that has turned other school races into political spectacles, candidates said they were able to focus more on the pressing issues facing LPS.
Funding remains a challenge for the district, which has been forced to close several schools in the recent few years over budgetary restrictions.
Christensen said the failure of statewide propositions 119 and 120, which some opponents feared would have diverted state money for education, is a win for public education funding. She now hopes that state lawmakers will be ready to work with districts like LPS to find sustainable funding solutions as opposed to continuing “putting on Band-Aids,” Christensen said.
“We have to remain optimistic,” she said. “There's still a lot of work to do.”
Despite the challenges, Graham said LPS is not a “broken school district” and has vowed to work with board members to “Keep us at a level of excellence that we've become very used to.”
“I like this new board. This looks like a very collaborative group,” he said.