Attorney Paul Sachs swears in Steamboat Springs School Board member Rebecca Williams in 2011. The school board is considering establishing at-large seats to field more candidates.

Photo by Scott Franz

Attorney Paul Sachs swears in Steamboat Springs School Board member Rebecca Williams in 2011. The school board is considering establishing at-large seats to field more candidates.

To make races more competitive, local school boards look into redistricting

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— The Steamboat Springs School Board is mulling a change that could make future board races here more competitive than they've been in recent elections.

The board that struggled to field many new candidates during its last election cycle is looking into converting some of its seats into at-large seats.

The discussions come as the Hayden School Board, which also has had trouble attracting candidates, recently decided to ask its voters to make all of their seats at-large.

Currently, the school boards in Hayden and Steamboat have five members who can run only in the districts they live in.

“It seems like most years, the way it works is you get two to three good candidates in one of the districts, and none in another,” Steamboat School Board President Brian Kelly said Sunday. “This change could open it up for more candidates.”

Candidates could run for the at-large seats regardless of where they live within the school district.

To comply with state statute, the Steamboat Springs School Board currently is redrawing the boundaries of its five director districts to equalize their populations.

Kelly said his own district that spans from the northern city limits of Steamboat up to the Wyoming border, now has 400 to 500 more constituents in it than the second most populous district.

It was during this upkeep process that Kelly first pitched the idea of establishing the at-large seats.

The board has determined it would cost an additional $3,000 to ask voters to approve the change and will discuss it further next month.

Kelly said the board would have to make a decision in April if it wants to put the question to voters in November.

If approved, Steamboat's at-large seats would first be up for election in 2015.

“There's an initial cost to it, but I think the idea bears looking into,” Kelly said. “I don't see how it could hurt any candidacies.”

The director boundaries were set to ensure all of the rural parts of the school district were represented in Steamboat.

At the time, Steamboat had a different “social fabric” and was “quite a bit different” than the outlying areas of the county,” Kelly said.

But Kelly said the school district's changing demographics during the past 15 to 20 years has made it less important for the five director boundaries to exist.

“I don't feel in the 3 1/2 years I've been on the board that I'm just representing North Routt,” the North Routt County resident said. “Whether you're from North Routt or South Routt, you're representing" the Steamboat Springs School District.

The most recent school board elections in Hayden and Steamboat reveal what a struggle it has become for the boards to field candidates for all of its districts.

In Steamboat, the board didn't receive its first candidate until just four days before the filing deadline.

Incumbent Robin Crossan ran unopposed along with newcomer Wayne Lemley for two of the three seats up for election.

Former Steamboat Springs High School teacher Rebecca Williams defeated Colorado Mountain College adjunct professor Sandra Sharp for the only contested seat.

And in Hayden, incumbents Sharon Nereson and Vance Fulton ran unopposed in November for the only seats up for election.

Hayden Superintendent Mike Luppes said Sunday that his district is planning a special mail-in election for June 18 to ask voters to approve the change to at-large seats.

If approved, the three seats up for election in November wouldn't have any boundaries.

“If we go five at-large, we think we have a school district that's similar enough in their beliefs and values all the way around that people will vote for who they think the best school board candidate is,” Luppes said. “They will elect the best board members available.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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