Evergreen resident John Newkirk, a graduate of Jeffco Public Schools, is running for the school board in District 2.
Newkirk is pitted against Jeff Lamontagne for the seat, which represents the spacious, western part of Jefferson County. Incumbent Laura Boggs is not running for re-election.
“I’m a product of Jeffco schools,” Newkirk said. “I want every student to have access to the great education that I received in Jeffco.”
The election is Nov. 5.
A lifelong fan of Jeffco schools
Newkirk attended Wilmot Elementary and Evergreen Middle School before graduating from Evergreen High in 1979. He has three daughters in Jeffco schools.
“I wouldn’t trade in my Jeffco diploma for a winning lottery ticket,” he said.
Newkirk said that school safety, setting high standards for students and including parents in decision-making are his top priorities.
“With more than 30 years of being involved with successful businesses, I’ve gained experience balancing a budget and making good decisions,” he said.
If elected, Newkirk has two immediate priorities: moving the public comment portion of school board meetings to the beginning of the meetings and honoring parents’ first choice in schools.
“I’d like to see every parent have their kid in a school that the parent wants,” Newkirk said. “I’d like to look into using wait lists instead of a lottery system if a school is full. And if (a school is) full, then clone that school to meet demand.”
Currently, the school board allows agenda-related public comment toward the beginning of meetings and non-agenda comments at the end.
Concerns about inBloom
Many parents have voiced concerns about the district’s plan to pilot and possibly implement inBloom, a “cloud”-based data storage system that would centralize information on Jeffco students. Opponents fear that centralizing data poses a security risk and that the cloud could be hacked.
“At the end of the day, does inBloom help our third-grade reading scores or ACT scores?” Newkirk said. “I know that things can be breached. There’s no way for a system to be 100 percent safe. (InBloom is) something I’m really concerned about.”
The district wants to use the storage system to centralize data so that teachers can spend less time signing in and out of multiple computer systems and spend more time teaching students.
The district is planning to pilot inBloom in 2014 using “dummy” data, and the school board would have to vote to implement inBloom’s services in 2015.
Newkirk questions the necessity of inBloom.
“I shudder to think of what my inBloom profile would’ve looked like (when I was a student),” he said. “I was a different learner, and it took a really good teacher for me to get on track. What would’ve happened early on if I had been put on a learning track that says, ‘This guy is deficient in this area?’
“Do the perceived benefits outweigh the tangible risks and parent concerns?” he said.
“Amendment 66 is not the right way (to fund Colorado schools),” Newkirk said. “I might support a tax that would have equity for Jeffco.”
Amendment 66 — or Initiative 22 — would revamp how Colorado funds K-12 education. Wealthier districts would bear more of the cost than poorer districts.
Proponents say the initiative would provide money for full-day kindergarten, English language learners, and gifted-and-talented and at-risk students. Opponents fear it would take Jeffco dollars out of Jeffco.
The amendment is contingent on Colorado voters approving a nearly $1 billion income tax increase in November.
Newkirk said he did not support last year’s 3A or 3B tax increases that the district won but said he’s in favor of fully funded public education.
Last November, Jeffco voters approved both 3A and 3B, which raised property taxes $36 annually on a $250,000 home. Newkirk said voters were led to believe the tax boost was critical to save certain programs (music, art, etc.), but that too much money was put into district reserves.
“I think the current mill levy is fine right now,” he said. “We just need to make more judicious uses of our current resources instead of just raising taxes.”
A true outdoorsman
Newkirk and his family are fans of mountain living. On their Evergreen property, they keep a herd of cows and honeybees.
“Jefferson County is really a great place to grow up,” Newkirk said.
After earning a degree in computer and systems engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, Newkirk started two businesses — Colorado Computer Associates and Colorado Biomedical — which he still helps run today.
“I’ve been on boards before, and I know how to collaborate,” he said. “I know how to be a team player.”
What’s at stake
The Jeffco school board has five members who represent five districts. Board members are not paid and serve four-year terms. The terms of Laura Boggs, Paula Noonan and the currently empty District 1 seat expire in November.
The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.
Even though Jefferson County is divided into five districts, all county residents can vote in all the district races.
Tonya Aultman-Bettridge and Julie Williams are running out of District 1. Jeff Lamontagne and John Newkirk are running out of District 2.
Jeffco Public Schools is the largest district in the state and has more than 150 schools with nearly 86,000 students and approximately 13,000 employees. The annual budget of Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.