Longtime PTA member running for school board

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Aultman-Bettridge campaigning for District 1 seat

By Daniel Laverty

Longtime Jeffco PTA member and parent Tonya Aultman-Bettridge has announced that she will run for the Jeffco school board in November.

Aultman-Bettridge will vie with Julie Williams for the seat in District 1, which covers the northern part of Jefferson County. Incumbent Robin Johnson has announced she will not run for re-election.

School board members run in geographic districts in nonpartisan elections, but voters throughout the county cast ballots in all the races. This year’s election is Nov. 5.

‘Listening is important’

Aultman-Bettridge, a political newcomer, said her priorities are parent engagement, effective teachers and school safety.

“I believe that when parents are involved in the process, children do better,” she said. “I think the district can do a better job of reaching out to parents. Teachers and parents need to be partners in their child’s education.

“I’m a huge supporter of early-childhood education,” Aultman-Bettridge said. “If you have a child start well in school, it’s a better return on your investment.”

Aultman-Bettridge said her strength is collaboration.

“The best decisions come when you listen to both sides of an issue,” she said. “Listening to people is important, and I value different perspectives.”

Mike Mcqueen, a teacher/librarian at McLain High School, has known Aultman-Bettridge for only a few months, but he’s been impressed with her as a candidate.

“The more I get to know Tonya, the more I sense she has a compassion for people and students,” he said. “She has a good heart. She’s not overpowering, but she’s not submissive. I think she’ll make a great school board member.”

Mcqueen heads a group of Jeffco teacher/librarians called Support School Libraries.

“Our group was planning an event last year, and even though Tonya couldn’t make it, she was using social media to engage with us and help,” Mcqueen said. “I’ve met with her many times. She’s excited about Jeffco schools. She’s motivated.”

Aultman-Bettridge said she decided to run for the school board when she heard that Johnson would not seek another four-year term.

“I wondered who would be in that seat when Robin (Johnson) said she wouldn’t run,” Aultman-Bettridge said. “I thought to myself, ‘I hope it’s someone who cares about children,’ and then I realized I wanted to be that person.”

Aultman-Bettridge attended her first PTA meeting in 2005 and has been active in the organization since. She earned her doctorate in public administration from the University of Colorado Denver and works for TriWest Consultants, which evaluates programs based on cost-effectiveness, success rate and needed improvements.

“(At TriWest), most of our clients are with governments, but we also do some work with nonprofits,” she said.

Supporting a well-funded school system

Aultman-Bettridge supported measures 3A and 3B on last November’s ballot, which raised property taxes by $36 annually on a $250,000 home.

“It’s hard to go to your community and ask for an investment, but it’s exactly what our children needed,” she said. “With the possible cuts to Outdoor Lab, music and teacher/librarians, I was glad our community responded.”

But just one year after approving 3A and 3B, Jeffco, along with the rest of Colorado, will be asked to support a nearly $1 billion increase in state taxes to finance a new K-12 funding formula.

“I think (the new School Finance Act) will be difficult (to pass),” Aultman-Bettridge said. “The economy is just starting to recover.”

The new School Finance Act would revamp how Colorado’s public schools are funded. Wealthier districts would bear more of the costs than poorer districts. The act also sets aside more money for districts that have higher numbers of at-risk students and English-language learners.

The plan is contingent on Colorado voters approving a nearly $1 billion tax increase.

Concerns about inBloom technology

Jeffco parents have voiced concern over the school district’s plan to pilot and implement inBloom, a “cloud”-based data storage system that would centralize information on Jeffco students.

“(InBloom) strikes me as a possibly wonderful innovation,” Aultman-Bettridge said. “Jeffco needs to be innovative and ahead of the curve with technology and other ways to improve educating children.”

Jeffco teachers use multiple programs that all use data. InBloom would store all data online, making it easier for teachers to access and to assess student progress. Data can include students’ grades, test scores and disciplinary records.

“My biggest concerns are that of many parents — privacy concerns,” Aultman-Bettridge said of fears that the data could be hacked and compromised. “Jeffco already collects data and stores it in many, many databases. It would make things easier for teachers, but I wouldn’t want to sign off on it if there was a major privacy issue.”

The school board still must vote on implementing inBloom; the pilot phase ends after 2014. If approved, it would cost the district between $2 and $5 per student per year, or $172,000 to $430,000 annually.

Wife, mother, tae kwon do master

Aultman-Bettridge lives in Jeffco with her husband, Glen, and their son, Will. They moved to Jeffco in 2004 from Denver.

“We moved (to Jeffco) for the schools,” she said. “We talked to a lot of people, and my husband and I decided Jeffco would be the best fit. (Will) has been thriving in and enjoying school.”

Aultman-Bettridge said her family loves to hike and run together. All three of them have black belts in tae kwon do.

“We try to do as many things as we can together,” she said.

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 Johnson expire in November.

The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.

Ken Witt and Gordon “Spud” Van de Water have launched campaigns to claim the District 5 seat. Incumbent Paula Noonan announced in May that she will not run again.

Laura Boggs, who currently represents District 2, has not decided if she’ll run again. Jeff Lamontagne is currently the only candidate in District 2.

Alonzo Rodriguez, who announced his candidacy in District 5 in April, has withdrawn for personal reasons.

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.

Check online and in future print editions as we profile all the school board candidates.