A political newcomer has announced a bid for the Jeffco school board seat currently held by fiscal conservative Laura Boggs.
Jeff Lamontagne, co-founder of the Second Wind Fund, recently announced he is running for the Board of Education seat in District 2, which covers a sprawling area in the western part of the county.
“I’m a big fan of public schools, and I believe that a great education for our kids is the best investment we can make,” Lamontagne said. “I believe the taxpayers and parents deserve a balanced voice on the school board.”
Boggs says she hasn’t decided whether she will seek to retain her seat in the Nov. 5 election.
“(Running for school board) seems like a natural progression for me,” said Lamontagne, who is making his first bid for public office. “My work and life has circled around Jeffco schools.”
Lamontagne is the co-founder and former executive director of the Second Wind Fund, which provides professional counseling services for at-risk students. The nonprofit was started in 2002 after four students committed suicide in a nine-month span at Green Mountain High School.
“In 2002, it started out as an idea,” Lamontagne said. “It was originally only a Jeffco organization, but it’s now turned into one of the largest mental-health providers for kids in Colorado.”
Lamontagne said that, after the suicides, he started talking to members of his church, Green Mountain Presbyterian, to see what could be done to help Green Mountain students heal.
During his 10 years with the Second Wind Fund, Lamontagne said, he got to know many instructors, administrators and public servants in the county.
“I’m known as a collaborator,” he said. “I don’t consider myself ideologically driven. I believe one of my strengths is listening to all opinions.”
As far as the new School Finance Act, which the state legislature has approved and sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lamontagne said there are pros and cons.
“The current system (that funds education) is two decades old,” he said. “Many educational and demographic changes have occurred in Colorado. This legislation is a solid attempt to update and modernize that system.”
The bill, SB 213, would revamp how Colorado’s K-12 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.
Lamontagne said the bill adds resources for important programs — gifted-and-talented students and special education — which he favors.
“(However), I’m concerned that there’s still a disparity (in the bill) for funding for at-risk kids in Jeffco versus funding for at-risk kids in Aurora and Denver,” he said.
If signed by Hickenlooper, the bill is contingent on Colorado voters approving a $1 billion state tax hike in November.
A supporter of schools’ tax increase
Lamontagne said he was strongly in favor of measures 3A and 3B on last November’s ballot, which boosted property taxes to aid a school district budget that had seen several years of cutbacks. The measures amounted to a net property-tax increase of $36 annually on a home valued at $250,000.
Lamontagne said the board must continue to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.
“I believe we need well-funded schools,” he said. “We need a school system that’s innovative and that constantly looks at how it can get better.”
If elected, Lamontagne said, school safety, teacher compensation and transparency are his top priorities. He said he wants to work with administrators and teachers when it comes to performance evaluations.
Steve Burkholder, former mayor of Lakewood, got to know Lamontagne through the Second Wind Fund.
“I was always really impressed with what he was doing (with Second Wind Fund),” Burkholder said. “He was a person who got things done, and I admired his leadership skills.”
When Burkholder heard Lamontagne was considering a bid for the school board, he encouraged him and offered his full support.
“He’s the kind of guy that you can do a ‘napkin deal’ with,” Burkholder said. “In this day and age, so often we have to have 100-page contracts before anything can get done. Jeff’s one of those guys that you could write an agreement on a napkin or agree on something with a handshake.”
Lamontagne’s background is in environmental law. His wife, Suzanne, is a chemistry teacher at Lakewood High School, and their two children attend Jeffco schools.
Lamontagne currently serves as executive director for the Bluff Lake Nature Center in northeast Denver. The center maintains an urban wildlife refuge and serves as an outdoor classroom for elementary students.
“I consider myself someone who will bring together different voices at the table,” he said. “I pride myself in being able to listen to and find marriage in different opinions. I would say I understand the value of, what might be called, conservative values and liberal values.”
Boggs, often in the minority on board votes, has held the District 2 seat since defeating Sue Marinelli in the 2009 election.
The Jeffco school board has five members who represent five districts in the county. Board members are not paid, and terms last for four years. The terms of Boggs, Paula Noonan and Robin Johnson expire in November. The terms of board President Lesley Dahlkemper and board member Jill Fellman end in November 2015.
Jeffco Public Schools is the largest district in the state and is made up of more than 150 schools; it has nearly 86,000 students and approximately 14,000 employees. The annual budget of Jeffco schools is just under $1 billion.
Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.comor at 303-350-1043. Follow him on Twitter at @LavertyReports.