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Regan Benson, candidate in District 5

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By Gabrielle Porter

School board candidate Regan Benson, a former Jeffco parent and a longtime vocal critic of past school board members, said her rocky relationship with the board spurred her candidacy and her call for higher academic standards.

Benson is running for the District 5 seat currently held by recall target Ken Witt. Also in the District 5 race are veteran Jeffco educator Ron Mitchell and former school board member Paula Noonan. 

“My involvement as a parent in this district, having experienced failure, has served as the largest motivating factor to further my efforts at being a voice to represent underserved populations within the district,” wrote Benson, who declined a telephone interview. 

Benson, a conservative, differs from other challengers in the recall election in that she doesn’t support the recall, and said residents should not vote to recall any of the board’s three conservative members. But if they do, Benson wants to be “a viable option on the ballot.”

“I decided to run for the school board when it became clear that neither of the possible successor candidates for the seat in District 5 understand many Jeffco students don't get the skills they need to graduate prepared for a successful future,” Benson wrote.

Benson, who said she has never before run for office, said all three of her sons have in the past attended Jeffco schools, although her youngest son now attends school in another district. 

Benson landed in the local spotlight in 2008 when one of her sons, then a student at Dakota Ridge High, was detained and ticketed by deputies while wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Nobama” and protesting while Michelle Obama visited the campus. Blake Benson and other students who participated in the protest were suspended. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Blake Benson, who was awarded $2,000 from both the school district and the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office in a settlement.

More recently, Benson in 2014 helped found the Every School Matters Project, which focuses on non-attorney advocacy for students with special needs, families whose children are in truancy court, and other legal proceedings. She said she was an advocate for 2015's Senate Bill 184, which removed truancy cases from the jurisdiction of juvenile courts and took away school districts’ ability to enforce compulsory education requirements through the courts.

Stances on Jeffco issues

In terms of the school board’s current strained relationship with the teachers union, Benson said teachers should be allowed to join the union but that she’s not convinced a relationship is needed between the school district and the Jefferson County Education Association.

“Labor unions have historically worked well in factory settings or mass-production environments,” Benson wrote. “Our kids are not factory products.”

When asked about the pay-for-performance model implemented by the board’s conservative majority last year, Benson said the district should ensure the staff who are doing the evaluations are well-trained, and also said she would support revisiting the evaluation format.

Benson said that to meet facilities needs in areas experiencing growth, the school district should look at ways of better utilizing existing buildings. 

“When the needs arise for new schools, we should ask voters for permission before we go out for debt,” Benson wrote.

Benson said student engagement and serving vulnerable populations are Jeffco’s greatest challenges this year. 

Residency question

Benson has not directly responded to repeated questions about whether she lives in Jefferson County. She told Evergreen Newspapers in 2012 that her family had moved to Akron, a town in eastern Colorado, in part because of dissatisfaction with the Jeffco school district. Since declaring her candidacy, however, Benson has said only that she is still a registered Jeffco voter in District 5.

“I don't believe it prudent to the issues of running for a local school board position to publish my address,” Benson said.

Beth Clippinger, assistant to Jeffco Clerk Faye Griffin, said state statute requires school board candidates to be registered voters for 12 consecutive months before the election, and that Benson registered as a Jeffco voter in November 2013.

Contact Gabrielle Porter at gabrielle@evergreenco.comor at 303-350-1042, or follow her on Twitter at @gabyreport.