The annual “Breakfast with Legislators and Candidates,” sponsored by the Cherry Creek Community Legislative Network, was highlighted by record turnout and civil discourse, a refreshing change during an historic election season marred by unprecedented levels of negative campaigning and ugly rhetoric.
Parents, community members, and representatives of both the Cherry Creek School District and Littleton Public Schools, filled every seat in the room at the Instructional Support Facility, where the meeting was held on Oct. 18. Sixteen current state legislators and candidates for General Assembly seats in the Cherry Creek School District attended the event. They were:
• Jeff Bridges, candidate for House District 3
• Katy Brown, candidate for House District 3
• Rep. Janet Buckner, House District 40, running for reelection
• Nancy Doty, candidate for Senate District 26
• Rep. Rhonda Fields, currently represents House District 42, candidate for Senate District 29
• Dominique Jackson, candidate for House District 42
• Rep. Daniel Kagan, currently represents House District 3, candidate for Senate District 26
• Bob Lane, candidate for Senate District 31
• Rep. Jovan Melton, House District 41, running for re-election
• Matt Snider, candidate for House District 56
• Tom Sullivan, candidate for Senate District 27
• Sen. Jack Tate, Senate District 27, running for re-election
• Sen. Nancy Todd, Senate District 28, running for re-election
• Mike Weissman, candidate for House District 36
• Rep. Cole Wist, House District 37, running for re-election
• James Woodley, candidate for Senate District 28
Dr. Harry Bull, superintendent of Cherry Creek Schools, welcomed the panel and the audience and commended both for their interest and involvement in public education. Then CCCLN co-presidents Shelly Smith and Ilana Spiegel laid out the ground rules for the event. Each panelist had 30 seconds to introduce themselves. Many highlighted their connections to the Cherry Creek School District and current lawmakers mentioned their experience in the Colorado Legislature.
The introductions were followed by a three minute opportunity for each panelist to answer these questions: “How do you plan to help ensure adequate funding for Colorado K-12 public education?” and “What is the role of assessments in the accountability system for students, educators, schools, districts and parents; and who should decide what this role should be?”
Most agreed that the Legislature should stop approving unfunded mandates which put additional requirements on school districts without providing dollars to pay for them. There was also a general consensus that the Legislature should change the Hospital Provider Fee into an enterprise fund, so it would no longer fall under the provisions of the TABOR Amendment. That could provide a short-term boost to education funding.
There was much discussion about the so-called negative factor, Amendment 23, the Gallagher Amendment and the TABOR Amendment, all of which affect school funding. But there were few concrete ideas on how to improve the state’s complex school finance formula or resolve the continuing school funding crisis.
On the issue of testing, there was general agreement that some form of assessment is necessary, but that it must be meaningful to students, parents and educators.
The meeting wrapped up with small group discussions between audience members and individual panelists. Those who attended, including parent Caroline Cornell, felt it was time well spent.
“Breakfast with our Legislators offers a fantastic opportunity to hear what a candidate has to share about supporting our students,” Cornell said. “That’s incredibly valuable in an election year as it helps me better understand the people on the ballot. In an off year, it gives me the opportunity to hold our elected officials accountable for supporting our schools.”
The Cherry Creek Community Legislative Network is a non-partisan committee promoting awareness of education issues, legislation and the legislative process. It will hold a meeting on Jan. 18 to preview the 2017 legislative session, then host the annual Cherry Creek Schools Day at the Capitol on March 23. You can get more information here.