Guest Column: Should Denver be Driving Our School Bus?
Three recent, superficially unrelated, news stories have a common theme. The central idea is a desire by some for a paternalistic approach that removes control from local elected officials and replaces it with distant Denver directives.
In the first story, local control of zoning would be replaced in many Colorado towns and cities by state developed mandates for housing density. While we here in Teller County would not be immediately affected by the initial version of this bill, it would firmly place the camel’s nose under the tent and alter the balance of power between local officials and distant Denver bureaucrats. Colorado Springs would be affected by this change and anything that affects that metropolis has implications for tiny neighboring Teller County. So far, this bill is limping along, suffering a thousand cuts as bi-partisan alliance of local officials and conservative legislators continue to water it down. With luck, they will be able to kill, vice weaken, this authoritarian approach to land use lest a single camel nostril poke its way into local decisions.
The second story concerns gun control. Again, the legislature in Denver, in a desperate reaction to the de facto combat zones of the capital city, sought to apply one size fits all rules and regulations to rural Colorado. Congratulations are in order to our locally elected County Commissioners and Sheriff for determinedly pushing back on this ill-suited and inappropriate proposal from urban elites. How long they can continue their defense of American rights against the legislature’s Big Daddy desires remains to be seen, but they have stood well into the gap during this legislative session.
The third story was also close to home. Surprising no one, government funded media from Colorado Public Radio parachuted in from Denver to provide top cover for their union allies. In a slanted, cherry picked, and in several areas, fallacious piece, they slimed locally elected officials from the WPSD trying to reverse two decades of declining enrollment. However, there was a bit of revealing honesty buried in the propaganda. As the old saying goes, “A gaff is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.” The revealing gaff in this one was the desire by some for more Denver control. Two quotes stood out. In the first, a teacher allegedly mused “If there's no one at the state that can see that and step in and stop it [local curriculum choices], then what's the purpose of having a state board of education?” In the second, local gadfly and leader of the failed school board recall campaign, Erin O’Connell, is quoted as “Her ultimate focus is policy or legislative change to bring some oversight to school boards. I appreciate local control because different places have different needs,” she said. “But I would like to see some checks and balances when people are overstepping their bounds or pushing a private agenda or using loopholes in policy to avoid public debate on school matters.”
For the record, if CPR misquoted either of these people, FWN will be glad to publish a clarifying remark. However, as described, the desire for Denver control is clear. Interestingly, this desire did not present itself between 2002 and 2022 when the WPSD lost 1500 students, or even more recently between 2018 and 2022 when 670 students departed. It only developed as the ship began to right itself with a WPSD increased enrollment of 290 students, a state championship welding team, and competitive and successful athletic teams. Perhaps successes from local efforts are not as welcome as they detract from desires to turn control over to a distant legislature.
One action that we can appreciate from supporters of an urban controlled legislature’s direction over land use and firearms is that they were willing to put their plans out in public. Misguided, authoritarian, and failing they might be, but at least their proponents were willing to present them. We can only wish that their fellow travelers desiring Denver control of local education would do the same. The current school board is the first elected after fifteen years of cozy seat swapping arrangements designed to avoid elections. They have recently increased teacher’s pay with a signing bonus on top of a previously delivered 8.5% raise, provided educational choice for local families, reimagined bus routes to offer additional options for students, and aligned schools and programs to ensure focus on academic progress after two years of COVID driven challenges. Meanwhile, the local opponents have provided no details on solutions to the enrollment crisis that costs Teller County millions in unclaimed tax revenue spent in Denver. Emotion, opposition, and stridency are no solution to the looming potential of closing a school and other unpalatable choices. As Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We eagerly await data driven, factual proposals other than having Denver drive the schoolbus.