school board pizza and politics

From left: Jeff Bachman, Eric Kelley, Alice Murphy, Sarah Fishering, Andrew Neal, Cortney Loyd and Dawn Schieldt at the Circle 3 Cowboy Church on Sept. 23, 2021. 

At the first public event featuring school board candidates on Thursday, Sept. 23, at Circle 3 Cowboy Church in Montrose, most of the candidates discussed controversial and non-contentious issues.

Dozens of local voters attended the “Pizza and Politics” event, which was sponsored by the Montrose County Republican Party and moderated by the local GOP chairman, Spencer Hamner.

In the election this November, Montrose citizens will vote on five out of seven seats on the school board. Incumbents are running for re-election except District C, where Gayle Johnson has served two terms and is ineligible to run again.

Two of the incumbents up for re-election — Jeff Bachman in District A and Stephen Bush in District G — are running unopposed, but a trio of candidates are running as a slate in the three other districts.

Bush was not able to attend Thursday’s event.

Andrew Neal, Cortney Loyd and Dawn Schieldt are running on a platform of conservative values and “giving power back to the parents.”

In District C, Neal is running against retired teacher Alice Murphy. Loyd is seeking to unseat incumbent Sarah Fishering in District E and Schieldt is running against Eric Kelley, who was appointed to the District F seat that was vacant two years ago.

When board members are appointed, they are required to run in the following election cycle. If re-elected in November, Kelley would also be required to run again in 2023 for a full four-year term.

Shawn Carroll’s district D seat has been vacant since before the start of the new school year after he moved out of the district boundaries. (Per Colorado statute, school board members must live in the district they represent, unlike representatives of the US Congress.)

The seat will be filled with an appointment, since Carroll’s resignation announcement was received after the deadline for a candidate to seek election in a normal election.

At the Thursday event, each of the candidates were allotted two minutes to answer questions from Hamner and later the audience.

One of the least contentious questions was about the role of the school board, where the candidates found ample room for agreement in ensuring the district remains financially stable and holding the superintendent accountable.

Hamner also asked the candidates about controversial topics rampant in national discourse, such as critical race theory (CRT), comprehensive sexual education and COVID-19 policies.

Hamner also asked if the candidates would want to comply with any potential state mandates on wearing masks or COVID-19 vaccinations for students. All three slate candidates said they would be against accepting statewide mandates, but the incumbents were reluctant to make promises about defying state orders.

“It would be extremely irresponsible for me as a sitting board member to sit here today and tell you that I will defy any mandate or executive order that comes from government offices,” Fishering, who also said that decisions about masking and vaccinations should be family-based decisions, told the crowd.

Fishering added that defying orders from the state could have “catastrophic” consequences of “putting the school district in financial peril, which would undermine our ability to fulfill our core mission.”

Over 60% of the district’s $73 million budget in 2019-20 was from the state. Federal funding constituted approximately 11% and the rest of the revenue was from local sources.

Hamner also asked the candidates about critical race theory (CRT).

As MCSD Superintendent wrote in a letter published in the Montrose Daily Press on July 31, CRT is an academic concept that racism is embedded in the country’s legal system, which is taught at the graduate level, not K-12 schools in Montrose.

A campaign brochure from the conservative trio includes a goal of passing a board resolution prohibiting teaching of critical race theory “and any of its elements” in Montrose classrooms.

Bachman said that he is against CRT, but urged Hamner to steer the conversation away from the “hot topics” that dominated part of the meeting.

“If anybody sitting up here is getting on school board for masks, for shots, CRT or for sex ed, and that’s the only reason they’re getting on, please go back to your living room couch because there’s so much more to educating our kids on than this stuff,” Bachman said.

The school board election is the topic of the Forum this Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 8 a.m., held at the Colorado Mesa University-Montrose campus downtown.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.