Tom West swearing in

Board president Gayle Johnson (right) swearing in appointee Tom West as a member of the board of education at MCSD district office on Sept. 28, 2021. 

As five out of the seven school board seats are up for re-election in November, the board of education swiftly filled a vacancy in District D at a work session on Sept. 28. The board unanimously approved appointing Tom West, a retired teacher and school board veteran.

West, who taught in MCSD schools for 33 years, had previously served on the board from 2011 to 2019.

Per Colorado statute, board members are limited to two four-year consecutive terms and four years must elapse between elections. West was eligible to return to the board only two years after leaving because he was appointed. 

After Shawn Carroll became ineligible to continue serving on the board in District D when he moved out of the boundaries, West and local parent Jodi Woodden, filed letters of interest with the district. 

At the Tuesday meeting, current board members asked both candidates the same set of questions. Topics included their connection with the school district, the role of the board and their assessment of the current state of the district. 

After the interviews, the board members deliberated the pros and cons of the potential appointees. 

Many board members agreed that West’s experience would be an asset to the board during a tumultuous time and expressed concerns about Woodden’s relative lack of experience.

While many recalled learning the ropes of how the school board functioned when they first came on the board — “I know that when I came on, there was a learning curve that had to happen,” Jeff Bachman said — some representatives thought that the board could benefit from someone with experience. 

“I do feel like some experience right now with where we're at right this second with so much going on and with the potential for a lot of change, having the experience of a previously serving board member would be very, very valuable,” Sarah Fishering said. 

Also, some other board members expressed concern about Woodden opting to homeschool her children. 

“What perception are you giving the people in the school district when your own children are not in the school district — that you feel that they're better served outside of the school district?” Jacob Suppes said during the board’s discussion. “We still have over 6,000 students and families that we have to represent and show that we have faith in our school system.”

Fishering, who attended a private school when she was growing up in the U.K., said that she supports parents choosing the trajectory of their childrens’ education. However, in the context of her role as a board member, she consciously chose to enroll her children in the public school system. 

“I completely support any parent's choices, but I do feel like there is a board conflict there,” Fishering said. ‘That sends an interesting mixed message to the community, to our teachers and the rest of the educational team when we choose not to educate our children in the district where we make the decisions.” 

After the board meeting, Woodden said that she had a lifelong dream of homeschooling her four children, who are all now teenagers.  

“It's not anything as far as what's going on in the district, that's just what I love,” Wooden said. 

West said that all of his children attended MCSD schools. 

The board unanimously voted to appoint West, with Steve Bush abstaining for personal reasons. 

Since West has been appointed, he will be required to run in the next school board election in 2023. 

“I’m glad to be back on the board and we'll continue on doing the best we can for the students in the school district,” West said. 

Montrose voters will vote on five other school board seats on or before election day, Tuesday, Nov. 2. Ballots will be mailed to all eligible voters starting on Oct. 12.

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