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Seven candidates vying for three open seats on Durango school board

District dealing with diversity, measuring student progress
Seven candidates are on the ballot for three seats on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education this November. (Durango Herald file)

After a few last-minute ballot changes, seven community members are running for three open seats on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education during the Nov. 2 elections.

Durango school board candidates

Director District A – Four-Year Term

Catherine Mewmaw

Website: CathyforDurango9R.com

Email address: Cathy@cathyfordurango9R.com

Phone number: (970) 422-8257

Erika Brown

Website: www.erikafordurango9r.com

Email address: Erika@Erikafordurango9R.com

Kristina Paslay

Website: www.buildingdurangosfuture.com

Email address: tkpaslay@yahoo.com

Director District C – Four-Year Term

Richard “Dean” Hill

Website: buildingdurangosfuture.com

Email address: popeyehill@yahoo.com

Richard “Rick” Petersen

Email address: rickpetersenfor9R@gmail.com

Phone number: (970) 299-3311

Director District E – Four-Year Term

Andrea Parmenter

Website: AndreaforDurango9R.com

Email: andreafordurango9r@gmail.com

Phone: (970) 799-0210

Donna Gulec

Website: buildingdurangosfuture.com

Email address: donnagulec2021@aol.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/donna.gulec.3/

The Durango school board consists of five board members representing five districts. In the upcoming elections, new and returning candidates are vying for seats representing districts A, C and E.

Some candidates say they are running to give back or to ensure representation of all students. Others said the district has failed its students, and it’s time for a change.

In Colorado, the policies set by school boards have the force of law at the local level. Durango school board members represent the community, set district policies, make budgets and handle a variety of complex decisions.

The new board will tackle key issues, such as furthering diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the district; measuring student progress using test scores, social-emotional surveys and more; and expanding stakeholder engagement, said Kristin Smith, board president.

To run for a school board seat, candidates must be a registered voter for 12 consecutive months before the election, and they must live in the district they hope to represent at the time of the election, said Julie Popp, district spokeswoman.

They must pass a background check and cannot run partisan political campaigns for the nonpartisan board.

Elected candidates can complete up to two four-year terms on the board, Popp said.

In District A, the west side of the Animas Valley and a portion of north Durango, incumbent candidate Erika Brown will face off against newcomers Cathy Mewmaw and Kristina Paslay.

Mick Souder, who represents District C in southern La Plata County, is term-limited. Newcomers Richard “Dean” Hill and Richard “Rick” Petersen are competing for his seat.

Donna Gulec, a newcomer candidate, is slated to face off against Andrea Parmenter to represent District E. Parmenter served on the school board in District D until her home address changed in August. The move resulted in a few legal complications for the ballot.

District E covers the east side of the Animas Valley also with a portion of Durango in the district. Theresa Rodriguez, who was appointed to the position, decided not to run again.

“I’ve confirmed with the county clerk and recorder and the secretary of state that Andrea is eligible to run for District E,” Popp said.

Durango School District 9-R school board director districts, which are valid for the 2021 election.
Meet the candidates: District A

New candidate Cathy Mewmaw, 56, is a mortgage broker with Arete Mortgage in Durango. She said she understands how board decisions translate into the classroom because of her six-year teaching career in Durango, which ended in 2018. She also highlighted numerous educational leadership roles in math, reading, social studies and curriculum review.

“I am not finished giving back,” Mewmaw said in an email to The Durango Herald. “I believe the most important role educators play is to give their time and energy to our students and not on district initiatives that take time away from them. I want to be the voice of reason on the board and a strong advocate for our teachers and our students.”

Erika Brown, 43, worked in communications for San Juan Citizens Alliance until 2019 and has served on the school board since February 2020. She highlighted her experience as a volunteer and accountability committee member for Needham Elementary School, and said she has shown leadership on the school board by prioritizing district communication and closing opportunity gaps.

“I’m running to continue serving to ensure all students succeed and graduate prepared to achieve their dreams,” she said in an email to the Herald. “I’ve fought to follow science, prioritize in-person learning, enhance family engagement and focus on closing opportunity gaps. We’ve made headway, but there is still work to be done.”

Kristina Paslay is a salon manager and stylist. She has not served on a school board, but her family members have attended schools in Durango. As a former tribal court advocate and mediator, she said she learned how to conduct research and find win-win solutions.

“I chose to run for the 9R School Board after finding out for multiple years 9R was failing our children,” she said in an email to the Herald, expressing concerns about math and reading scores and the district’s dropout rate. “I have a vested interest in my grandson's future success. (It’s) time for change.”

District C

Newcomer candidate Dean Hill, 71, teaches a high-school level leadership course about conflict resolution and works with struggling couples and students. He was formerly principal of Aztec High School and superintendent of Bayfield School District. He said he is qualified for the position because of his district and school-level management skills and the insight he has gained from family members who are students in the district.

“Student achievement data has fallen over the last decade and the majority of our students will not be prepared to effectively enter the workforce nor go forward to successfully complete any further schooling,” he said in an email to the Herald. “This places Durango in a precarious position to find a robust, trained workforce which possesses the skills and knowledge to lead productive, independent adult lives.”

Rick Petersen, 54, another newcomer candidate, is opening a small brew pub after a 20-year career in management. He highlighted his management experience and volunteer work with the Boy Scouts of America, saying he has experience tackling difficult subjects and working with diverse groups of individuals.

“I was asked by a respected elementary educator if I would run to continue the rational, level-headed leadership in District C,” he said in an email to the Herald. “With my combined experience and values, I decided to take up this challenge for the benefit of all the youth of the school district.”

District E

Andrea Parmenter is an independent consultant in project management training. She has gained experience in the district by volunteering “thousands of hours” with the school district over eight years and spending 20 months on the Board of Education, she said. During that time, she has gained an understanding of the most pressing issues facing the district and identified targeted solutions.

“I am a community leader and mother of two 4th-generation 9-R students that believes in public education,” she said in an email to the Herald. “I am running to continue applying my 12 years of experience in 9-R (thousands of volunteer hours) to problem solving and effective leadership that translates into high student achievement and a supported, satisfied workforce.”

Newcomer candidate Donna Gulec is the co-owner of a travel website who relied on homeschooling, charter schools, Durango schools and study abroad opportunities to educate her children. She emphasized her ability to strategically tackle challenges and develop realistic action plans.

“I know what it feels like to navigate through a district that did not meet my children’s needs,” she said in an email to the Herald. “Our children deserve the tools to achieve academic excellence through a quality education, whether it be academic or vocational. I look forward to making 9R one of the best districts in Colorado.”

What’s up with the ballot changes?

Some Durangoans may have noticed an election for District D dropped off the ballot.

Until August, Parmenter served as the director of District D, which covers most of the city of Durango. Her term was scheduled to end in November, and the district planned to hold elections for the seat. One person, Katie Stewart, even had her candidacy petition approved and her name on the ballot.

But as of Aug. 16, Parmenter was a resident of District E, not District D.

The school district had to delve into state law to resolve the 11th-hour switch.

Under Colorado law, a school director’s office is deemed vacant if the director, like Parmenter, becomes a nonresident of the school district she represents. Her vacancy became official during a school board meeting Sept. 7.

If the vacancy happens within 90 days of a regular election and the remaining term of service is more than two years, the school board appoints a qualified individual to finish the term, according to state law.

Instead of holding an election for District D, the school board now has 60 days to appoint a new director.

Interested community members can submit letters of interest to the school district by 5 p.m. Friday. The new District D director will remain in the position until November 2023, Smith said.

The school board will interview the candidates at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The public will be able to view the special meeting through the district’s livestream service. A decision could be made by the end of the meeting, Smith said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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