Voters on Tuesday elected Erika Brown, Richard Petersen and Andrea Parmenter to serve four-year terms on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education.
The candidates won a decisive victory over three candidates who ran as a bloc, Kristina Paslay, Richard “Dean” Hill and Donna Gulec. The so-called “Building Durango’s Future” group took aim at the district’s declining test scores and opposed a mask-wearing mandate that was adopted earlier this year as part of the dress code. The candidates shared a website and advertising materials.
Voter turnout surpassed La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee’s expectations this election cycle, she said. She was hoping for 30% to 35% turnout, but said ballot counts had surpassed 40% of active voters.
“In 2019, we had 38%,” she said in a text message to The Durango Herald. “This is a great turnout.”
According to the third wave of results released at 9:26 p.m., Brown, who competed in District A, had 8,407 votes compared with Paslay, who received 3,346 votes, and Catherine Mewmaw, who received 1,137 votes.
“I’m just super excited to continue my work on the board and initiatives that I started, and I feel grateful for the support of the community and all the people that helped work on my campaign and reach more voters,” Brown said.
Brown said she learned “so much” from talking to parents and members of the community throughout her campaign and that she looks forward to continuing those conversations.
Petersen, who ran in District C, had 8,681 votes compared with Hill, who received 4,105 votes.
Petersen said he felt excited to get to work for the benefit of the community. He said his adult life has been centered around service to youths and his community, and that a seat on the school board is a natural extension of that.
“I feel humbled that our community has put their faith in me,” Petersen said. “I feel honored to serve my community. That’s a huge part of who I am.”
Parmenter, who ran in District E, had 8,961 votes compared with Gulec, who received 3,870 votes.
Efforts to reach Parmenter for comment in the District E race were not immediately successful Tuesday night.
The Durango school board election, which is nonpartisan, became contentious this year as candidates sparred over COVID-19 policies and were asked whether critical race theory should be taught in schools. Similar themes influenced school board elections across the country.
But in Durango, additional points of contention came into play. Some residents accused Parmenter, an incumbent, of moving out of District D and continuing to serve in violation of state law. Four people have filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming it should have held a special election over the summer. But Parmenter denies moving out of the district in May as alleged, and says she moved into District E in August, which didn’t necessitate a special election.
Then, residents on social media seized on comments made by Hill during a sermon he gave Aug. 22 at the Pine Valley Church in Bayfield, in which he said “separation of church and state” doesn’t appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution and that children come with an owner’s manual “and it’s called the Bible.”
Brown, 43, currently serves as school board vice president and championed academic equity. She said if voters grant her another term she will continue her work at making sure every student has what they need to succeed. In addition to serving on the school board, Brown said she is raising her two 11-year-old twins.
She voted in support of the school district’s policy that makes mask use a part of the district’s dress code and said she prefers to base public health policies on guidance from the experts who work in public health. About critical race theory, Brown said the subject is not a part of 9-R’s curriculum, and even if it were, the school board doesn’t dictate curriculum. Instead, she said, curriculum is steered by the superintendent.
Petersen, 54, is another candidate who emphasized equity among students. He said equal opportunity for all students is important and to achieve that equity, the differing needs of students must be recognized and addressed.
He said mask use reduces the transmission of the COVID-19 virus and the school board has the responsibility of keeping the district’s faculty, staff members and student body safe. Petersen said it is his understanding that critical race theory is primarily a topic studied in secondary or higher education. He said he believes history is based on facts and should be taught truthfully to students.
Petersen is pursuing a small brew pub near the Three Springs and Grandview area and enjoys camping, hiking and mountain biking.
Parmenter, 50, said her top priority will be to rebuild community trust in the school district. Parmenter previously served on the school board representing District D but vacated her seat after moving out of that district into District E.
Parmenter described herself not as “pro-mask” but “pro-health” and said she supports the school board’s decision to mandate masks as part of the dress code. She also said the school board is not in charge of curriculum, and even if it was, critical race theory is a theoretical graduate level course and is not, never was and never will be a part of the 9-R school district curriculum.
Parmenter works in leadership consulting and training in the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. She helps small businesses with economic development and said she works for herself through contract work.