5 candidates now vying for 3 APS school board positions

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AURORA | Five candidates are running for three open school board seats in Aurora Public Schools, giving district voters choices when they decide who will help lead the approximately 40,000-student school system for the next four years.

Three of the board’s seven positions are up for grabs in the Nov. 5 election. All school district board members are at-large.

The board decides everything between hiring or firing the superintendent, contracting with school lunch providers and whether charter schools can operate in the district. 

Those three seats will be vacated in November by Monica Colbert — who is not running for re-election —  and Dan Jorgensen and Cathy Wildman, who have both served two four-year terms and are termed limited. 

But past term limits aren’t stopping two of this year’s five candidates for the school board. Candidates Barbara Yamrick and Amber Drevon are familiar names to Aurora educators and parents. 

Yamrick served two terms on the school board between 1999 and 2007, and then another term between 2013 and 2017. She lost her re-election bid two years ago. 

Drevon also sat on the school board between 2013 and 2017, but declined to run for re-election. She’s changed her mind this year.

The two school board veterans have not raised any money so far during the campaign season, according to a Sept. 3 Colorado Secretary of State report. 

So far in the race, the bulk of the campaign fundraising and spending has come from the two teacher union-backed candidates. The Aurora Education Association sometimes fields and usually endorses candidates to represent their interests on the school board. 

One of those candidates, Stephanie Mason, said her children and grandchildren have been APS students. She said she has long been involved in the Parent Teacher Student Organization at Columbia Middle School. 

Mason has raised $2,000 so far in the race, mostly from teachers and retirees. She also contributed $500 of her own money to the campaign. So far, she’s spent $1,000. 

The other union-backed candidate is Vicki Reinhard. She’s a former special education teacher in the district who said she recently retired. She was also the vice president of the teacher union. 

Reinhard has raised $1,885 so far in the race, also mostly from APS teachers. She’s spent $1,000 as of the Sept. 3 state report. 

The fifth candidate in the race is Nichelle Ortiz. In a Facebook post, she said she is a parent to three APS students and a regular school volunteer for about a decade. 

As of Sept. 10, Ortiz has not filed campaign finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State. 

The November school board election could change the course of the district. 

APS has improved slowly but steadily as a whole in recent years, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s annual school and district ratings. Despite relatively low ratings at several schools — Aurora Central High School, North Middle School and Gateway High School — graduation rates and test scores are generally up.

Superintendent Rico Munn has cited the recent school ratings as evidence of improvement. 

But the election has in part become a referendum on Munn’s performance and priorities in leading the district since 2013. The school board can hold the superintendent accountable and approve or deny the executive’s proposals. 

Last month, the teacher union proposed delaying a school board decision on renewing Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract until after the November elections, a move seen by some as a politically motivated attempt to oust the head of the district.

Regardless, current school district members have expressed that they aim to renew Munn’s contract before the November 5 election.