AURORA | After weeks of acrimonious campaigning that has ended in what looks to be light voter turnout, voters across the Aurora region have weighed in on races for Aurora City Council, school boards for Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek schools, and tax-related measures statewide.
Returns through Thursday morning show that conservative candidates were faring well in city council races but not in local school board elections.
Returns so far show three statewide measures have failed. A local measure extending sales taxes for open space in Arapahoe County is passing overwhelmingly.
Turnout for the mostly local election was slim across the city, preliminary voting records show, about 30 percent in both Adams and Arapahoe counties.
Aurora City Council
Initial results show conservative members taking the lead in most Aurora City Council races. In the at-large race, both conservatives Dustin Zvonek and Danielle Jurinsky take the lead. There are two open seats, as council members Dave Gruber and Allison Hiltz opted not to run for a second term.
In Ward I, incumbent Crystal Murillo, a Democrat, has taken the lead over her two opponents, Bill Gondrez and Scott Liva.
In Ward II, candidates Steve Sundberg, a Republican bar and grill owner, is leading Democrat Bryan Lindstorm, an Aurora Public Schools teacher, by 967 votes. The winner of the seat will be the first person to represent the Ward since June, when former council member Nicole Johnston resigned her seat to move to Colorado Springs.
With a split council upon her departure, the body was unable to appoint a person to the seat and instead decided to violate the charter.
In Ward III, the race between Ruben Medina, who previously worked with the city’s recreation department, and pastor Jono Scott is separated by 323 votes. Scott is leading.
2021 Aurora City Council Election: 2 At Large seats
|Aurora City Council At-Large||Adams County||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Total|
2021 Aurora City Council Election: Ward I, northwest Aurora
|Aurora City CouncilWard I||Adams County||Arapahoe County||Total|
|Crystal Murillo, Incumbent||864||1538||2402|
2021 Aurora City Council Election: Ward II, northeast Aurora
|Aurora City Council Ward II||Adams County||Arapahoe County||Total|
2021 Aurora City Council Election: Ward III, west-central Aurora
|Aurora City Council Ward III||Arapahoe County|
Aurora Public Schools Board of Education
Early results from Arapahoe County show Anne Keke, Debbie Gerkin, Michael Carter leading in the race for Aurora Public Schools board of education, with Tramaine Duncan narrowly in fourth place ahead of Christy Cummings and Danielle Tomwing.
Keke currently has the highest vote count, with Carter in second, Gerkin in third and Duncan in fourth. The top four candidates will be elected.
With only one incumbent in the race and four seats up, the election could change the shape of the seven-member board, which has struggled during the pandemic with how to stick to its policies and how to work together.
Gerkin is a former APS teacher and principal, and is running for a second term on the board. She has campaigned on equity in the classroom, increasing outreach to parents and community members and more focus on social-emotional learning
Keke is a teacher with a doctorate in criminal justice. Her campaign website lists reversing pandemic learning loss, recruiting more teachers of color and combating the school-to-prison pipeline as some of her main issues.
Carter is a criminal defense attorney married to an APS teacher. He told the Sentinel that making sure students from across the district are helped equally is an important priority of his.
Duncan is an eighth grade math teacher at APS and lists equity, building community trust and helping students succeed in and out of the classroom as his top priorities.
Tomwing works in IT operations and is chair of the Vanguard Classical Schools school board, a public charter school in Aurora. Her website lists innovation, improving education opportunities for all students and strengthening the district’s support system as her top priorities.
Cummings has a master’s degree in psychology and has taught at community colleges across the state for over two decades. She has cited academic achievement, school choice and mental health as her main priorities for the district.
Carter, Gerkin and candidate Duncan have been endorsed by the Aurora Education Association. Incumbent Marques Ivey was also going to be endorsed by the union but dropped out of the running in September without giving a reason.
Keke has raised the most out of all the candidates, receiving $27,000 in contributions and spending $17,000.
Groups backed by teachers unions and charter school groups spent the most in the election, according to campaign finance documents.
Union-backed Students Deserve Better has spent over $16,000 on mailings supporting candidates Debbie Gerkin, Tramaine Duncan and Michael Carter and an equal amount on mailings opposing Christy Cummings and Danielle Tomwing.
Charter school-backed Raising Colorado has spent over $25,000 each on mailings supporting Anne Keke and Tomwing. The conservative education reform group Ready Colorado has spent $900 supporting Cummings, Tomwing and Keke. The Colorado League of Charter Schools spent tens of thousands on candidates in Aurora and Denver, including Keke and Tomwing.
The incoming board members will have a long list of issues to focus on, with reversing the effects of COVID-19 learning loss a top priority for all candidates. They will also be responsible for overseeing district efforts to bridge the achievement gap for students of color, retain more teachers of color, implement federal COVID relief funding in ways targeted to support students and implement Blueprint APS, its building plan responding to demographic changes in Aurora.
2021 Aurora Public Schools Board of Education - 4 At-Large Seats
|Aurora Public Schools At-Large Directors||Adams County||Arapahoe County||Total|
Cherry Creek Schools District
According to early results, Kelly Bates and Kristin Allan are leading in the polls to serve as Cherry Creek’s two new school board directors.
Bates is running for a second term as the representative for district D, a role she began in 2017. Allan is running for a seat in district E, which is currently represented by term-limited outgoing board president Karen Fisher.
Bates has five children who attended Cherry Creek schools and was a longtime district volunteer before she was elected to serve as a school board director. She formerly worked as a childcare director and preschool teacher.
Allan runs a law firm that specializes in insurance coverage, and is chairperson of Cherry Creek’s district accountability committee.
Both Bates and Allan were endorsed by the Cherry Creek Education Association and Fisher endorsed Allan as her successor, along with former superintendent Scott Siegfried and a long list of local Democratic Party politicians. The two spent the most money during the campaign, with Bates receiving $64,000 in contributions and spending $61,000. Allan received $52,000 and spent all but about $500.
Both Bates and Allan ran largely on maintaining Cherry Creek’s current trajectory. Bates campaigned on continuing to deliver on many of the goals the district has been working towards. Allan campaigned on increasing teacher salaries, boosting per-pupil funding and making sure that all students in the district have access to an equitable education.
In both districts, their two competitors — Jennifer Gibbons and Schumé Navarro in district D and Jason Lester and Bill Leach in district E — ran on more conservative platforms.
Issues such as how to address pandemic learning loss and how best to keep students safe from COVID-19 in the classroom were top of mind for all candidates, but national issues such as the ongoing controversy over critical race theory also became flashpoints during the election, along with whether it was appropriate to enforce the Tri-County Health Department’s mask mandate in schools. Navarro campaigned on a platform of opposing CRT and the mask mandate, and the other candidates were also skeptical of the issues to a degree.
If Bates and Allan win, it may signal that debates around critical race theory and COVID-19 health measures can gin up engagement in school board races, but that they may not translate into enough votes to get candidates across the line. It could also be a sign that the majority of voters are happy with Cherry Creek’s current performance, and don’t think a major shakeup is warranted.
Even if conservative candidates are elected to both seats, it’s unlikely that any of the other three sitting candidates would have sided with them to form a majority (votes at school board meetings are regularly 5-0). An opposing viewpoint would likely have changed the tenor of school board meetings rather than the outcomes.
It’s possible that the public comment section of board meetings will remain lively, but much less likely that dissent will break out among the sitting board members.
Cherry Creek had more in-person learning than any other metro area district last year, sparing its students some of the worst effects of the pandemic. However, state standardized testing from this spring show that there were still declines in performance across the board, with students of color faring worse than their white peers.
The board will also be in charge of monitoring the district’s ongoing diversity work. The district has had a number of campaigns over the years to level the playing field for students, but an achievement gap has persisted, with white students doing better academically than their peers.
The next few years will see the rollout of buildings constructed with funds from the mill levy and bond increase passed by voters in the last election, giving the district $185 million for new construction projects, security upgrades and routine maintenance. The most big-ticket item being constructed is a $7 million inpatient mental health facility, the district’s answer to the burgeoning mental health crisis among Colorado teens.
2021 Cherry Creeks schools Board of Education - District D
|Cherry Creek schools District D director||Arapahoe County|
|Kelly Bates - Incumbent||37227|
2021 Cherry Creek schools Board of Education - District E
|Cherry Creek schools District D director||Arapahoe County|
Ballot Question 1A – Arapahoe County Open Space
Arapahoe County voters overwhelmingly agreed to extend a sales tax benefiting open spaces across Aurora.
Early returns show that 75% of residents who cast a ballot decided to extend a tax that charges residents a quarter of a penny on retail purchases made within Aurora’s largest county. First approved by voters in 2003, the tax benefits the maintenance and creation of the county’s 70 miles of trails, 168 parks and 31,000 acres of open space.
The tax has netted about $360 million since it was first levied in 2004. Following a re-authorization by voters in 2011, it was set to expire in 2023.
The new measure approves the tax in perpetuity. It could only be axed following an additional vote of the people.
The referred measure doesn’t increase the current tax, but it rejiggers certain allocations, bumping the percentage of dollars available for maintenance and reducing the pot available for the purchase of new space and trail creation. Half of the tax dollars would remain shared with the county’s various cities and towns.
A similar but unrelated measure in a special district that encompasses a large chunk of Centennial along Aurora’s southern border that asked voters to prolong an existing mill levy for trails and parks also appears poised to pass, polls show. More than two thirds of initial ballots counted approved of the 2.14 mill levy that was originally used to help finance the construction of the Trails Recreation Center and skate park on East Lake Avenue in Centennial.
State Prop 78 — Custodial funds oversight
The Colorado electorate has turned its nose at a proposal seeking to alter how local officials can spend money from federal grants, legal settlements and other sources that don’t stem from state taxes.
Results released just before 9 p.m. on Nov. 2 showed that more than 56% of voters rejected Amendment 78, which aimed to create a new pot of funding — dubbed the custodial fund transparency account — that would absorb dollars from private donors and federal benefactors and thrust them under the discretion of the state legislature. To spend the money, state lawmakers would have to allocate the funds through a novel hearing process that would include public input.
Currently, these so-called custodial funds, which include gifts to public universities and the billions afforded to the state through the federal CARES Act last year, are handed straight to various state entities like the governor’s office or the state attorney general. The legislature’s powerful joint budget committee doesn’t typically deal with such monies as officials who sit on the panel only handle funds regularly allocated to various state agencies.
Proponents of the measure, namely proxies of the conservative group Colorado Rising State Action, have for months argued that the amendment would enhance overall transparency by magnetizing more eyeballs to funds that are typically spent at the discretion of a sole governmental agent.
“This ballot initiative will end slush funds for executive branch offices,” Colorado Rising State Action wrote on its Facebook page when the measure was given the green-light for ballot approval in August. “Every dollar Colorado spends should be authorized by your representatives in the state legislature.”
The group shepherded the measure to the ballot via hundreds of thousands of signature petitions earlier this summer.
State Prop 119 — Extracurricular funds for students
A proposal to increase taxes on retail marijuana sales and create a new panel designed to buoy extracurricular activities for Colorado students has gotten an initial thumbs down from the state electorate, early returns show.
With just about 21% of eligible voters’ ballots returned Tuesday night, about 54% of voters spurned proposition 119, which aims to ramp up sales tax on retail marijuana sales in the coming years, eventually bringing the total to 20% in 2024. In turn, the revenue from those increases would fund the so-called Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program, or LEAP, providing out-of-school help via tutoring, language classes, mental health services and other opportunities for kids ages 5 to 17. Children whose families earn an income at or below the federal poverty level would be given priority.
The new program would be run by a new, nine-member entity that would be appointed by the governor and operate outside of the purview of the state board of education.
In the first few years of implementation, the proposal would divert roughly another $20 million from State Land Trust revenues to the new program, according to legislative budget analysts. After 2023, $20 million from the state general fund would be siphoned into the LEAP pot.
Colorado regularly ranks among the states that spend the least on local students, analyses show. This year, the state spent about $10,200 per pupil, which is less than half of what is spent in the highest ranking states, like New York and Connecticut.
A lengthy and bipartisan list of state legislators, including Democratic Aurora Sen. Rhonda Fields, gave a nod of support to the measure.
While school districts and teachers will be given priority to provide services through the new program, third-party educational providers would also apply to participate.
State Prop 120 — Multifamily property tax relief
A proposal that sought to reduce property taxes for certain landlords and lift revenue caps to backfill state funds failed on Election Day, initial vote counts reported by the Colorado Secretary of State show.
As of about 9 p.m. Nov. 2, nearly 57% of counted ballots indicated that voters shunned proposition 120, which aimed to lessen taxes on all property assessed in the state.
Under current law, the measure would cut the property tax assessment rate for multi-family dwelling owners from 7.15% to 6.5% starting next year. Similarly, owners of hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts would see their rates dwindle from 29% to 26.4%.
Without the measure, state law stipulates that tax rates will dip for the next two years but rebound by 2024. The proposal before voters this Election Day would keep the rate flat for years to come, and backers have threatened to take legal action to toss the new law that watered down the measure. If successful in court, that would mean vast tax reductions for all property owners in Colorado, and losses of hundreds of millions of dollars for various districts and counties.
At the same time, the measure sought to temporarily lift the seal on up to $25 million in annual TABOR caps for the next five years, freeing up more state funds to hand to counties that offer breaks to vulnerable populations through the so-called homestead exemption.
The relief valve allows people over 65 years old and military veterans disabled during their service to lop off 50% of up to $200,000 of assessed property value from their tax payment.
Right-leaning groups that brought the measure to fruition have argued that the tax breaks would encourage more investment in an air-tight market, ideally leading to more multi-family construction.
The measure marks the second year in a row that residents were tasked with mulling the state’s property tax formulas after long standing scaffolding was nixed when Amendment B killed the Gallagher Amendment in 2020.
2021 Statewide and Local Ballot Questions
|Statewide Ballot Question||Arapahoe County||Douglas County||Adams County||Statewide Total|
|Arapahoe County 1A - open space||Yes||117878||N/A||N/A||117878|
|Arapahoe County 1A - open space||No||81378||N/A||N/A||81378|