CASTLE ROCK – The Douglas County School District Board of Education is back to seven members.
After two months of disagreement about who to appoint to the vacant seat left open by board member Doug Benevento’s abrupt resignation, board president Meghann Silverthorn appointed a fresh face in the community.
Naval reservist Steve Peck was sworn in Monday afternoon by family friend and former Aurora Public Schools superintendentJohn Barry. Peck has a wife and two young children. He is a hiring manager at Anschutz Medical Center.
Peck said after the brief ceremony that he wants to make sure his two young children are better prepared with their own education, so when the seat became available in September he thought it was a good opportunity.
“Not only to be prepared for the marketplace when that day comes, but how do you make sure they are well-rounded citizens?” He said. “There are so many important aspects of citizenry when you are governing your own. And I want to make sure that people are prepared for the market place, and beyond that, what makes us special, well-rounded individuals.”
Under state law, the board had 60 days from the date it accepted Benevento’s resignation to appoint a new member. When the board could not come to an agreement, state statue says the board president “shall” make the appointment. Monday was the 60th day following the Douglas County school board’s fitful acceptance of Benevento’s resignation.
Board members Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux were present for the ceremony. Lemieux was visibly frustrated she and Vogel were not notified in what she thought was a timely manner, openly complaining to others in the room before the ceremony that they did not get notified until early afternoon after an email from Vogel.
At an October 18 board meeting, Silverthorn announced that if the board did not come to an agreement, she would make the appointment on Nov. 7. Likewise, a press release from October, which is posted on the district’s website, says an appointment would be made Nov. 7 if no candidate could garner the required four votes for approval.
The board initially interviewed six candidates for the position and narrowed that field to four at the Oct. 18 board meeting. At that meeting, board members argued for more than an hour and couldn’t come to an agreement. In fact, the board didn’t make it through three rounds of voting as board minority members David Ray, Vogel, and Lemieux focused on what they claimed was the unwillingness of board majority members James Geddes, Judith Reynolds, and Silverthorne to name a second choice behind Peck. The law does not require school board members to publicly rank or order candidates, and Silverthorn has stated that she felt uncomfortable doing so.
The board minority members also highlighted Peck’s affiliation with the Leadership Program of the Rockies and said it would cause more political division on the board, though Silverthorn argued that they did not have a clear understanding of what the organization does.
LPR is a non-profit organization that teaches a set of leadership principals based on individual liberty, small government, and other ideals.
Lemieux would not state that she personally believed LPR was the main complaint about Peck, arguing instead that she had heard complaints from “the community.” She later stated that the board needed to be more transparent and that she knew exactly what the entire community wanted in a board member.
“We know who would step on toes,” Lemieux said, implying that Peck was going to cause more decisiveness on the board and in the district. “We owe an honest and transparent discussion with our community, and I am their voice. I promised to be their voice.”
Peck left Navy in December of 2013 and moved to Douglas County in January 2014. He was not willing to commit whether he planned to the seat in 2017 when his term is up.
He was also unwilling to comment on issues already before the board such as vouchers and guns, saying he didn’t have enough information to be thoughtful in his answers.
When asked why he wanted to be a part of an already polarized board, Peck said he was exited at the chance to play a role in making DCSD the best district it can be.
“Yes it’s unpaid, and yes there is a lot of contentiousness that surrounds this seat, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Peck said. “I think when you keep your eye on what’s best for the community, what’s best for teachers and kids, everything, all the naysaying and rancor just kind of fades away.”