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Dolores candidates discuss their views at two separate forums

About 25 people attended a candidates forum at the Dolores Community Center Wednesday. A separate forum was held at 29885 Colorado Highway 184. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
One forum was at Dolores Community Center; the other, at a candidate’s home

The Dolores School District RE-4A Board of Education candidates held two separate, overlapping forum events Wednesday evening to discuss their views ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

Four candidates are running for two open board seats: Heather Barritt, Casey McClellan, Lori Raney and Jerry Whited.

McClellan is running for re-election. Board member Kay Phelps’ seat is open, and she is not seeking reelection.

Dolores Schools board candidates Lori Raney and Jerry Whited spoke at a forum at the Dolores Community Center attended by about 25 citizens. It also was available on Zoom.

Candidates Casey McClellan and Heather Barritt chose to hold a separate candidate forum at the same time at McClellan’s home.

The Dolores Community Center candidate forum was organized by the Dolores Education Association. Kelly Turner, of station KRTZ, was the moderator.

“It is important we all engage in a constructive and civil manner, so critical in this day and age,” he said.

Lori Raney
Lori Raney

Raney has worked as a physician in the community for the past 20 years as a psychiatrist. She recently retired and saw an opportunity to serve on the local school board. Her daughter graduated from Dolores High school in 2016.

“I’m a huge advocate for kids and behavioral health,” she said.

She is concerned about teacher retention and turnover and has time in retirement to commit to board duties.

The pandemic is a big issue for schools and likely will last for six months to a year, she said. The emotional impacts it has had on children needs to be addressed, she added, and it will take time and work to bring students back up to academic levels that dropped because of the pandemic disruption.

The lack of affordable housing and livable wage for teachers are also an issue that needs to be addressed, Raney said.

“To attract new teachers, we will have to figure that out, and have those conversations in our community,” she said.

As a board member, she said it’s important to listen to different perspectives, especially in a time of divisiveness.

Getting to the root of “anger and frustration are where the issues are that need to be discussed in order to give people information. You have to listen to do that. Having difficult conversations, I have been doing my entire career.”

On whether the school needs a new campus, Raney said she sees pros and cons. Whether the BEST grant funding will be there for improving the current campus or building a new one is a big concern, she said.

Jerry Whited
Jerry Whited

Whited has lived in the community for over 10 years and works as a firefighter and EMT for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

He wants to serve on the school board “to work toward solutions and reduce divisiveness. Let’s come together for the community.”

Whited said in-person learning for students is an important priority, and he believes it can be done safely.

As a parent with a student with a disability, making sure policies and procedures that support special-needs students are working are also a priority.

Whited said teacher retention and competitive salaries is another issue that needs attention.

“It is not a livable wage for Dolores,” he said. “We need to look at ways to raise their salaries.”

He supports a proposal in the Colorado legislature that would create a base teacher salary of $40,000.

To keep kids safe in school in pandemic times Whited recommends more technology be used, such as using ultraviolet lights daily to disinfect schools and buses, along with air purifying systems.

Proactive actions against COVID will keep kids in school, where they need to be, and is critical “to develop social skills,” he said.

To improve communication in the community, Whited suggested having one board meeting per month that was just for public comment, questions and answers, and board discussion. He feels it will help solve problems and smooth out the regular school board meetings.

On the proposal for a new campus or improving the new, Whited said it comes down to what makes the most financial sense. He would like to see improvements made at the current campus for students in wheelchairs.

On the issue of teaching critical race theory, Raney and Whited both said it was a non-issue.

Raney said critical race theory is graduate level, law school education, and not part of K-12 curriculum. The real topic is to monitor how schools are doing to support students with different cultures and backgrounds, and whether problems or issues need to be addressed, she said.

Whited agreed the critical race theory is a college level topic. Effectively teaching history in K-12 schools will prepare students to tackle critical race theory topics later in college, he said.

“You need the basis of history to understand CRT,” he said. “It has become politicized.”

About 2 miles from the community center, McClellan and Barritt spoke about their educational beliefs at a separate forum from 5 to 7 p.m.

Listeners sat under a tent raised at the end of a stretch of road where McClellan lives.

Heather Barritt
Casey McClellan and Heather Barritt at their school board candidate forum Wednesday evening.

Barritt, a mother of an 11-year-old in the district, spoke first.

“There are a lot of things coming into not only our district, but districts nationwide, that I'm not OK with,” Barritt said in her opening remarks.

She first addressed a one-off health class focusing on puberty offered in the fifth grade last year. She was the only parent to not allow her child to participate, she said.

“In my gut, and with the way our world is at this point in time, I felt like they were going to address more things than just puberty in this class,” she said.

She later found out the class covered topics like transgenderism and homosexuality.

“It goes into things far beyond puberty,” she said. “There is no gray area in puberty. I don't feel that transgenderism or homosexuality is something that should be brought up in a fifth grade puberty course. I have a big issue with that.”

Both Barritt and McClellan voiced opposition to critical race theory, although they said it isn’t currently in Dolores school curriculum.

Barritt said to her, critical race theory means division.

“If you're a good person, you're a good person, and it doesn't matter what color your skin is — it never should matter,” she said.

McClellan agreed in his speech.

“It's so broad that it's hard to define, but what it comes down to is whiteness is bad,” he said. “If you’re white, you’re privileged and your privilege? You need to take ownership of that, you need to recognize that you’re privileged and then renounce that. It's so wrong.”

Barritt finished her speech by saying she is willing to be an advocate for any student or teacher.

“I'm willing to be that person that stands up and says the things that nobody else wants to say,” she said.

Casey McClellan

McClellan, who initially ran four years ago, spoke about parental participation and budgeting.

“I'm motivated by injustice and unfairness,” he said. “I'm by no means an extroverted person, but, well, I can't hardly help myself when something's going wrong.”

Parent involvement in the schools is crucial, he said.

“I can't tell you what that means to to a board – when they see parents that are involved with their school and are coming in to speak to the board,” he said.

Managing the school budget in a financially conservative way is important to McClellan, he said.

He gave a few examples of how he’s implemented this belief, such as lowering the initial project budget for the district’s bus garage.

Initially, the construction was slated to be a $700,000 to $800,000 endeavor, he said. He said he suggested that the district get estimates, and he met with two contractors who quoted about $250,000 to $300,000. The district capped the project at $300,000, and went over by about $50,0000.

“We saved ourselves several $100,000’s by just paying attention,” he said. “And I can tell you, we were so close to approving a ($7,00,000 to 800,000) bus garage, which was ridiculous.”

McClellan said he has pushed back against suggestions to move school out of the district, and that the district is still considering the move.

He urged parents to get involved in the school community.

“You don't have to wait for an opening on the DAC committee. You don't have to wait for to be invited to the PTA forum. We're going to listen to you,” he said. “Form something, get yourselves together.”

He said he is against masking and vaccinations, and that he voted against COVID protocol at a recent board meeting.

Currently, the district has COVID-19 guidelines organized by number of cases.

McClellan said the district will “be on the cusp of an orange level constantly” and that he doesn’t want to see the mandated mask-wearing for all students that this guideline would entail.

A school enters “Orange Status” when up to 5% of students on one campus are infected. This means up to 22 secondary students, 16 elementary students and five preschool students are infected.

He also expressed disappointment that the board wasn’t involved in the decision to move the secondary and elementary schools to online learning this week.

Nov 30, 2021
Dolores schools move to remote learning for a week

After the candidates spoke, the crowd of about 30 was invited to eat food from a barbecue and speak with the candidates personally.