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The League of Women Voters of Chaffee County (LWVCC) sponsored an October 15 candidate forum featuring candidates running for the Buena Vista (BV) Board of Education (BOE) in the November 7 consolidated election.

The event was held at the Buena Vista Community Center and gave voters and the press a chance to ask questions directly to the candidates. For purposes of length, Ark Valley Voice is breaking our coverage into two segments: the first running today, October 20, the second part is posting on October 21.

Candi-Dating begins with each school board candidate joining full tables throughout the room to talk with them and answer questions. Photo by Carly Winchell.

The event featured a solid turnout of people ready to hear from seven of the eight candidates running for the five open seats on the board. The candidates  present were:

District 1 – John Casey Martin and Brett Mitchell

District 3 – Norman Nyberg

At Large, four years – Mallory Brooks and Montana Brown

At Large, two years – Paula Dylan and Trinda Windle

District 4 candidate George Richardson is running unopposed and was out of town, so he did not attend the forum.

Eighth-grade student Andee Quillico asks a question at the LWVCC 2023 School Board Candidate Forum. Photo by Carly Winchell.

The event began with one-minute introductions from each candidate.

This was followed by a lightning round where Chaffee County Times Editor Hannah Harn, Ark Valley Voice Publisher/Managing Editor Jan Wondra, and eighth-grade student representative Andee Quillico asked questions.

Unopposed District 3 candidate Norman Nyberg was originally only going to speak during the introduction portion of the event but decided to stay to answer lightning-round questions.

After the lightning round, the candidates (sans Norman Nyberg) joined six tables set up throughout the room for Candi-dating, a spin on speed dating.

Each table featured a League of Women Voters moderator and a miscellaneous array of voters ready to ask questions. Candidates spent nine minutes at each table answering questions before rotating to the next group. This was repeated until every table had the chance to speak with all six candidates.

The LWVCC uploaded a video of the introductions and lightning round on their website.

To better offer insight into contested elections, the candidate’s introductions and lightning round answers are broken down by question and district.


District 1 – Brett Mitchell and Casey Martin

Mitchell grew up in Buena Vista and lived in the area his entire life. He has raised a family, run a business, and has two kids currently in High School. He is the Vice President of the Buena Vista Board of Education and is the incumbent candidate for District 1.

“I’m running because kids are our future and we really need to make sure that our schools are running well,” said Mitchell who concluded that he wants to be sure they are “open and available for anyone that has any questions or concerns and keep our kids moving forward.”

Martin is a local lawyer who represents clients in business and real estate. His wife Katy is the school nurse at Avery Parsons Elementary School. They have three boys, George, Peter, and Jack in seventh, fifth, and kindergarten.

Martin emphasized the importance of building consensus for a unified voice in the board room and cited his experience on boards and as general counsel for two electric cooperatives.

“I’m running for this seat because I want the best school possible for those three dudes and for all of your kids, grandkids, neighbors, and friends,” said Martin. “I’m running for this specific seat because because I want to give voters a choice in their District 1 representation.”

“Everything costs money,” concluded Martin. “We have a very difficult situation here in the state of Colorado with the way schools are funded. So every choice we make in the budget means something else probably got left behind. So we have to make sure that we are representing our school community’s values in our budgeting process.”

At Large Four Years – Mallory Brooks and Montana Brown

Brooks is currently a high school cross-country coach and mentor. Her son is in fifth grade at Avery Parsons.

“After living in this valley we realized how amazing these school systems are. . . The skill of the teachers and quality of education is really amazing in this small town, and I know that doesn’t come without a lot of work behind the scenes.”

“I don’t want to take that for granted. I want to make sure that we keep pushing, that we’re not OK with just the status quo, that we keep striving to be this role model school, and the teachers deserve to have a platform to be listened to,” continued Brooks.

Brooks said she is a good listener and seeks out communication. “I don’t think I have all the answers, but I know that my role is representing teachers and the community and the students.”

Brooks also emphasized that her role as parent and coach places her on school campus a lot, giving her a good idea of the student perspective.

Brown was an educator and administrator for eleven years in Jefferson County but left public education “because of the challenges it faces”. She has a master’s in education and a post-masters specialist in education degree in leadership for educational organizations and a principal’s license. Currently, she works in a Colorado-based nonprofit that supports public health in K-12 schools.

“I think that putting my passion for public education and my desire to see it be successful into a volunteer role on the school board is a way that I can channel that experience in education and love that I have into something that we will all benefit from,” said Brown.

She has two young children not yet in school. “[The kids] are our future, and our future, to me, feels a little bit scary right now,” said Brown. “I am just really looking forward to putting this love into our schools. Recognizing that being a teacher and administrator is an impossible job and showing immense gratitude for the people who are doing it.”

Brown finished emphasizing a desire for a rigorous school system with a “phenomenal academic and social environment.”

At Large Two Years – Paula Dylan and Trinda Windle

At Large candidate Paula Dylan. Photo by Carly Winchell

Dylan said she has been thinking about running for about seven years, but intentionally waited to run for the school board position until after her children graduated. Her last two kids in the district graduated this past May.

“I want to make sure that, if I am lucky enough to be elected onto the school board, I am representing all of the kids in the community and the entire community and not just the interests of my children,” explained Dylan.

“Also I wanted to make sure that I gave this position the time I could and I felt that it deserves and needed to be able to serve the community correctly, and I couldn’t do that if I’m also a single parent for three kids that are in multiple sports and other activities.”

Dylan cited advocating for better funding for rural school districts as a primary goal, and said she is looking to support a multi-level approach toward safe schools for students, teachers, and staff but ran out of time during the introduction to go into more detail on that topic.

Windle said her family has been in this community for about six years. She has a background in public health and sciences but has spent the last ten years with her kids. She has four kids currently enrolled in the Buena Vista school district.

“I am running for this position because I want to serve our community by serving our school district,” said Windle. “I feel like a strong school district translates to a strong community here and beyond Chaffee County. I really value, of course, paying attention to academic achievement, but I also value just raising critically competent good citizens that we can send out into the world.”

Windle stated she is “very fiscally conservative” and wants to ensure the available budget is used well and “stretched to the appropriate places.” She said that she values open communication and collaboration with all stakeholders, such as students, staff, administration, and community.

District 3 – Norman Nyberg

Nyberg is a lifelong resident of Buena Vista. He was a sitting Buena Vista trustee for several years and a long-term employee of the school. Nyberg cited his term as trustee as evidence for his understanding of the economics of the area.

“My number one goal at the school was always to try to keep the kids safe and healthy and that goes for the staff too,” said Nyberg.

“The school district is a great district,” continued Nyberg. “There are a few things that could be improved on and money better spent so to say, but, for the most part, the administration of our school does a pretty decent job.”

Lightning Round Questions

Student Question: “How do you feel about students getting involved in decisions made by the board and what do you see these decisions and involvement looking like?” asked Quillico.

District 1 – Brett Mitchell and Casey Martin

Mitchell replied, “I’ve always loved it when our kids come in and give us input on any subjects.”

He said students typically come in to give updates on how they’re doing in school, “but having a group of kids or individuals come in and weigh in on any of the items that we have, whether it be scheduling or classes or the curriculum, I think would be wonderful.”

Mitchell encouraged students and anyone to provide input, stating the board has always encouraged participation. He concluded that they might not always be able to do what they’re asked, but that they would weigh the input when making decisions.

Martin identified himself as a self-professed student government nerd and commended Quillico for her involvement.

“I would welcome involvement from students on the school board,” said Martin, explaining that there was a student representative on the board of trustees when he was student body vice president at the University of Illinois.

“Something we should think about is having a position that is elected by the students to come sit and have an advisory role on the board,” suggested Martin. “I think that would be really cool.”

At Large Four Years – Mallory Brooks and Montana Brown

Brooks also agreed on the importance of student involvement and took it a step further to suggest board member involvement with student government may also be possible.

“Even on the flip side, having us represented at your meetings and coming in and getting to see how you guys do things,” said Brooks. She explained this would be a potentially less intimidating method of communication and allow the board to see what ideas the students have and identify ways to help.

“Our role is not to just serve the issues that we see, but to be a voice for you guys,” concluded Brooks.

At Large candidate Montana Brown answers voters’ questions. Photo by Carly Winchell

Brown explained that she was impressed by the intelligence, drive, and potential of her high school students when she was teaching.

“I think that the board having an awareness of the kids that are rocking it in cross country, or in theater, or in geography,” said Brown, “just the board knowing who our students are, what they’re getting out of our school district.”

Brown suggested other ways the board could communicate with students, such as listening sessions at the high school or middle school or a monthly lunch.

At Large Two Years – Paula Dylan and Trinda Windle

Dylan agreed that involvement is important and highlighted some of the ways that students are already involved with other aspects of the district.

“There is a student that is always sitting on the District Accountability Committee [DAC],” explained Dylan. And for the years that I have been on the DAC having that student there to bring their perspective to whatever challenge the DAC gets from the school board has been really beneficial.”

Dylan said it’s important for the board to encourage people and students with different points of view to provide input, especially on major decisions. She described the board as taking a “five thousand or ten thousand foot view” of issues, and needing additional input to keep decisions grounded.

“If we don’t listen to the people who are affected by the decisions the school board is making, then we can cause even more problems,” concluded Dylan.

Windle said she would “welcome and support” student involvement in decisions.

“Of course, if we are a collaborative school district, we want input from all of our stakeholders and that would definitely include the students,” said Windle.

“If we are allowing our students into those conversations then that also means we are raising our students to ask good questions and be critical thinkers, and that’s our goal for the district,” she concluded. 

District 3 – Norman Nyberg

Nyberg agreed that communication with students is key regardless of grade level.

“I don’t care if they’re high school or preschool, all these students have something to say, and the communication aspect of it should always be out there,” explained Nyberg. “Communication between students and the teachers and the teachers and staff will only help the district go further and further.”

“As a board member I would say communication with the public and the kids is one of the most important things we can ever do,” concluded Nyberg.

Lightning Round Question: More than 70 percent of teachers and staff in the school district have indicated they would like to be recognized as a collective bargaining association. In other words a local education union. This past year, the board has chosen not to hear them, which could be seen as another way of saying our teachers can’t be trusted. In your opinion, can our teachers be trusted, and based on that belief, would you be willing to include that as an official agenda item for the school board this coming year?” asked Wondra (Ark Valley Voice).

District 1 – Brett Mitchell and Casey Martin

Mitchell acknowledged the breadth of the issue and said it would take longer than one minute to discuss. Mitchell served as vice president of the school board when the BVEA brought their petition. AVV reported on the meeting when the BOE responded. He said the situation was less than ideal.

“It was dropped on us as an ultimatum. ‘We’ve got three more weeks until the end of school, give us an answer right now or we’re done.’ And you can’t make a decision on something that’s that important that quick,” said Mitchell.

Second, Mitchell expressed that the board had provided opportunities for communication with teachers but have experienced poor turnout for those events.

“We had a linkage two weeks ago, right after school during a time that they could get to us. Three teachers showed up to hear what everybody else was going to talk about. If they don’t talk to us, I can’t help them. I love our teachers, I really want to help them to come to terms with our administration, but they got to talk to us,” concluded Mitchell.

Martin replied, “I disagreed with the way the school board handled the petition of the board to seek collective bargaining, but I do think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the effectiveness and the reasoning behind a collective bargaining unit in a public employee situation. What I saw was an unwillingness to have that conversation.”

Martin said having a discussion about what collective bargaining means and what effect it and a union would have on the district would have been the best approach.

“Simply saying, ‘no, essentially go pound sand and have it come back to us another time,’ perhaps wasn’t the right way to handle it,” continued Martin.  He concluded that he would vote in favor of recognizing the union if asked by an overwhelming majority of teachers and staff.

At Large Four Years – Mallory Brooks and Montana Brown

Brooks replied that she would like to echo Dylan and Martin’s responses to the question.

At Large candidate Mallory Brooks answers voters’ questions. Photo by Carly Winchell

“I wasn’t in the room, but I didn’t agree with how the board responded to the teachers. I don’t know what the right answer is,” said Brooks, “but I do know we need to be listening to the teachers more. We need to be giving them a seat at the table and a louder voice.”

Brooks acknowledged it was a complex issue and she doesn’t have an answer right now. “I’m ready to work with them and try to figure out a path forward, so they feel valued, so that we don’t have as high turnover, so that teachers are happy and want to stay in this job.”

Brown questioned the retention and high turnover rate of teachers but admitted a lack of supporting data.

Brown mentioned the BVEA sent an email asking candidates to answer a variety of questions. Brown responded and requested a chance to meet and talk for more context but didn’t receive a response from the organization.

“That, to me, is a little bit frustrating because we’re having these conversations but then it didn’t seem like there was a way to have a conversation.”

Brown also said she witnessed a teacher on paid leave for two years while a union advocated for their job in Jefferson County. In a follow up email after the forum, Brown supplied AVV with an article from Voice of San Diego about teachers in San Diego who have received paid leave for a variety of reasons.

Brown claimed that 90 percent of union dues go to supporting political campaigns with 10 percent going to support actual teachers.

[Note: AVV reached out to the Colorado Education Association (CEA) directly for comment on this statistic. CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert responded that funds were distributed the opposite of Brown’s claim. “Basically, like 90 percent of our dues are used on our programs and things like that, and roughly 10 percent probably that is used for political work.”

Baca-Oehlert explained that their entire budget comes from members’ dues and that they do not receive outside dollars for programs or political spending. Membership in a union is voluntary in Colorado and CEA members can request those dues back.

“It’s through an assessment through our dues, but people can request it back if they choose to,” explained Baca-Oehlert. “It’s pretty much people making a pretty conscious choice that they want some of their hard-earned dollars to go towards ensuring that we have pro-public education elected officials. And it also goes towards things like ballot measures and things like that as well.”

AVV reached out to Brown directly for sources that support this statistic. In an emailed response, she supplied sources from Americans for Fair Treatment (AFFT) and Opt Out Today (associated with the Freedom Foundation), two organizations some may consider biased and anti-union.

Brown also supplied a source from Open Secrets, a nonpartisan group that is considered fairly unbiased and factual by Media Bias / Fact Check. Open Secrets states, “Teachers unions have steadily amped up their political involvement.” The article reviews trends across the years for political contributions by teachers’ unions on a national scale.]

At Large Two Years – Paula Dylan and Trinda Windle

Dylan began by saying she felt similarly to Martin. “One thing to note though, is that currently, I believe that the BVEA is not any more at seventy percent,” said Dylan. She mentioned that some teachers received a raise while the rest of the staff didn’t, and that some chose to leave, which brought the percentage down.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s important, if I’m on the board and we’re asked to, we need to have the discussion with them.”

Windle replied, “I do not support collective bargaining with our district.”

Windle explained that she values the district and believes it is strong with an amazing staff. “I also really value collaboration with local community and local authority, so I don’t support collective bargaining,” Windle concluded.

District 3 – Norman Nyberg

Nyberg began by acknowledging that this issue is “warm to hot” around here. He explained that he has been conducting research but is still waiting for some of the materials to come in. “I want to see and I want to hear from some of the teachers and get their thoughts,” said Nyberg.

“I’m not saying yes, not saying no,” continued Nyberg. “I’m just saying that we need to get all the ducks in a row before making some sort of decision. Unions in the past have been good. I’ve been in a couple unions in my lifetime. I just want to hear more about it and get my research stuff back.”

Lightning Round Question: “Take a moment to describe what you feel the value and the culture of the district’s constituents are,” asked Harn (Chaffee County Times).

District 1 – Brett Mitchell and Casey Martin

Mitchell replied, “We do have a lot of respect in our community, and in today’s value-stricken world where politics is so divided and everything, we can be in a room like this, and everybody can be smiling and everybody be friendly and that’s what we’re trying to teach our kids.”

Mitchell cited his own action on the board to push for graduation requirements to help kids discuss controversial topics with facts and not emotions as a way the district is sticking to these values.

District 1 candidate Casey Martin. Photo by Carly Winchell

Martin recognized whether someone was a local or transplant, all have common things that bring the community together.

“You either stayed or you made a big sacrifice to come share in this community, and there are reasons for that, and we have to protect the things that brought us here or kept us here,” said Martin.

Martin also noted the changing demographic of the area and the mixed feelings regarding those changes.

“A lot of people like it, lots of people hate it,” said Martin, “But what has brought this community this far is all of those people coming together to do what’s in the best interest for the kids, the teachers, and the staff.”

Martin concluded by allowing that there will be disagreements, but everyone will be successful as long as they continue respectfully working together and keeping core values in mind.

At Large Four Years – Mallory Brooks and Montana Brown

Brooks replied, “I see a strong value of our district being this global way of thinking. We’re a little town and we’re so strong, but we need to be constantly looking at what’s going on around us.” Brooks mentioned the importance of raising critical thinkers who don’t feel like growing up in a small town is a hindrance to their understanding of the world.

“We’re a small town, but we can have big views,” continued Brooks. “I truly believe that what starts here can change the world. We’re small, but a really mighty school system.”

Brown replied, “BV Proud Right? I think some people roll their eyes because I’ve only lived here for two years now, but I moved here because of the magic that is so evident and radiates in this community.”

Brown praised the community for events like the Christmas parade, Halloween parade, and homecoming game that invite members of the community to rally together throughout the year.

“I’m so excited to have my kids be a part of this school district,” continued Brown, “because I do believe that it’s the center of the community and you don’t have to have kid in the schools to feel proud and excited about what we’re doing.”

At Large Two Years – Paula Dylan and Trinda Windle

Dylan teared up at first as she spoke of the community not just of the school district but as a whole town, praising the local community for its ability to come together and work as a community.

“We are stronger together,” said Dylan. “We come together whenever it’s needed and that’s really really important.”

“I think that one of the biggest things that we give our kids and our school district is, we’re noticing our community is changing, but with those changes, our base values are still the same across the board.”

Dylan reiterated these values including making sure everyone feels safe and heard, and applauded the district and the community for doing a good job of that. “It’s just making sure we all still are safe and that we feel valued.”

Windle agreed with the other candidates that Buena Vista is a proud and strong community.

“I also think that there is a value of service within our community,” continued Windle. “I see that in our school district and I see that in our community, and that’s something I know that my family has really come to love.”

Windle said they reinforce those values with their kids at home, but it’s also good that they can see these values in their fellow students at school.

District 3 – Norman Nyberg

Nyberg replied, “I believe the values of the district are to continue forward as they are going, maybe work a little harder in some areas, but continue to strive to get these kiddos to school, through school, with a good education so that they’ll be a very productive teenager and/or adult.”

Follow this link to read Part II of our coverage on this event, on Saturday, October 21. It  includes the final two questions asked during the lightning round and a BVEA representative’s responses to some of the topics and claims discussed during the forum.

Featured image: Candidate Paul Dylan answers questions during the LWVCC Candi-dating table sessions. Photo by Carly Winchell