September 11, 2015

Oops — five candidates vie for just two school-board seats

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The current Aspen Board of Education includes, left to right, Susan Marolt, Annie Cassidy, Bob Glah, Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills.

Aspen School District

The current Aspen Board of Education includes, left to right, Susan Marolt, Annie Cassidy, Bob Glah, Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills.

There are only two open seats instead of three, but there are still five candidates in the Nov. 3 Aspen School Board election and it looks like the whole affair will go — for the most part — as originally intended.

The Aspen School District revealed Sept. 9 that, owing to an administrative error, it had mistakenly listed three four-year seats for the November ballot, when in fact only two of the open seats will come with four-year terms. The third seat comes with a two-year term.

The Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office discovered the error.

All five candidates stated on their petitions that they were seeking four years in office, and school district officials — on the advice of their attorneys and the Colorado Secretary of State’s office — decided it was too late to undo those commitments. So, the ballots will direct voters to choose two of the five candidates to fill two seats on the board.

When a new school board is in place after the election, one of that board’s first actions will be to appoint its fifth member, who will serve a two-year term.

“The way the ballot should have been posted was with two four-year seats available and one two-year seat available,” said Sandra Peirce, the current board president, who is running for a second term. “We will try to move past this and rectify it as best we can.”

The source of the confusion was the 2013 school board election, when only two candidates signed up to fill three four-year seats. With fewer candidates than seats, the district canceled the election and gave two seats to candidates Bob Glah, who was running for his second term, and Susan Marolt, who was seeking her first.

When the new board was in place, Annie Cassidy was appointed to fill the third seat. However, as an appointee, Cassidy was only allowed to serve until the next election. That “next election” is November 2015, and Cassidy has decided to step down. That leaves the seat vacant — not for four years, but for the remaining two years of the four-year term that was supposed to begin in 2013.

It was this quirk of the law that district officials missed in their preparations.

“Annie was the first appointment we’d ever had,” Peirce explained. “This was not the usual circumstance.”

When the votes are counted on Nov. 3, five candidates will be in the running. Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills are on the present board, and are seeking reelection. The three other candidates are newcomers to the school board: Mary Houchin, Margeaux Johansson and Lee Mulcahy.

All five have said they’re continuing with their bids, despite the changed circumstances.

Said Johansson: “I think it was an honest mistake and I don’t have any problem at all.”

Said Houchin: “I’m moving forward. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.”

Mulcahy said he would have preferred to run for the two-year seat, but said “I’m still in.”

Peirce and Wills are also staying in the race. And both said Thursday that the most equitable way to fill the two-year seat would be to give it to the election’s third-highest vote-getter.

Susan Marolt, the current vice president of the board, agrees.

“I think the fair way to do it would be to take whoever comes in third,” she said. “That would be the closest to what everyone thought in the beginning.”

That decision rests, however, with the new, post-election school board. That board will have only four members: Marolt, Glah and two newly elected members. Those individuals will decide on the person to fill the fifth seat, for two years.

Then, in 2017, voters will have what they originally expected this year: three vacant four-year seats on the Aspen school board.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on education coverage. The Times published this story on Sept. 11, 2015.

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