Election 2021: Kelly Bates says she knows what kids need on Cherry Creek school board

District D incumbent competes for another term as a school board member

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This is a profile of one of the three candidates for the District D seat on the Cherry Creek School District's board.

When she still had the time, Kelly Bates worked as the director of a child-care facility for roughly 200 children, she said. She also taught preschool in a day-care setting.

“My husband and I ended up having five children,” Bates said. “After our first and second came, it made sense for me to stay home.”

One of her children had special needs, so she dedicated more time to that child, she added.

Bates, who said she has “always had a love for children,” kept up her involvement in kids' lives in volunteer roles in the Cherry Creek School District. Four years ago, she was evaluating her opinion of a school board candidate in her area, and Bates felt that compared to that candidate, she was “more apt to help all our students,” she said. So she entered the race and ended up winning.

“I think that I am able to set aside my own family and believe that I am here to serve all children and families, and not just families in our area,” Bates said.

“We live in probably a more affluent area of Aurora, and we have such a high need in many of our areas (in the district). I think I'm more aware of that than maybe some other people are,” Bates said. She added: “Because I've been on the board, I've seen that firsthand. And I know what our kids are needing.”

Bates is running for a second term in Cherry Creek school board District D, the area that encompasses parts of east Centennial and southeast Aurora. Bates began her first term as a school board member in fall 2017. Bates' opponents are Schumé Navarro and Jennifer Gibbons.

Bates, 55, grew up in Ohio and also lived in Michigan. Her husband's job brought them to Colorado; he works as the chief financial officer for a large construction company, RK Industries.

Bates lives in Aurora, and her five children all graduated from Cherry Creek schools.

Bates has been volunteering in schools since her oldest child was 3 and has been volunteering in Cherry Creek School District for 17 years, she said. That includes serving as president of a parent-teacher community organization, or PTCO, for an elementary school and serving at the middle-school level as well.

In her time serving on the Cherry Creek school board, she feels that one of the board's most important decisions was encouraging the district to run in-person classes in August 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic still in its early stages in Colorado.

For much of the 2020-21 school year, Cherry Creek operated under a hybrid, or “blended,” model for grades six through 12 that placed half of students in school Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the other half attending Thursday and Friday.

“Of course, we always have pushback, and some people were unhappy with what we were doing,” Bates said. She added: “I would say most of our constituents were happy with us being able to have kids in school at least part time.”

Teachers' union support

Bates was endorsed as a candidate by the Cherry Creek Education Association, the teachers' union in the district. Kristin Allan, a candidate for school board in Creek District E, was also endorsed by the teachers' union.

“I don't look at this union as a political entity,” Bates said. “Do people complain about the police union or the fire union? … I don't know why it's different with this union.”

She added: “When our union is strong and supporting our teachers and making sure they have the best working conditions, then our kids have the best learning conditions.”

Bates argued it's not a conflict of interest for a school board candidate to be endorsed by the union because school board members don't sit in on negotiations between the union and the district on matters such as pay raises or benefits, she said.

The district's human resources department, the superintendent and the union hold discussions, and when they come to an agreement, they bring it to the school board to approve, Bates said. The matters don't come to the school board until the bargaining is complete, Bates said.

“I know that other prior board members had been endorsed by the union, and I served with those people, and I can say that that has never come into (play) in (our) conversations,” Bates said.

Regarding the charged political climate in the school district — partly centered on the teaching of racial issues in classrooms — Bates said a way to combat division is by encouraging people to be involved.

She said that before May, the district might only see six people at a school board meeting.

"So until something becomes a hot topic nationally, we don't hear these complaints,” Bates said.

“I think all we can do is talk to people and explain what is happening, and I believe if people were more actively involved before these issues come out and weren't only listening to one side of the story,” there would be less tension, she said. She added that the board needs to “just be able to explain to our constituents what we are doing.”

A Facebook post by Bates in June 2020 showed she had a blacked-out profile picture, a trend on social media to show support for Black Lives Matter.

“I believe that all people should be supported — Black, white (and so on),” Bates said. “But I do believe that people of color are treated differently than white people are. I believe they have different experiences than we do. And so when people are treated unfairly, no matter who they are, I will support those people.”

That includes the LGBTQ community and undocumented families, Bates said.

“And I don't support the organization Black Lives Matter; I support the cause,” Bates said.

During a Cherry Creek school board candidates’ forum on Oct. 7, Bates was asked whether she thinks the current school board is not representative of the community and lacks diversity because there are no men on the board.

Bates responded that she believes the board has “a lot of diversity” on it, noting that to her understanding, “this is the first time in the 70-year history of this district that we have five women sitting on the board.” She noted two Black women sit on the board and that the board members live in all areas of the district.

“I don’t think we need a man to be on our board just because he’s a man,” Bates said. She added: “We do not need a white man sitting on our board.”

Speaking to the Centennial Citizen, Bates stood by her comments, reiterating her belief that Creek has diversity already on its board.

“We all have different backgrounds,” Bates said. She added: “I feel we’re able to bring a diverse thought process to the board.”

Large campaign contributions

Bates' notable campaign contributions include Bates' husband contributing $35,600 to her campaign as of Oct. 8, according to records from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office online.

She also received $8,000 from the Cherry Creek teachers' union and $3,250 from the state-level teachers' union.

Her campaign also received about $5,400 from the husband of current Creek school board President Karen Fisher, along with $1,100 from Fisher herself.

“We are friends outside (the board) as well,” Bates said. “I've known Karen for many years.”

Fisher also endorsed Bates on Bates' campaign website in a message that says: “Thank you, Kelly, for representing the interests of each and every student, and for your dedication to CCSD and our communities. This entire district will benefit from your experience and leadership as we begin to transition out of the pandemic.”

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