Cassie Harrelson ekes out win for second Aspen School District Board of Education seat

Clerk confirms vote margin is large enough to not trigger automatic recount

Cassie Harrelson narrowly defeated incumbent Katy Frisch in the race for a second seat on the Aspen School District Board of Education.
Lucy Peterson/The Aspen Times

Cassie Harrelson narrowly defeated incumbent Katy Frisch for the second Aspen School District Board of Education seat, according to final unofficial results released by the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Thursday at 11:26 a.m.

She won by just 15 votes, receiving 1,936 votes; Frisch received 1,921 votes. According to Colorado election law, if the difference between Harrelson and Frisch’s vote count is less than 0.5% of the amount of votes cast for Harrelson, an automatic recount would be triggered. 

According to that math, 0.5% of Harrelson’s 1,936 votes is 9.68%. Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Ingrid Grueter confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the margin of votes was larger than 0.5% and, therefore, will not force an automatic recount.

Frisch first led Harrelson on Election Day by 24 votes, and Harrelson jumped ahead of her by 20 votes just before midnight on Election Day. The Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office received 37 cured ballots in the week after the election — votes that proved decisive in the race for the second seat on the school board. Voters had until Nov. 15 at midnight to submit cured ballots.

Harrelson, the only educator in the race, received unilateral support from the Aspen Education Association, the district’s educator’s union.

ExploreLearning Executive Cassie Harrelson taught math in Aspen schools and has now been elected to the school board.
Courtesy photo

Harrelson is a senior implementation coordinator for ExploreLearning, a company that operates an online library of interactive simulations for math and science. She was also a math specialist in the Aspen School District and has worked in school districts across the state.

She received donations from teachers’ and educators’ unions from across the state of Colorado. She felt her background in education is what made her stand out as a candidate.

“I think it’s really important that we are focused on best practices and what is moving kids forward and asking the right questions,” she said. “I’ve said this from the beginning; I live in education … I just think that those additional voices are really needed.”

She added that she is excited to join Stacey Weiss as another educator voice on the school board. She will also join current board members Christa Geiszl and Suzy Zimet, as well as Sarah Daniels, who decidedly won one of two open seats on the school board last week.

Harrelson’s priorities for the board include listening to and elevating the voices of all students and educators and ensuring every student, especially underrepresented students, has access to meaningful learning opportunities. She also wants to work on hiring and retaining staff in the district, she said. She often diverged from her opponents who said housing was the main way to recruit and retain staff, arguing that as a former educator in the school district, she often knew of educators who had housing but still chose to leave their positions. 

“What else are we doing to recruit and retain educators and also grow educators?” she said. “We have many that have been here for a very long time that are looking for that growth or next steps, and oftentimes in rural communities, we don’t have next steps in school districts like the schools that I often visit (for work with ExploreLearning).”

Harrelson works with school districts across the country helping implement math and science curriculum in school districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Frisch, the only incumbent in the four-person race for two open seats on the school board, was first elected to the school board in November 2019. During her time on the board, she has served in several roles including president and recently assistant secretary and treasurer. She played a significant role in the hiring of Aspen School District Superintendent Dave Baugh and shortly after was faced with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the election, she touted her achievements as a board member during the pandemic, reminding voters she was a staunch proponent of re-opening schools as fast as possible. While on the board, she worked with medical professionals to bring free COVID testing to the valley, implementing weekly staff testing to ensure the safety of students and staff when reopening schools.

She also served on the Aspen School District’s Financial Advisory Board and highlighted her years of business experience that she said would bring much-needed financial experience to a board that handles an annual budget and reviews mill levy rates. She received an MBA from the University of Chicago and served as the CEO and CFO of her family-owned cable television equipment manufacturing firm, Arrow Communications Labs.

“I’m obviously disappointed, concerned that the district won’t have anybody with financial experience in a time that we have a lot to do with housing and an important mill levy to pass,” Frisch said in a phone call with the Times on Thursday.

During her first term, the school board set a goal to house 100% of district staff in 15 years. In 2020, voters approved a bond measure that has doubled Aspen School District’s housing stock to 102 units for district staff.

The school board will discuss the mill levy at its next meeting on Nov. 29. Harrelson said she is ready to work on the mill levy, the annual budget, and any bond measures the district might pursue. She was part of a team of educators and community members who worked on messaging for the 2020 bond measure, she said.

“I adamantly disagree that the board is going to lack financial knowledge and experience for education,” she said.

Election results will be certified at the Nov. 29 board of education meeting.