Gieszl, Weiss, Zimet land seats on Aspen Board of Education

Two doctors and a former teacher rise to the top on Election Night

For the first time in recent memory, the Aspen School District Board of Education will have a former teacher on its roster: Stacey Weiss, who spent more than three decades in public education as a music teacher (20 of them in Aspen), earned the most votes in Tuesday night’s election.

Weiss, who earned 2,265 (21.91%) of 10,339 votes tallied, will take an oath of office alongside two doctors: incumbent Susan Zimet, who currently serves as the school board president, and newcomer Christa Gieszl, who currently serves as the co-chair of the District Accountability Committee.

Zimet earned 2,202 votes for 21.3% of the votes tallied and Gieszl won 2,064 votes (19.96%), according to the unofficial results from Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill.

The results did not entirely surprise Weiss — she expected she would land in the top three — but she wasn’t about to count her chickens before they hatched, she said in an interview Tuesday night. The fact that voters elected a former teacher is “encouraging” to Weiss, because it adds to the balance of different backgrounds and experiences on the board.

“I think it’s a viewpoint that’s been missing and I think that people recognize that. … To me, it means that people are thinking about the issues that schools face nowadays,” she said.

Six candidates vied for the three available seats on the board, each of which carries a four-year term. Voters could choose as many as three candidates for those seats.

Gieszl, Weiss and Zimet all tallied nearly double the votes of the other three candidates in the race by the first count: first-time school board candidate Lawrence Butler earned 1,249 votes (12.08%) and fellow first-timer Anna Zane earned 1,239 votes (11.98%). John Galambos earned 1,320 votes (12.77%) in his second attempt at securing a board position; he also ran in 2019, when he earned 829 votes (14.07%) in an unsuccessful bid for the board.

The three seats up for grabs this year were those of Zimet, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero.

They Solemnly Swear

Contingent on state certification of the election results, the three winners could be sworn in as early as Nov. 16, when the board is scheduled to convene for a special meeting to recognize departing members, certify results, allow new members to take an oath of office and select officers, according to a discussion item from last week’s meeting agenda.

If results take longer for the state to certify, new members could be sworn in as late as Dec. 3 with an organizational meeting for officer selection scheduled no later than Dec. 9, according to an election timeline from the Colorado Association of School Boards.

Zimet had to run for re-election to retain her spot, as 2021 marks the end at the end of her first four-year term. Marolt was term-limited after two four-year terms on the board. And Romero — who was appointed to the board in 2016 and elected to a full term in 2017 — was eligible to run for a second full term on the board but opted not to seek re-election.

School board members Jonathan Nickell and Katy Frisch have two more years on their current terms after they were elected in 2019.

Zimet was the top vote-getter in her first bid for the board in 2017, when she outpaced three incumbents with 1,909 votes in her favor, good enough for 26.2% of all votes tallied. Marolt and Romero came in second and third in a tight race to score the other two seats; then-incumbent Margeaux Johansson did not earn enough votes to keep her seat.

Even with a first-term record to run on, Zimet wasn’t going to hedge any bets on how the election would shake out, she said in a Tuesday night interview.

“I thought that the six candidates were really strong and I thought that they all had a strong platform, and I thought that really it could go any which way,” she said.

She also observed that some other school board races across the country seem to be focused on voting current members out rather than re-electing them this year. Without that incumbent advantage in the national conversation, Zimet said her second win here in Aspen feels all the more valuable.

“I feel doubly happy about the record and the campaign I was able to convey, all the hard work and the good work we did on behalf of the kids and on behalf of the teachers … and on behalf of the leadership,” she said.

All six candidates in this year’s race agreed on the fundamental premise that the focus of the school board should be on what’s best for kids in the district, with mental health and pandemic learning both top-of-mind issues at a mid-October candidate forum.

Gieszl, for her part, said Tuesday night that she appreciated what she considered a “well-run, fun campaign” in which all the candidates showed respect and kindness for one another, especially against the backdrop of more contentious board races in the national spotlight.

The strong showing for a school board race indicates the commitment to public education in Aspen, Weiss said. The position is unpaid, requires many hours of work and doesn’t often get recognition, she noted, so to have half a dozen candidates for three seats makes her feel “hopeful” for the future.

“It’s something I was proud to be involved in and I think it says good things about our community … and the high regard that citizens have for education in our community,” Weiss said.