While many school board members naturally focus on the issues in the school district they were elected to serve – Boulder Valley School District Board of Education Vice President Kathy Gebhardt’s concern and influence will never be constrained by such boundaries.
Gebhardt, who recently won reelection for her board seat, has long been an outspoken advocate for Colorado students. While she represents the southwestern portion of BVSD, including South Boulder, Nederland, Superior and Eldorado Springs – she is no stranger in cities and towns across our state.
“I’ve spent so many – tens of thousands of miles in my car, going out and meeting with families and school board members and administrators to try to understand what their challenges are and to come up with a multi-pronged approach to solving those problems,” Gebhardt explained.
She is a BVSD graduate. Growing up in Boulder, she attended Flatirons Elementary, Baseline Junior High (now New Vista High School) and Boulder High School before heading to college at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon and earning her law degree from the University of Denver law school. She also has five children that have gone through the schools, with her last preparing to graduate from Fairview this year.
Gebhardt believes deeply in public education and is proud to be from a community that supports it.
“I believe that education is one of the most important things that a government can do for a community and for its constituents,” Gebhardt said. “In Boulder we are fortunate because we have a population that supports raising taxes and supports its community and its schools. Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality in other communities throughout the state. Overall, education in Colorado is under resourced.”
Throughout her career, she has fought for equitable school funding. In fact, as the executive director of Children’s Voices, a nonprofit law firm, she was the co-lead counsel on three of Colorado’s largest legal cases on the issue:
Giardino v. Colorado
Challenged the funding structure for capital construction in Colorado
Lobato v. State of Colorado
Helped elevate awareness of the underfunding of public education in Colorado
Dwyer v. Colorado
Challenged the constitutionality of the “negative factor” or “budget stabilization factor” and increased public awareness of the impact of this underfunding of our schools.
Additionally, the $190 million settlement from the Giardino v. Colorado case prompted state legislators to create the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program, the largest investment in school facilities in Colorado history. Gehardt has served on the BEST board, and which remains committed to ensuring that students in big and small districts alike have great places to learn. To date, BEST has invested approximately $2.5 billion in facilities across the state. In fact, several BVSD schools have benefitted from BEST grants.
“We have to make sure that everyone’s schools are doing well,” Gebhardt said.
Both education and politics have been a part of her life from an early age. Gebardt’s grandfather and mother were teachers and her father was the state legislator representing Boulder that also led Robert Kennedy’s campaign efforts in Colorado during his presidential bid in 1968.
“I’ve been involved in politics my entire life,” Gebhardt said. “I remember being in what was called the Pow-Wow Parade with my father in a mule drawn hay wagon. It was during the Vietnam War and everyone was singing ‘Give Peace a Chance.’”
Being against the Vietnam War at that time was not a popular position.
Even so, Gebhardt says it was much harder than she thought to run for office, when she threw her hat in the ring for the school board, five years ago.
“It was a little intimidating,” Gebhardt admitted. “It is much easier to campaign for someone else and to ask for money for someone else, than to ask for yourself.”
She strongly encourages everyone to get involved in the school district – especially those who don’t have children in the system.
“I would hope that people would get engaged in their local school and in their local community around education issues, even if they don’t have kids in school anymore,” Gebhardt said. “Only about a third of the population [in Boulder Valley] has kids in school, but everyone is touched by the quality of the education system.”
She also believes that everyone can help to provide opportunities so that our students succeed and become valued members of our community and workforce.
“I’d love to see us do a better job with community partnerships,” she said. “I don’t believe we’ve capitalized on those partnerships as much as we could. There should be more internships, externships and other connections for students, because we have an amazing community that is full of opportunities.”