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Denver Public Schools board election: the top issues voters are weighing with three seats on the ballot | #schoolsaftey


School safety. Racial and economic educational performance gaps. A continuing mental health crisis among students. District transparency. Board dysfunction.

These are a few of the issues Denver voters will weigh as they choose who will represent them on the school board in the upcoming Nov. 7 Denver Public Schools Board election.

As mandated by the State of Colorado, the board has a maximum of seven members — all of whom are unpaid. Three of those seats are being contested in the upcoming coordinated election. The other four will be up for grabs in November 2025.

In District 1, DPS parent, architect and entrepreneur Scott Baldermann will defend his seat representing southeast Denver against educator and DPS parent Kimberlee Sia.

In District 5, former family trial lawyer and parent and grandparent of DPS students Charmaine Lindsay will defend her seat representing northwest Denver against education advocate and former longtime Department of Justice US Immigration Court employee Marlene DeLaRosa and former teacher and parent Adam Slutzker.

The entire city has a say in the future of the wide-open at-large seat currently held by board Vice-President Auon’tai Anderson, who was eligible for another term and even announced an early bid to defend his role before shifting his focus to run for the Statehouse.

The ballot lists four people vying for the open at-large seat, but only three of those are still running. In the mix: veteran educator and DPS parent John Youngquist; East High School alum, businessman and former mayoral candidate Kwame Spearman; and Brittni Johnson, a doctoral candidate and parent of three. Johnson has not responded to Denverite’s requests for comment on the race and her candidacy.

Paul Ballenger, who did speak to Denverite about his security background and his advocacy for school safety, dropped out of the race but voters will still see his name on their ballots.

 

 

Whoever wins will have a lot of responsibilities for no pay.

The board governs the Denver Public School District by establishing the district’s vision and strategy and by developing and reviewing policies, the district explains online.

Members hire and fire the district’s superintendent. They negotiate that person’s contract and evaluate the superintendent’s performance.

The board is accountable to the public for how students perform, and members advocate for Denver students at all levels of government. Members also conduct both student and employee appeals; create, approve and oversee the district’s budget; and adopt the annual calendar.

Here are a few of the big issues voters will be considering as they fill out their ballots.

Student safety

Denver schools have been on high alert, dealing with a string of threats against the schools and several high-profile shootings at and near schools.

Last school year, there was major debate over whether to bring Denver police back onto high school campuses, reversing a policy that barred school resource officers from schools.

SROs are back at high schools this year, but there are still significant safety issues under debate. Do police actually make students safe or just strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline? Do the schools have the resources they need to equitably educate all students, including those with behavioral issues, while ensuring safety for all? Does the district’s current disciplinary matrix make it too hard for principals and individual schools to make informed judgments about when to suspend or expel students? Should the school system strengthen its restorative justice practices or consider treating misbehavior with criminal justice solutions?

After news surfaced that McAuliffe International School was locking middle-school students who had misbehaved in a confinement room, many families raised concerns about whether school leaders, themselves, were putting kids at risk.

Mental health

In recent years, youth suicides have hit historic rates across Colorado. School leaders report lacking the resources needed to address the onslaught of mental health issues and service requests students and families are making, even as the district has increased investments in mental health services. Chalkbeat has reported the state has an ever-shrinking number of schools dedicated to providing a fair and equal education to students needing behavioral support. Some families have asked the district to provide more robust resources to students with learning differences and needing mental health support. How the district includes — or blocks — students with behavioral health issues and mental health challenges from participating in everyday education is an ongoing topic of discussion.

Declining enrollment

Denver Public Schools enrollment has been steadily dropping for years. This has been attributed to a decline in the birth rate, families no longer being able to afford to stay in Denver and some parents taking their kids out of the public schools. Whatever the reason, the consequences are clear: Schools are at risk of closing and school board members have tough decisions ahead picking the schools to close and the communities and parts of town that lose out on the institutions they have depended on. The board voted to close several schools last year, including Fairview Elementary, the Denver Discovery School and the Math and Science Leadership Academy, a decision some parents felt was not taken very transparently.

Board members also have an opportunity to create a vision and plan for the school district that could reverse the drop in enrollment and to partner with other government agencies to craft policies that make Denver a more attractive place for families to be.

Board transparency and leadership

The current school board has passed dozens of new policies, but much of its work has been overshadowed by headline-catching drama. Members of the board have accused each other of racism and misogyny. Board member Auon’tai Anderson has been censured and investigated. While school boards statewide clashed over culture war politics, Denver’s board members — whose actual ideologies are shades of the same — warred because they just couldn’t get along. Former Mayor Michael Hancock accused the board of both “immaturity” and “dysfunction” and said the only people who could fix it would be the voters.

The Denver School Board and the district have simultaneously garnered a reputation for operating behind closed doors. Over the summer, a judge ruled that the board improperly blocked the public from seeing a video of a meeting about a shooting at East High School. Later, Dennis, McAuliffe International’s former principal, sued the district, arguing the district violated his civil rights and fired him in retaliation for comments he made to 9News about safety concerns.

The district has also selectively published performance metrics to make it look like academic achievement is close to on track, even as massive achievement gaps between white and Black and Latino students and wealthy and low-income students demonstrate the district is not achieving its aspirations of equity. While the district has hit record-high graduation rates, there is a massive gap between the percentage of white and Black and Latino students who complete their education at DPS.

The budget

School board members have to ask how Denver School District should be spending its $1.28 billion budget, what gets funding and what gets cut. There’s only so much money to go around. Should the district raise the salaries of sorely underpaid teachers and support staff who cannot afford to live in the city? Should more money go to mental health support? Should schools be kept open at all costs, even as other priorities go by the wayside? Should the district invest in workforce housing for teachers?

In the coming weeks, school board candidates will be sharing their perspectives on the big issues at public forums and debates.

Denver Decides will hold candidate forums on Channel 8, Facebook and the Denver Decides website. At-large candidates will debate Thurs. Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. and the District 5 candidates will debate on Wed, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. The District 1 discussion will be archived online.

For more information about the race, go to the Denver Elections website. Voters will have until Nov. 7 to cast their ballots.

Head to our full voter guide for more information about the upcoming school board race, profiles of the candidates and other local and state measures that will appear on Denver’s November ballot. 



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