The Denver school Board is up for grabs, and a battle looms between progressives supporting public schools and a slate controlled by Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and groups controlled by Wall Street and billionaires. The “reformers” support school closures, disruption, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. The powerful, who control the board, say that any challenge to their total power is “divisive.”

Denver Public Schools at a crossroads: 3 new board members will help decide district’s direction

The Denver Public Schools board will welcome three new members next year, but voters will have to decide whether it also has a new direction.

Board president Anne Rowe, who represents District 1, and at-large member Allegra “Happy” Haynes are term-limited, and District 5 representative Lisa Flores opted not to run again. Each of the three open seats seat has attracted three candidates.

A vocal group of teachers and activists are looking to “flip” the board, putting the majority that has favored tactics such as closing poor-performing schools and opening new charters into the minority. Two current members of the nine-person board have been skeptical of the so-called “reform” movement, though votes don’t always break down along ideological lines.

Fundraising numbers suggests that candidates aligned with the current majority on the reform side may not go easily, however.

Wendy Howell, deputy director of the Colorado Working Families Party, said the overriding issue is reducing corporate influence in education. The party hasn’t released its endorsements yet, but Howell is been active in the online Flip the Board community, which is attempting to turn energy from February’s DPS teachers strike into a political force.

Charter schools started with good intentions, but they’ve become a way to privatize public education services without improving students’ results, Howell said. Districts also have had to add extra administrative staff to deal with compliance issues for different types of schools, which diverts money from classrooms, she said.

“We want to get Wall Street out of our school board,” she said.

The flip community supports candidates who want to pause the development of new charter schools and to examine other ways of improving education, Howell said. They also want to see new board members take a critical look at DPS’ finances, she said.

“This experiment (with reform) has gotten out of control,” she said.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has endorsed candidates who aligned themselves with the Flip the Board movement: Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann and Brad Laurvick. Students for Education Reform and Stand for Children have backed candidates who gravitate toward the reform side: Alexis Menocal Harrigan, Diana Romero Campbell and Tony Curcio.

Now look at the rhetoric of the privatizers. Only they care about children. They have been in total control for years and accomplished nothing other than disruption of schools, communities, and families. But they will call upon their billionaire funders to keep the disruption gang in power. Questioning their failure is “divisive.”

Krista Spurgin, executive director of Colorado Stand for Children, said the emphasis on flip versus reform candidates is “divisive,” and that the focus should be on working together to improve education. The parent volunteer committee that made the endorsement decisions wasn’t focused on ideology, but on whether candidates had a record of commitment to have students reading by third grade and on-track to graduate high school, she said.

“It’s about them having the experience and the knowledge to make improvements for families,” she said. “They also have the ability to push the district to improve.”

The candidates they endorsed also support school choice, which is valuable to parents, and giving schools autonomy to figure out what will work for their kids, Spurgin said.

Christian Esperias, national director of campaign strategy of Students for Education Reform, said the questions their student leaders considered when making their endorsement decisions weren’t focused on issues like charter schools and school closures, but on how candidates would close the opportunity gap for underserved groups like students of color and low-income kids. They also looked for candidates who support higher pay for teachers, he said.

“I would frame it as putting kids first versus focusing on the bureaucracy and the special interests,” he said.

Krista Spurgin, executive director of Colorado Stand for Children, said the emphasis on flip versus reform candidates is “divisive,” and that the focus should be on working together to improve education. The parent volunteer committee that made the endorsement decisions wasn’t focused on ideology, but on whether candidates had a record of commitment to have students reading by third grade and on-track to graduate high school, she said.

“It’s about them having the experience and the knowledge to make improvements for families,” she said. “They also have the ability to push the district to improve.”

The candidates they endorsed also support school choice, which is valuable to parents, and giving schools autonomy to figure out what will work for their kids, Spurgin said.

Christian Esperias, national director of campaign strategy of Students for Education Reform, said the questions their student leaders considered when making their endorsement decisions weren’t focused on issues like charter schools and school closures, but on how candidates would close the opportunity gap for underserved groups like students of color and low-income kids. They also looked for candidates who support higher pay for teachers, he said.

“I would frame it as putting kids first versus focusing on the bureaucracy and the special interests,” he said.