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Monday churn: More drama in DPS

Updated 7:30 p.m. – Denver Public Schools contract attorney Martin Semple countered an opinion from attorney Mark Grueskin (see below) saying that three school board members facing censure did, in fact, attend a meeting closed in violation of the Sunshine Law.

“It fell without question under the aegis of the (state) open meeting law,” Semple said at a school board work session Monday evening. “The only question…is whether it was convened to discuss public business that would be public business of the school district.” And that, was in fact, the case he said.

Meanwhile, it appeared likely that a vote to censure three school board members for attending the meeting in question would be delayed beyond Thursday’s board meeting so it would not distract from a crucial vote on a school transformation plan for Far Northeast Denver. And board President Nate Easley, who is bringing the censure motion forward, appears to lack the four votes needed to get it passed.

UpdatedThe Denver Classroom Teachers Association today posted on its website a legal opinion stating three school board members facing censure did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law.

The opinion from attorney Mark Grueskin states that, “Put simply, there is no requirement for public notice at a gathering where three or more board members are in attendance. The only condition to such a meeting is that it be open to the public.”

DCTA President Henry Roman said the union wanted to “set the record straight as soon as possible.” On Thursday, the board is set to vote on turnaround strategies for low-performing schools in Northeast Denver.

“Thursday night, the DPS school board will be deciding the fate of several schools, hundreds of teachers and a large number of our student population,” Roman wrote in a news release. “This time ought to be spent carefully listening to DPS patrons on these issues – instead of wasting time on internal DPS board issues.”

Grueskin is a prominent attorney who has worked as a registered lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association. Last November, Grueskin was involved in another DPS board dispute when newly elected member Andrea Merida chose to take her seat earlier than expected and before a controversial vote on a reform plan involving Lake Middle School.

Grueskin wrote a letter to Merida that said any votes taken by the “old board” – the two other newly elected members declined to be sworn in early – “will likely be treated as void.” DPS’ attorney John Kechriotis later described the letter as a “political prop” apparently intended to delay the controversial vote.

The board voted anyway and approved the Lake plan 4-3, with Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeanne Kaplan voting no. No legal action was taken based on Grueskin’s letter.

Merida, Jimenez and Kaplan are the board members now facing censure. Read the item below for more on the censure issue and DPS board disagreements.

“If there had been a violation of the law – there might be a reason to discuss it,” Roman said of the censure issue. “But this legal opinion clearly states that is not the case. We urge the board to concentrate on the business they were elected to do Thursday night – instead of engaging in false accusations of one another.”

What’s churning:

Expect more drama today and Thursday from the Denver school board, which is considering a censure vote against three members who met with the Colorado Lawyers Committee but didn’t post the notice required by the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Here are the pertinent parts of the law:

What is a meeting? – “Any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication.”

When does it apply to a local public body? – “All meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken are open.”

What notice is required? – “Public notice is to be given prior to all meetings where the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum is expected to be in attendance.”

The three board members facing censure are Jeanne Kaplan – whose husband, Steve, is listed as a member of the lawyers’ group – along with Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida. All three have been critical of the district’s plans for turning around some of its lowest-performing schools.

Discussion about the censure vote is the first item on tonight’s school board agenda, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at 900 Grant St. Check out this Denver Post story for more on the censure issue and check out this Post video for the board’s latest tiff.

Thursday, the board will vote on the censure motion as well as turnaround strategies for schools in northeast Denver. Anyone wanna place bets on 4-3 splits?

We’re happy to credit the Post when referencing a story from the only remaining city daily so we have no problems with the Post copyright policy prominently displayed yesterday on its website. We would ask, however, that the newspaper follow its own guidelines:

But fair use of our content restricts those who want to reference it to reproduce no more than a headline and up to a couple of paragraphs or a summary of the story. (We also request users provide a link to the entire work on our website).

In a Post editorial, also published yesterday, the paper referred to original work by Education News Colorado and neither gave us credit nor included a link, though our partners at 9News did so prominently:

Recent news reports in Colorado in which some educators are questioning whether a sharp rise in drug offenses in schools is attributable to medical marijuana could be devastating to legalization efforts.

Apparently the policy applies only to other people.

What’s on tap:

Here’s the rundown for the rest of the week —

TUESDAY – The Douglas County board convenes at 5 p.m. in the administration building, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. The public comment session on vouchers and other choice options starts at 7 p.m. … The Aurora board meets starting at 6 p.m. in the Educational Services Center, 1085 Peoria St.

WEDNESDAY – The legislative Joint Budget Committee will be briefed on the proposed 2011-12 higher education budget from 9 a.m. to noon in the committee room at 200 E. 14th Ave. … The Adams 12 school board meets at 7 p.m. in the Training Center at the Educational Support Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.

THURSDAY – The Quality Teachers Commission meets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the offices of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, 1580 Lincoln St. … The DPS board meets at 5 p.m. to consider school turnaround recommendations. Public comment will be taken from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a vote sometime after that. The session will be in the boardroom at 900 Grant St.

FRIDAY – The State Council on Educator Effectiveness meets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the boardroom at 201 E. Colfax Ave.

Good reads from elsewhere:

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