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Easley recall petition approved

"To improve our schools, the most important thing we can do is reach out to parents," said Denver School Board President Nate Easley.

Denver school board president Nate Easley

A petition to recall Denver Public Schools board president Nate Easley has been accepted by the city’s elections division, marking the second recall attempt against a Denver school board member in less than six months.

Here’s the letter mailed Wednesday by city elections officials.

John McBride, who sought an at-large seat on the DPS board in 2007 but lost to Theresa Peña, filed the petition seeking to oust Easley. His original petition was rejected Friday but McBride resubmitted the documents on Monday and elections officials approved them Wednesday.

Under the law, McBride now has 60 days to gather 5,363 signatures – an amount equal to 40 percent of the votes cast in the last election for the board seat representing Far Northeast Denver. City election officials would then review the signatures for validity and place a recall question before voters.

According to the statement submitted with the petition, the recall is being sought because of Easley’s position as deputy director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the non-profit which helps DPS graduates pay for college.

“As a board member, Dr. Easley supervises the DPS superintendent, who is also a member of the foundation’s leadership team, thereby having direct influence over Dr. Easley’s employment status.

“As a result of this conflict of interest, Dr. Easley has voted for policies that are not reflective of his constituents’ interests, closing schools, supporting an atmosphere of distrust among District employees and failing to provide sound fiscal oversight of DPS monies.”

Easley questioned the timing of the recall effort, noting his position at the foundation has not changed since he was elected in November 2009. He said he was threatened with a recall effort by McBride, and other members of the group DeFENSE or Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education, if he did not vote in November against a reform plan for schools in Far Northeast Denver.

“My question is, where does that stop?” Easley said. “If I were to say, OK, I’ll do what you want me to do, vote the way you want me to vote, what would be next? Would those things have anything to do with student achievement?

“I believe all students can learn and if we’re not getting the outstanding results that we need from schools … we need to continue to make adjustments in our strategy.”

The recall effort already has sparked plenty of debate, with the Denver Post calling it “a joke” in an editorial and DeFENSE members rallying behind it on their website.

Dana Smith, communications manager for the scholarship foundation, said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg is an ex-officio member of the foundation’s board, meaning “he is welcome to come to the meetings but he doesn’t vote at the meetings.”

Smith said the foundation board hires one employee, executive director Cindy Abramson, and that Abramson is then responsible for hiring, evaluating and deciding compensation for those who work for her. Abramson hired Easley, a Montbello High graduate who said he returned to Denver from working in Washington, D.C., for the foundation job.

More than a year ago, Smith said, the foundation consulted a DPS attorney and an outside attorney on the potential for conflict of interest if Easley were elected. She said both attorneys agreed as long as Easley recused himself from any DPS board votes related to any type of resources for the foundation, “there wouldn’t be any conflict on interest between the two roles.”

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union will not take a public stance on the recall or help finance the effort. Easley was supported by the union in his election bid but has since voted in support of initiatives that the teachers’ association opposed, including the reform plan in Far Northeast Denver.

“We respect the democratic process,” Roman said, and will let the recall effort play out without taking a formal position.

DPS board member Andrea Merida, a DeFENSE supporter who has publicly clashed with Easley on reform proposals, said she “will not be participating in any way with the recall effort.”

“This is between Nate and his constituents, and it presents an opportunity for him to reconnect with them,” Merida, who represents Southwest Denver, wrote in an email.

Merida was the target of the last recall attempt against a DPS board member, which failed in November. In that case, Jose Silva, another unsuccessful school board candidate in 2007, organized the filing of petition documents but did not submit any signatures by the 60-day deadline.

Silva and his supporters cited Merida’s failure to disclose that she was a paid field organizer for U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff while she was criticizing a DPS pension transaction approved under Romanoff’s primary competitor, former DPS Superintendent and now U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.

Merida, who is active in the Denver Democratic party, voluntarily left the Romanoff campaign after the Denver Post revealed her role. She said she did not intentionally withhold the information and that her work for Romanoff did not influence her questioning of the pension transaction.