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Opinion: Hancock blasts school board dysfunction

Perhaps he was tired after a long night dealing with the Occupy Denver situation, but Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made some of his most forceful and critical public comments ever about the current school board during an event Friday morning.

“If there was ever an argument for mayoral control, it was watching the board of education operate,” he said. “But I know we can do better and I believe the people of Denver are going to show it on Nov.1.”

That’s when the city’s voters will decide three of seven seats on the Denver Public Schools board.

Hancock also for the first time publicly endorsed Jennifer Draper Carson for the District 5 northwest Denver seat.

During a “Charter School Community Conversation” in Green Valley Ranch, sponsored by the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Hancock said that as a candidate earlier this year he decided that as mayor he would not push for control of DPS. The district, he said, “does not rise to the level of chaos and dysfunction” that prompted mayors and legislatures in places like Chicago, Hartford, Conn., and Washington, D.C., to seize control of the schools.

But asked if his position might change if the school board’s composition were to change after the Nov. 1 election, Hancock had this to say:

“I’m very nervous,” he said of the impending election. “I don’t believe the current board of education and its level and tone of conversation reflects the values of our city. I have painfully watched board of education deliberations on television. And as a former legislator, I was embarrassed by the discourse that occurs. No protocol, no decorum, just absolutely disrespectful of one another and the superintendent, and no one talking about kids. It was painful to watch.”

At another point, Hancock made an appeal for northwest Denver voters to elect Draper Carson, who is running against Arturo Jimenez – the only incumbent running this year.

Praising the recent opening of new and “turnaround” schools in Far Northeast Denver, Hancock said families in the area have viable local choices for the first time. Continuing to expand school options, he said, is the best way to keep DPS healthy.

“That is the opportunity I want to provide every family in this city,” he said. “That’s why Jennifer Draper Carson has to win.” He also reiterated his previous endorsements of at-large candidate Happy Haynes and District 1 southeast Denver candidate Anne Rowe.

Former Colorado Senate President Peter Groff also spoke at the event, and seemed at least to endorse the concept of mayoral control. Groff left Denver to serve under U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and now works as a senior advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a D.C.-based group that advocates for “parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working-class Black families.”

Groff said that if Denver residents were to decide that mayoral control was necessary, they would have to mobilize to pressure Hancock and other politicians.

“Mayoral control comes up a lot in cities where you have mayors who really get how critically important it is to have an open (education) process at the city level, but they don’t have control of the school district. When mayoral control works, it’s from the grassroots up. It’s not from a mayor stepping up and saying ‘I’m ready to take control of the schools now.’”

In Denver, Groff said, “if you want (Hancock) to do that, then it’s got to be a groundswell of support from you all from this county. That says ‘we can do better. It might be better to have mayoral control.’

“He and I have not had that conversation. We are meeting later today. It might come up.”

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