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Hancock expounds on education issues

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledged Monday he never considered endorsing four of the five candidates in the citywide at-large school board race before backing Happy Haynes earlier this month.

Candidate Roger Kilgore has complained about never being interviewed for the endorsement that went to Haynes, a former Denver City Council member and Denver Public Schools administrator.

“My relationship with Happy Haynes goes back decades and knowing exactly how Happy makes her decisions, and how she feels about education,” Hancock said. “She and I have been pretty much on the same level with regards to education, quality choice, creating diversity of programming opportunities for kids all over the city, equity in services, those sort of things.

“I wouldn’t waste the time of the candidates, nor mine, by putting up the charade of interviewing them when I knew Happy was my candidate.”

The mayor made his remarks on the eve of his 100th day in office, in an exclusive interview with Education News Colorado. The interview covered a range of education topics, from the school board races to the Denver Education Compact to possible DPS tax hike ballot issues next year to mayoral control.

He did interview all four candidates in the other two DPS board before endorsing Anne Rowe over Emily Sirota in southeast Denver and Jennifer Draper Carson over incumbent Arturo Jimenez in northwest Denver.

Hancock said he gave serious consideration to Sirota and Jimenez before settling on Draper Carson and Rowe. He said he found Sirota impressive and pointed out that he endorsed Jimenez in 2008.

Early in the DPS campaigns, some suggested Haynes, Rowe and Draper Carson comprised a coordinated slate. A June fundraiser benefited all three and the trio shares the endorsements not only of Hancock but also two pro-reform groups, the Denver chapter of Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform-Colorado. One quartet of deep-pocketed donors also pitched in a combined $92,000 to each of their campaigns.

Hancock dismissed the suggestion that they are anything but independent candidates.

“I never even looked at these three candidates as a slate,” he said. “And I think the more the campaign has developed, I think the more the public perception that this was a slate has kind of evaporated, and I certainly haven’t heard those conversations in awhile.”

Hancock made education a central focus of his own campaign earlier this year. His second television advertisement, titled “18 Miles,” focused on the daily drive he made to take his son from their Green Valley Ranch home to East High School, choosing it over their neighborhood school, Montbello High School, which is now in turnaround mode.

Making sure the Denver Education Compact is focused

The mayor last week introduced the 24 community and business leaders serving on the executive committee of the Denver Education Compact. The compact is a concept Hancock introduced while still a candidate, modeled after similar efforts in several other cities, including Boston, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

His intention is that compact members will identify a handful of goals to advance education on the broad span of “cradle to career,” set metrics to measure success in reaching those goals and rally their resources in making a push toward their achievement.

“The real key is to identify what priority areas we’re going to set goals around, because that really defines what your compact is all about,” Hancock said. “Very seldom is something successful if you have way too many goals to manage.”

Hancock in August picked term-limited at-large DPS board member Theresa Peña to serve as the compact’s executive director and she will assume that post Dec. 1, after her term expires. Peña last week cited early childhood education as an area where she would like to see strong focus. Hancock seconded that.

“If a kid can’t read by fourth grade, then we have some indicators. It’s a clear kind of predictor of where they might end up in life, and what burden they might be on society,” Hancock said.

“If that’s the case, then we know that we’ve got to get started earlier with that child, and with our children entering school. Early childhood education is where we begin to make that impact.”

Wary of possible DPS tax hike initiatives

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg has been talking about a possible 2012 push for a new bond issue and tax increase for operating dollars, in order to help offset recent cuts in state funding and fuel progress toward goals set out in the district’s strategic reform plan, known as The Denver Plan.

Denver voters easily passed a $454 million bond initiative in 2008, the largest ever sought by a Colorado school district. But Hancock was tempered in his remarks about the prospects for asking voters to open their wallets again next year.

“I’m going to reserve my comments around any speculation about a bond or a mill levy until I actually have hard facts about what they’re asking,” said Hancock.

“At this point, without any justification and without any demonstration of what you’ve done, to show where the gaps exist, I don’t think it’s smart to go to the public willy-nilly or with a piecemeal approach. People are hurting. People are struggling.”

Whether it is money for schools, for the Regional Transportation District or city services, said Hancock, “People are going to be a little more scrutinizing when they make these decisions at the ballot box and we want to make sure we have a good, strong case.”

Mayoral control not likely anytime soon

Hancock also sought to further dispel any notion that he’s inclined toward pushing for mayoral control of DPS.

At an event sponsored by the Colorado League of Charter Schools Oct. 14, Hancock had blasted what he saw as dysfunction on the DPS board, saying, “If there was ever an argument for mayoral control, it was watching the board of education operate.”

In the same appearance, however, he also said that what he has witnessed from the DPS board “does not rise to the level of chaos and dysfunction” that prompted the move to mayoral control in places such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn.

On Monday, he said that opinion still holds and it wouldn’t change even if the result of the DPS races creates a power shift that threatens Boasberg’s tenure. Any prior remarks to the contrary, he said, were made in a “retrospect or reflective mode,” influenced by past observations of the often contentious board members.

“When we went to study when mayors move to take over mayoral control … what we saw was a much deeper case, or at least situation, that required that mayor to move,” said Hancock. Denver’s issue, he felt, didn’t rise to that level.

“I have no interest in taking over schools. I would prefer that the citizen-led system work,” he said.