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Latino group joins DPS board fight

A new group has been formed by Denver Latinos who are critical of two Hispanic members of the Denver school board and who are actively campaigning against the one member up for re-election.

The group, Latinos for Education Reform, is a 501(c)4 non-profit that is buying advertisements in community newspapers to state their opposition to board members Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, and Andrea Merida, who represents southwest Denver.

Merida is not up for re-election until 2013, but Jimenez is now campaigning for a second term. The LFER advertisement endorses Jimenez’s opponent, Jennifer Draper Carson, as well as citywide at-large candidate Happy Haynes and southeast Denver candidate Ann Rowe.

“On the current board, Andrea Merida and Arturo Jimenez continually claim the mantle of Latino culture – while at the same time consistently opposing critical reform policies most likely to help Latino kids,” the ad reads. “Merida and Jimenez – who vote together 95 percent of the time – have consistently opposed education reform at each step and every level.”

The ad cites several votes by Merida and Jimenez, including their opposition to the Lake and Highland campuses of West Denver Prep, high-achieving charter schools serving over 90 percent Latino populations.

Cathy Abarca, a member of the LFER committee, pointed to the success of West Denver Prep and of Beach Court Elementary, a high-performing traditional neighborhood school.

“We want to support these reform efforts,” she said. “It was troubling that two of the Latino members on the board were making decisions very much against the best interest of Latinos kids in the district.

“We are saying, we are not the only ones who feel this way. And it’s not an automatic that a Latino would vote for Latino candidates. It’s about voting for someone who has policies and priorities that we believe in.”

The LFER ad also assails Jimenez and Merida on other points, including overspending their $5,000 expense budgets during the 2010-11 fiscal year, Jimenez by $1,153 and Merida by $7,427.

Dave Sabados, campaign manager for Jimenez, said accusing Jimenez of “blocking policies beneficial to Latinos,” as the ad does, “is preposterous.”

Strong response“I find this a disgusting attack on a man’s heritage.”
— Dave Sabados, Jimenez’s campaign manager

“Arturo voted in favor of DSST at Byers, he voted in favor of MLK Early College, which is an innovation school,” said Sabados. “Arturo has a strong record of supporting reform in our neighborhood schools, and supporting charters and innovation schools that the community wants in the district.”

He added: “I find this a disgusting attack on a man’s heritage.”

Merida could not be reached for comment.

DPS board member Theresa Peña is one of more than 30 names that appear on the advertisement.

“I’m involved with Latinos for Education Reform because I believe that the Latino community is represented by multiple voices, not just one or two on the board of education,” she said. “Nor are we represented by a single community entity.”

LFER formed, Peña said, because members believe DPS is making progress but more needs to be done, especially for Latino students. She highlighted a need for greater urgency in literacy, graduation rates and closing the achievement gap for Latino students.

“This is not a race-based issue nor a litmus test,” she said. “It is only about candidates who place the needs of kids above all other interests.”

The ad appeared in the North Denver Tribune and will also run in Viva Colorado and La Voz.

It has already been revised because one person, Mi Casa Women’s Center founder Juana Bordas, disagreed with the ad’s content. She could not be reached for comment this morning.

Sabados said not only did Bordas disagree with the ad’s content, but she is a donor to Jimenez’s campaign.

Latinos for Education Reform ad