Five candidates for the citywide at-large seat on the Denver school board introduced themselves to voters in southwest Denver on Wednesday night, and showed they shared some common ground in pitching their candidacies.
During one rapid-fire series of questions, all five raised their hands to indicate they would, if elected, support a call for an outside audit of the DPS budget.
And when asked how many support Proposition 103, which would raise the state income tax to 5 percent and the state sales tax to 3 percent for five years to boost education funding, all but one – John Daniel – did so.
The five candidates to replace the term-limited Theresa Peña, in addition to Daniel, are Frank Deserino, Happy Haynes, Roger Kilgore and Jacqui Shumway.
Given an opportunity to elaborate on some of their answers, Haynes – who until May was the chief community engagement officer for DPS – clarified her response to the outside audit question.
She pointed out that outside audits have been done in recent years by the Council of Great City Schools and A+ Denver and said, “I think it makes sense to seek independent assessments and analysis from outside the district, whether that’s through an audit or some other means.”
Haynes, endorsed on Monday by Mayor Michael Hancock, said she believes the district shows plenty of room for improvement.
“On achievement, are we getting there? I think, no, not when we have a graduation rate barely over 50 percent, I don’t think we’re making the mark,” she said.
The evening was hosted by the Bear Valley Improvement Association and the Southwest Denver Coalition for Education at Traylor Academy, a DPS school, and attended by about 35 people.
The candidates did not take shots at one another. They sought, instead, to distinguish themselves in a somewhat crowded field.
Deserino, a civics and history teacher at South High School, never missed a chance to remind voters that he believes a veteran teacher belongs on the board.
“In South High, for example, we spent 30 class days last year in testing,” he said. “That was 30 days when children were outside of the classroom preparing for a test with benchmarks or taking tests. I want them back inside the classroom … They know how to take a test, but they don’t have the skills I want to give them.”
Shumway, who also ran for the board’s northeast Denver seat in 2009, found multiple opportunities to tout her skills developed as an independent business woman. But she returned repeatedly to the importance of art, music and physical education.
“That’s the stuff that helps us survive, when times are tough,” she said. “It’s knowing how to love each other and take care of each other.”
Denver’s current board has split 4-3 on some key reform issues, with a narrow majority supporting the policies of Superintendent Tom Boasberg. The Nov. 1 election is seen as having the potential to either preserve that majority, build on it or perhaps flip it in a direction that might reverse the current course DPS – and even cost Boasberg his job.
So candidates were each asked which “side” they would be on, if elected. All said they would not be aligning with one side or the other – with Shumway saying, “They’re all good people” and vowing to try to bring them together.
“I don’t think it’s about sides,” Haynes said. “It’s about kids first and foremost, and all the things that we need to support the kids.”
Daniel, who occasionally played for a comedic angle through the evening, said, “I’m going to misbehave more effectively than they are,” referring to current board members. He added, “I’m going to be on my own side … I’m probably not going to be real friendly with either side.”
Kilgore, however, said, “Everyone is for the kids, but there are political considerations that are taking place as we approach this race.
“The mayor, for example, just endorsed in the at-large race and, unfortunately, the mayor didn’t talk to any other candidates that I’m aware of,” he said. “To me, that’s an example of not putting the kids first. That’s putting friendships and alliances first.”
The at-large candidates are scheduled to come together again Tuesday at the Thomas Jefferson High School Auditorium, in a forum co-sponsored by the Partnership for Southeast Denver Schools, the League of Women Voters and the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation.
They will be joined by Anne Rowe and Emily Sirota, the two candidates for the southeast Denver seat being vacated by the term-limited Bruce Hoyt.
The third DPS race on the ballot is the northwest Denver contest between Jennifer Draper Carson and incumbent Arturo Jimenez.
Denver residents must be registered by Oct. 3 to vote and mail-in ballots will be sent out Oct. 12. All ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Nov. 1.