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Concern grows over fate of DPS bond

Denver school board President Mary Seawell on Monday said she is worried a $466 million bond issue could fail Nov. 6 as opposition to the measure becomes more organized and includes a board colleague.

Denver Public Schools administration building at 900 Grant St.
DPS headquarters at 900 Grant St.

Seawell made the remark as she and board members Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes met with City Councilwoman Judy Montero and five members of Sunnyside United Neighbors to discuss the fate of schools in Northwest Denver.Arturo Jimenez, the DPS board member who represents Northwest Denver, was not at the meeting. But he has been publicly campaigning against the bond via the No on Denver 3B Bond campaign while supporting the companion $49 million operating tax increase that will also be on the 2012 ballot.

“I think it could fail – it really could,” Seawell said of the bond.

The community members at the meeting, led by parent Felicia Medina, asked why they should support the bond when Jimenez – elected to represent them – does not.

Seawell said contrary to what the citizens group may have heard, the district can’t put the bond issue on the 2013 ballot. She said it has the best chance of passing in a presidential election year and that the next possible time the district could put a bond question on the ballot – if it fails this year – would be 2014.

Seawell said politics should not enter into a question about school resources. She urged the parents to think of the future:

“We’re talking about 40 years later – when Mary, Arturo and Happy won’t be on the board anymore, and Tom Boasberg will not be superintendent.”

Seawell said if the bond fails, money for boilers and roofs and other capital needs will have to come out of the general fund.

“There are going to be a lot of teachers cut,” Seawell said.

Sunnyside group wants better neighborhood schools

That wasn’t the only issue on the minds of Sunnyside neighbors. They are primarily concerned that they can’t get their young children into any of the neighborhood’s highest-performing elementary schools, such as Valdez and Sandoval, where lengthy wait lists are the norm.

The community group’s education committee wants quality neighborhood schools that are diverse in student make-up and within walking distance to their homes. They want the school’s programs, especially the area’s high-quality dual-language programs, to seamlessly continue into a viable middle school program, possibly at Trevista, then into North High School.

The group is also opposed to a district plan to co-locate STRIVE Prep High School at North High, despite available space at the historic quadrant high school.

Members of the community group said they don’t like the solution to the STRIVE question offered up as a top choice of a working group made up of Northwest Denver residents and STRIVE Prep representatives, calling for STRIVE Prep High School to move into Lake Middle School. That solution would require finding a new home for STRIVE Middle School now at Lake.

Irene Grazer, the organization’s education committee co-chair, said she doesn’t understand why STRIVE Prep can’t be located in the now empty Remington Elementary facility. Seawell explained that that scenario was not among the working group’s top options because it does not meet the proximity needs of STRIVE Prep.

“Why is it we have to provide them buildings, shouldn’t the onus be on them?” Grazer asked.

Councilmember Montero’s main issue was the status of Remington and whether it remains on the district’s so-called disbursement list. Haynes said it was on the list, but it was not actively being marketed. Montero said she is supporting the bond but it seemed “contradictory” to have Remington on a “for sale” list when the district is saying it needs space for schools.

NW neighbors call for vote soon on charter location

Sunnyside neighborhood group members called on the DPS board to vote on the plan for STRIVE Prep High School at its next meeting. But Haynes said it would be tough for the board to even make its 60-day deadline for a vote on STRIVE since board members have yet to hear from the Lake community. This means the board won’t vote on the matter until after the election.

“We don’t have time for these schools to be in transition.”
— Parent Bryant Harris“We need enough time,” Seawell said. “If the bond passes, what does that mean in terms of supporting that preferred option? It’s an easier conversation if we knew whether or not those funds were going to be part of the conversations.”

Parent Bryant Harris, parent of a 4- and a 5-year-old, said, “We don’t have time for these schools to be in transition.”

Harris said the perception in in the community is that the district is letting an untenable situation “linger.” Medina called the tension between the district and citizens of Northwest Denver “unhealthy.”

“We’re willing to support DPS, but there has to be some transparency,” Medina said.

Seawell encouraged the group to get neighbors involved and craft a plan for what types of schools and programs they’d like to see. She said she envisions the Smedley building reopening at some point to serve the increased needs in a rapidly growing part of the city. However, Seawell said it’s unclear how long that could take.

“Some think a few years away,” Seawell said. “Some think it’s closer than that. What I see in Sunnyside is a lot of potential to really create another really strong school.”

Neighbors question fate of Smedley

But Harris questioned why $750,000 in bond money was slated to be spent at Smedley for air-conditioning to support technology needs. And the group said it had become aware that work was being done now at the school.

Seawell quelled a rumor that three charter schools would be moving into Smedley next year.

“That’s not true,” she said, noting that she would look into new information from the group that a special-needs preschool classroom would be opening there.

Medina said the Sunnyside group is embarking on a community survey to gather the educational needs and wants of all residents, including those who live in the Quigg Newton Homes affordable housing area. The group asked the district to help pay for the survey. Seawell said that might be a possibility.

Sunnyside neighbors Lisa and Santino Adducci left the meeting feeling good about the district’s response.

“I felt like they really listened to us,” Lisa Adducci said.

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