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Low point in Denver Public Schools politics?

Denver school board President Mary Seawell is investigating her legal options after an opponent of the district’s proposed $466 million bond issue sent emails to thousands of DPS staff members criticizing the proposal – and linking the criticism to Seawell.

Denver school board President Mary Seawell, right, speaks at a Northeast Denver community meeting in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo.
Denver school board President Mary Seawell, right, speaks at a Northeast Denver community meeting in this EdNews file photo.
Oliver Morrison

On Tuesday, DPS employees and some community members received a lengthy email purporting to be sent from “dpsboardpresident@maryseawell.com” and stating district claims about its financial health are false.

It also echoes statements made by various critics of the bond, such as “53 percent of bond funds, or almost $250 million, will go to charter schools, while just 21 percent of DPS students attend these schools.” The organized opposition to the bond, No on 3B Denver, strongly denies any involvement.

The email concludes, “In DPS, “greater educational opportunities to Denver’s children” equals charter schools. If you support charter schools, vote for the bond. It is that simple.”

And it’s signed, “Sincerely, Not the real Mary Seawell (obviously)”

Seawell, perhaps the board’s most outspoken advocate for the bond, said she received about 50 emails, calls and texts from people either confused by the message, wondering why she would send it, or asking who did send it.

She posted a clarification on her Facebook page that said, in part, “What bothers me the most is not the attempt to damage my reputation and service, it is the malicious intent to damage and irreparably harm the school district I care so deeply about.”

Seawell said Wednesday that she was unaware of the URL using her name, www.maryseawell.com, until it was pointed out to her a few weeks ago.

“I’m not naïve, I’m not stupid,” Seawell said. “I get how intense the politics can get around school issues. But it seems like these types of actions just cross a line. It’s so dirty, so damaging to individuals working really hard to make schools better. There is not a place for this.”

Not the first email sent to DPS staff by bond opposition

Tuesday’s email was not the first anti-bond email sent to DPS employees via their district email addresses.

On Oct. 3, an email containing the subject line “Denver Public Schools is $25,000 in debt for each student” was sent to thousands of employees and to many community members. The email doesn’t contain any reference to Seawell but lists the sender as “Save our schools from drowning in debt” and refers readers to the website stopdpsdebtnow.com.

The stopdpsdebtnow.com website contains a number of allegations about the district’s financial condition but does not list any information about who’s behind the site. The maryseawell.com, which once directed readers to the stopdpsdebtnow.com website, is now blank. Both sites are registered to Domains by Proxy, an Internet company that allows a website’s registrant to remain anonymous.

A week later, on Oct. 11, the district’s chief operating officer, David Suppes, attempted to correct information in the Oct. 3 email with his own email to DPS staff.

The email sent this week and linked to Seawell responds to points Suppes made in his email.

District spokesman Mike Vaughn confirmed that the emails made it through to thousands of employees, but not all of them.

“The spam emails were sent to several thousand of our employees, and many were intercepted by our spam filters,” Vaughn said. “We have shared the facts about our strong financial standing and the bond proposal with all of our staff, and we doubt that any of our employees would take this type of malicious spam seriously.”

Bond opposition committee says no tie to emails

Denver school board members voted 5-2 to put the bond issue before voters, with members Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida voting against it.

Merida has used social media, including her Facebook page, to criticize the bond measure while Jimenez has publicly campaigned against it as a spokesman for the opposition group, No on 3B Denver.

The No on 3B campaign denies any involvement in the anti-bond emails. When contacted for this story, Jimenez referred questions to Earleen Brown, the registered agent for the No on 3B political campaign committee.

“I want to make it unequivocally clear that we DO NOT have any association with or knowledge of whoever may be distributing the emails,” Brown wrote in an email.

“We have attached our name to all communications from the campaign. We believe that it is in everyone’s best interests that, regardless of where one may stand on the issue of 3B, the conversation be open and transparent.”

Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann said the tactics represented a low point in DPS politics, especially in a community that has a history of people who stick to generally accepted campaign rules and behave in a “classier” way.

“Politics has become an increasingly bitter sport,” Sondermann said. “It is indicative of the bitterness surrounding DPS board politics.”

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