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Reporter’s Notebook: The last laugh

There’s nothing unusual about a 4-3 vote for the Denver Public Schools board.

The board’s current cohort, since 2011, has often found itself split along ideological lines: Too many tests, not enough tests; too much data, not enough data; charter school, neighborhood school.

And in good fashion, there were plenty of 4-3 votes last night.

But the lines weren’t drawn in the usual ways.

Thursday was the last regular board meeting for board president Mary Seawell, Jeannie Kaplan and Andrea Merida. Kaplan and Merida make up two-thirds of the camp that some call the last stand for traditional comprehensive neighborhood schools. Seawell, more often than not, has supported the district’s accountability-based reform efforts and charter schools.

But on Thursday, the three came together to form what Kaplan called a “weird” bloc of votes when the board considered renewing a contract with the Escuela Tlatelolco, a school founded by Denver civic rights leader Corky Gonzales.

The northwest Denver charter school, which serves students K-12, has ranked as one of the worst schools in the district for three years. According to the Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s own memo: “Escuela’s TCAP growth has consistently fallen short of District expectations by a wide margin. In addition, the School’s performance is below that of its similar school cluster across subjects.”

Merida was the most the vocal and most upset. She said it was a disservice to the Latino community to allow the school to remain open.

“God bless Mr. Gonzales’ soul,” she said.

Seawell spoke next: “I agree with my colleague Ms. Merida.” She would not support the one-year contract renewal.

Kaplan’s head bounced up as quickly as a child rising from bed Christmas morning.

It was board member Arturo Jimenez, who normally sides with Kaplan and Merdia, who came to the school’s defense. The school has a plan and is working closely with district officials. And the school is getting grant money, a school official assured.

Boasberg made his case: The school is a tradition that deserves another chance and more resources.

“We’ve been stricter with schools who have been serving the community longer,” Merida replied.

Seawell said that she doesn’t know how a school, with its own board, could be in such bad shape.

But despite the odd-triplet alliance in opposition to the extension, the charter was renewed by a vote of 4-3.

“It’s our last night, what the hell,” Kaplan leans over and smiles at Seawell.

The room chuckled; it was genuine but awkward.

Within 15 minutes, the board took another vote to renew the charter of STRIVE-Prep Federal. The vote, again, was 4-3. But this time, there was a collective sigh of relief, as the tribes re-settled in their traditional mind camps.

“It’s like we know each other,” Seawell said.

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