In a meeting that resembled a “Survivor” episode, the Denver school board Wednesday whittled down a list of nine candidates for the Northeast Denver seat to three.
The three finalists are Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League; lawyer Taggart Hansen, and urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson.
While the tallies were anonymous, it became clear that board members Arturo Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan were supporting Jefferson while board President Mary Seawell and members Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes were backing Taylor and Hansen.
“One of the reasons I have come to support or like Antwan Jefferson is because of his focus on both family involvement in the schools and community involvement,” Kaplan said. “He is pretty a up-to-date expert … in terms of teaching and teacher quality.”
Kaplan said if she was asked what side of the DPS philosophical divide Jefferson was on, she couldn’t say.
Seawell said she too was impressed by Jefferson – but also by Taylor and Hansen.
“As I weigh Taggart Hansen and Landri Taylor I think they both could be exceptional board members,” Seawell said. “It appeals to me that Taggart was a teacher. That perspective is very important.”
Seawell said all of Taylor’s life experiences have “shown a commitment to the values we’ve been talking about.”
Board members now will take the next couple of weeks to learn more about the three candidates then reconvene to select the winner during the week of March 11. The deadline to fill the seat is March 18.
After taking turns describing the characteristics each board member would like to see in the seventh member – a critical swing vote on the oft-divided board – the board set to work ranking.
First the six sitting board members each chose two people from the list of nine, whittling it down to Hansen, Jefferson and Taylor, plus Vernon Jones Jr., assistant principal at Manual High School, and Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher. Contenders who were kicked off the proverbial island in the first round were Fred Franko, MiDian Holmes, Lisa Roy and Sean Bradley.
Then each board member was allowed to choose one person from the shorter list. Nothing changed, so another vote was taken. This time, Jefferson emerged with three votes, Hansen with two and Taylor with one. During a later tally, Hansen lost one vote to Taylor.
The candidates are vying for the seat held by Nate Easley, who announced his resignation Jan. 9 to take over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.
The vacancy is key due to the divided nature of the board. Whoever fills it may also have a small leg up in the November election. Other open seats this fall include those held by Kaplan, who’s term-limited, Merida and Seawell. Seawell and Merida have said they both plan to run again. One candidate, Meg Schomp, surfaced this week as a candidate for Kaplan’s seat.
Easley was a staunch supporter of Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a range of reforms underway in the 84,000-student district, from charter schools to innovation schools to schools sharing a single building.
Under state law the board has 60 days to choose a replacement. If the board can’t agree, Seawell has the authority to fill the vacancy.
Initially, 25 people submitted applications to serve on the board. The board used an anonymous and weighted ranking system to whittle that list to nine.
The process to fill the seat hasn’t been smooth. Kaplan and Jimenez, for instance, backed a plea from the Colorado Latino Forum that the process be re-opened so to ensure Hispanic representation.
None of the nine finalists were Latino. A review of the first round of tally sheets found that neither Kaplan nor Jimenez selected one of the three Hispanic candidates in the pool of 25.
Kaplan has urged selecting an interim board member so that voters can decide who fills the seat in November.
Seawell said she would still like to see unanimous support behind the board pick. But she said she would also take a 4-2 or 5-1 vote.
“Every vote matters and counts,” Seawell said.
Jimenez participated in the process even though he said he still has complaints about a lack of transparency since the rules are made up each step of the way.
“I don’t think that’s a good way to govern in terms of due process,” Jimenez said. “I could leave … but the kids and constituents I represent would expect I stay and engage in conversation.”