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Latino group criticizes DPS board finalists

Leaders of the Denver metro chapter of the Colorado Latino Forum aren’t happy that there are no Latinos on the list of finalists for an empty seat on the Denver school board.

Lisa Calderón and Rudy Gonzales, co-leaders of the Denver chapter, this week sent an open letter to school board President Mary Seawell criticizing the list of nine.

“How can a region that consists of over 70 percent Latino students not have even one Latino considered for the open seat? Out of the nine finalists from a pool of 23 applicants, all are African-American with the exception of one white male,” they wrote.

They described the selection process as being “fundamentally flawed” and said that the three Latino applicants who were on the original list of 25 applicants had “extensive backgrounds as educators in early childhood education and/or bi-lingual education, and had advanced graduate degrees including one PhD.” The Latinos on the original list included Tim Camarillo; Jesus Escarcega, chair of the Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents; and Barbara Medina, who recently retired as head of DPS’s ELL programming.

Furthermore, the duo criticized the list of nine because fewer than half of them have experience working as educators with Latino students and they disproproportionaly live in Stapleton, where Latinos are “perpetually under-represented.”

The forum is planning a meeting to discuss the concerns from 5:15 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Escuela Tlatelolco, 2949 Federal Blvd.

Seawell said no board member must have named a Latino candidate as their first choice. In the anonymous ranking system used by the board, the top pick was worth five points, a second choice three points and third choice one point. Each board member’s top choice is in the list of nine and some second choices, Seawell said.

“For me, the three people I put forward were the ones I wanted to know more about and felt could best represent District 4 based on the limited information I had.”

Seawell said the board needs to stick with the agreed-upon selection criteria for the Far Northeast vacancy, which opened up when Nate Easley resigned to take over the helm of the Denver Scholarship Foundation.

Under state law, the board has 60 days to fill the seat. If the board can’t agree on a candidate, the board president can choose anybody she wants. However, Seawell agreed – should the board reach impasse – that she would pick from the list of nine. She agreed to do that because board members Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida wanted more clarity on how she would pick someone.

“When I made the compromise that was something important for them to stay at the table. I really want to honor that, and stay within what we agreed to,” she said Wednesday.

Seawell said she is “definitely reaching out to people in the Latino community” as the board gets closer to making a choice.

Merida said the problem might be something that only the state legislature can fix.

“The problem is that Denver is the only Colorado school district divided into director districts, whereas all others are at-large directors,” Merida said in an email. “In those districts, it’s reasonable to assume that the process in statute is consistent with the people’s voice because every director has won their seat through a popular vote from across the entire voting district. However, in Denver’s case, the notion of a director only elected by Southwest Denver voters (me) choosing the director for Northeast Denver families, seems unfair.”

To address this, Merida said she has asked Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, to begin work on a legislative fix that could involve tweaking the law to “add in a Denver-specific fix that would prescribe a fair process, not unlike what we do to select board officers.”

“The board is between a rock and a hard place here. On one hand, the process cobbled together is consistent with the letter of statute. On the other hand, because of the district’s longstanding problems with segregation and cultural incompetency, we don’t have the proper conduits to the community to even announce such a vacancy.”

The board will interview the nine candidates from 1 to 8:30 p.m. (with a dinner break) Thursday at the district headquarters, 900 Grant St.

Here is a list of the nine finalists:

  • Sean Bradley, a former staffer for state House Democrats and the Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Fred Franko, who has served on the board of Great Education Colorado
  • Taggart Hansen, a Denver lawyer
  • MiDian Holmes, chair of Stand for Children’s Denver chapter
  • Antwan Jefferson, a CU-Denver educator instructor
  • Vernon Jones Jr., a Manual High School administrator
  • Lisa Roy, executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation
  • Mary Sam, a retired DPS teacher
  • Landri Taylor, CEO of the Denver Urban League

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