After two months of public forums and much handwringing and debate among members of the the school board, Denver Public Schools board President Mary Seawell alone will pick the next person to represent Northeast Denver on the board.
The board at a special meeting Thursday failed to come to consensus around three finalists for the board seat vacated in January when Nate Easley resigned. The finalists are urban teacher educator Antwan Jefferson, lawyer Taggart Hansen and head of the Denver Urban League Landri Taylor.
“It’s a disappointment,” Seawell told her colleagues. “I really did want our board to get there. I believe everyone who participated tonight tried very hard.”
Board members Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan put their support behind Jefferson, while Anne Rowe, Seawell and Happy Haynes were supporting Taylor or Hansen. Ballots were secret, but Merida and Kaplan discussed their support for Jefferson.
Seawell pledged to make her choice by Tuesday at the latest so that the new member can be sworn in at Thursday’s regular board meeting.
Board member Arturo Jimenez declined to participate Thursday in the process to fill the board seat.
He read a letter to the board in which he stated, “I absolutely remain firm in my belief that we have not provided a meaningful process for appointment of a qualified individual to fill the vacant Board of Education post for Director of District 4… and I refuse to be a part of this false presentation to the community.”
Jimenez urged Seawell to reopen the field “under a transparent and fair process” or appoint Barbara Medina as interim board member. Medina, former assistant commissioner for Innovation and Transformation at the Colorado Department of Education, was among 25 original applicants for the seat. She was not among early finalists selected by the six board members. And a review of voter tally sheets indicated that none of the board members, including Jimenez, selected Medina as their first, second or third choice.
Seawell pledged to stick with the current process in fairness to the three finalists – and the sitting board members who participated.
Echoing a similar refrain as Kaplan and the Denver branch of the Colorado Latino Forum, Jimenez also asked Seawell to name someone to the board who would not run for re-election in November – noting that incumbents have a leg up on lesser known candidates.
Jimenez also criticized the background of two of the finalists – Hansen and Taylor – because they live in the upscale Stapleton neighborhood.
He wrote that this board knew from the beginning that a candidate would be chosen “who lacks a larger context than the homogeneous, upper-income Stapleton neighborhood – not even large enough to represent Montbello, (Green Valley Ranch), Park Hill, Whittier, Curtis Park, Cole and all of the other neighborhoods in the Northeast.“
Board members Happy Haynes and Anne Rowe took issue with Jimenez’ criticism of people who live in Stapleton – and of the process in general.
“We spent long hours in community meetings hearing from people, interviewing candidates in a public forum at great length,” Haynes said. “To say that’s just politics and a political sham is a disservice to the time we’ve all spent in this process.”
Merida acknowledged being conflicted about the process. She also said she’s taken a lot of heat for not selecting one of the three Latino candidates who were in the original pool of 25.
“This weighs on me…because I feel like I’m being pigeonholed,” she said. “Just because I’m a Latina I’m the only one that has to be concerned about Latino issues.”
Merida said she wanted someone who was first and foremost highly engaged in community and sensitive to the needs of the Latino community, regardless of that person’s race or ethnicity.
Merida said the conflict on the board and in the community about the appointment highlights the “tenuous connection this district has historically had with the Latino community in this town.”
“We’re making great strides in this district,” Merida said, citing a DPS Spanish language radio station and ongoing work on a court decree ensuring that the academic needs of English language learners are met. “At the same time, this has popped up because we have not had good, genuine community ties. Maybe this is a wake-up call.”