There’s been a flurry of activity this week in the Denver Public Schools board election.
Longtime school finance lawyer Mike Johnson Wednesday officially launched his campaign to fill the central Denver seat now held by term-limited Jeannie Kaplan.
“I finally decided I could organize my life to make this work and that is was too important not to do it,” Johnson said. “The issues in central Denver are in a lot of ways keeping up what we’re doing right now. I think we’ve had incredible success in schools in central Denver. I think people are excited about sending their kids to the schools.”
However, Johnson said he believes more needs to be done to ensure that all families have the means to attend the schools they choose. To that end, he said he supports expansion of transportation systems similar to the Success Express shuttle system in Far Northeast Denver.
Johnson, who is the legal counsel for the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which has provided $1.1 billion to construct and renovate 170 schools in Colorado, also said the district could do a better job of educating people about how the choice system works.
Johnson puts himself firmly in the camp with the board majority who support Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a raft of reforms in the district, including a portfolio approach to new schools in which the district opens its arms to new school ideas from anyone who can come up with a solid program that meets district needs.
So far, he said he has been endorsed by longtime education advocate Anna Jo Haynes, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, former DPS board member Les Woodward, environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s wife Susan Daggett and former U.S. Congressman David Skaggs.
“I think Tom Boasberg is doing a great job. I think the school district is headed in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think it’s perfect, and there are things I’ll disagree with… from time to time.”
O’Brien also pondering run for DPS board
Also in this camp is former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, now head of Get Smart Schools, who said she is considering running for the at-large seat now held by board President Mary Seawell. Seawell shocked her colleagues when she announced last month that she would not seek re-election due to work and family issues.
O’Brien, a well-known figure in Colorado and former head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, would no doubt generate huge dollars and high-profile support in her campaign bid.
Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools serving low-income children in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.
O’Brien previously told EdNews she is especially interested in focusing on quality school leadership by providing support and training to principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. She has also expressed interest – in her role at Get Smart – in expanding the reach of successful charter school programs in traditional schools as well.
O’Brien said she didn’t think her work for Get Smart would create a conflict of interest should she serve on the board but she said she would consult with district counsel. DPS board member Nate Easley served as vice president of the Denver Scholarship Foundation while he served on the board.
O’Brien said she wouldn’t announce her decision until after Memorial Day weekend.
“I do know education has been the heart and soul of my career over many years,” she said. “I think DPS is at a point where there are some really interesting decisions it needs to make…the directions it can go for English language learners, and getting reading sores up in elementary schools, and schools on the turnaround clock.”
However, O’Brien said she had professional and personal issues to consider as well. Her running a campaign and serving on the board would have to be a “win win” for Get Smart Schools.
“I also have a nonprofit to run, and I really like having my private life back,” she said. “It’s a matter of taking a deep breath over Memorial Day weekend… and at least having the time to think and do pros and cons.”
Union organizer running for Merida’s seat in SW Denver
Meanwhile, another candidate for DPS board member Andrea Merida’s seat in southwest Denver is union organizer Rosario De Baca.
De Baca is a mother of five and field organizer for Colorado Wins, a union representing 31,000 state employees. She recently helped organize custodians at the Auraria higher education campus who were upset about working conditions there.
De Baca is also a former community organizer with the American Federation of Teachers who worked on Obama’s first campaign.
In October, De Baca expressed concerns about Denver schools on a Facebook page promoting an informational event by opponents of the 3B bond.
“I am pretty upset that upkeep at neighborhood school languishes, kids go to classes without AC, libraries limited and classrooms are intolerably hot. Yet DPS wants to pump huge sums into Loretto Heights (privately owned). I WILL NOT VOTE TO FUND UPGRADES OF A PRIVATE BUILDING. Privateers are making money fist over barrel and cheating students and educators of necessary funds for our neighborhood schools, then attack same for “failing.””
De Baca was scheduled to address the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum Tuesday evening. The forum was supposed to endorse candidates in the DPS but opted to postpone those decisions until August or September, according to Denver chapter co-chair Lisa Calderon.