The field for November’s Denver school board election is all set — and it includes a final-hour challenger for board chairwoman Happy Haynes’s at-large seat.
Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent critical of Denver Public Schools’ embrace of charter schools, overtesting and what he calls a “rubber stamp” board, will take on Haynes, a former Denver City Council member, DPS administrator and consultant who has championed the district’s reforms.
Although Speth lacks citywide name recognition, his entry into the race means all three seats up for grabs pit those viewed as supporters of the administration against critics, giving voters clear-cut choices.
The election will not swing the balance of the board, however, even if the three upstarts prevail.
Six of the current seven board members largely back Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s agenda, which includes closing low-performing schools, holding teachers accountable and developing a “portfolio” of traditional district schools, charter schools and district-run innovation schools with many of the hallmarks of charters.
Candidates needed to file 50 valid petition signatures by Friday to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot. Signatures from all six announced candidates have been deemed sufficient, a Denver Elections Division spokesman said Monday afternoon.
The other board seats at stake in the election are in northwest Denver’s District 5 and southeast Denver’s District 1 (more on the candidates and their positions below).
On his just-launched campaign website, Speth describes himself as employed in the telecommunications industry, the father of two students at Valdez Elementary and an active fundraiser in the campaign to renovate that school and press for similar fixes at others.
“I’ve seen a repeated pattern of DPS implementing changes that communities do not want,” Speth says on his webpage. “The school board has simply been a rubber stamp, approving every single DPS recommendation since 2013, often with no serious debate. This has left many communities frustrated and distrustful, and has led me to the conclusion that I must step forward to try and bring the often ignored community voice and perspective to the board.”
Speth declined to discuss his campaign in detail last week and could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. He will kick off his campaign with an event Thursday.
Asked about her opponent, Haynes said Monday: “I can’t speak to what he is saying or says, because I haven’t heard him. I am really focused on the goals that we have set out in the Denver Plan 2020,” the district’s blueprint for lifting student achievement.
“We have set out some ambitious goals,” Haynes said. “We’re going to be focused on the work it takes to get to those goals. There is a lot of work to be done.”
Haynes said her campaign priorities also include investment in early childhood initiatives and providing more equitable access to schools and opportunities for all students.
Another would-be at-large candidate, retired educator Glenn Hanley, filed city and state paperwork expressing his intent to run but did not turn in the required signatures, officials said.
The campaigns for the other disputed seats, meantime, have been humming along for weeks.
The most wide-open race is in northwest Denver’s District 5, where the sole consistent critic of the Boasberg administration, Arturo Jimenez, is leaving because of term limits.
Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, faces Michael Kiley, a project manager for a software company. Kiley ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in 2013.
Kiley has questioned some district proposals and DPS’s commitment to community engagement. He says that he wants a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.
In southeast Denver’s District 1, incumbent Anne Rowe faces Kristi Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.
Rowe has said she plans to focus on seeing through a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020. Rowe cites as achievements a new policy that determines where schools should be placed and another sweeping plan that gives principals more control over their curriculum and other matters.
Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input, criticizing the district for taking a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education. She has pledged to take on the problem of teacher turnover.