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Denver school board divided over vote to fill vacant seat, ballots show

Denver school board president Anne Rowe.
Denver school board president Anne Rowe.
Nicholas Garcia

More than 48 hours after the vote, Denver Public Schools officials on Thursday released vote tallies showing school board members were not united in the appointment of parent activist MiDian Holmes as the next board representative of northeast Denver.

Holmes got enough votes to be one of three finalists, then prevailed 4-2 in a second round of balloting, according to ballots obtained by Chalkbeat in an open records request.

Two board members cast ballots in that round for Jennifer Bacon, board chair of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, an activist group that has criticized some district policies. Bacon is an attorney who works for an organization that trains Teach for America alumni to become school leaders.

Former board president Happy Haynes, who holds an at-large seat, and southwest Denver representative Rosemary Rodriguez voted for Bacon. Board chair Anne Rowe, vice chair Barbara O’Brien and board members Lisa Flores and Mike Johnson backed Holmes, records show.

The disclosure in the past two days that Holmes was convicted for misdemeanor child abuse — and what she shared and didn’t share with district officials about it — put her appointment on shaky ground. (Note: Since publication of this story, Holmes has announced she would step aside and not accept the appointment).

Questions remain about how school district officials vetted the candidates, what they discovered in Holmes’ background check and what they told board members when.

After meeting behind closed doors with an attorney Thursday, the board scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the fate of the District 4 seat.

Also unclear is why district officials did not immediately release the results of Tuesday’s vote on the appointment, which under Colorado law cannot be conducted by secret ballot.

A Chalkbeat reporter immediately requested the vote results after Holmes was chosen. A district official advised that the reporter request the information under Colorado open records law.

The district responded on Thursday evening by providing copies of the ballots.

The vote should have been revealed when it was taken, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an alliance of journalists, organizations and individuals promoting transparency and open government. (Chalkbeat is a member).

“A reporter should not have to do an open records request for a vote that was taken in a public meeting,” Roberts said. “The fact they delayed giving this information is not a transparent way to operate.”

Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who specializes in open meetings law, said: “Public business is not supposed to be conducted in secret. Why not let people know at that time? Now you’ve got a controversial appointment. People ought to be able to know who voted for whom.”

DPS spokesman Will Jones said the delay in releasing the results was bureaucratic.

“Us holding on to the information doesn’t do any good,” he said. “… I have no desire not to give you what you want.”

That the board was split in the final round of balloting is significant given that the six members are united in support for DPS’s brand of school reform. Here are the round-by-round results:

ROUND ONE

Lisa Flores: Bacon, Rachele Espiritu
Happy Haynes: Bacon, Makisha Boothe
Mike Johnson: Holmes, Espiritu
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes, Dexter Korto
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon, Boothe
Anne Rowe: Holmes, Espiritu

ROUND TWO

Lisa Flores: Holmes
Happy Haynes: Bacon
Mike Johnson: Holmes
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon
Anne Rowe: Holmes

Chalkbeat deputy bureau chief Nicholas Garcia contributed information to this report.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

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