The Denver teachers union has endorsed three school board candidates calling for change in a district known for embracing education reform policies.
The endorsements are significant because the Denver Classroom Teachers Association historically spends big to help elect its slate of candidates. In the last school board election in 2017, a political committee associated with the union spent nearly $200,000 in support of its chosen candidates.
Adding to the significance this year is the union’s heightened profile. A three-day teacher strike in February enjoyed widespread support from parents and community members who sympathized with the red-shirted teachers on the picket line and agreed they should be paid more.
In what was a three-way race for a school board seat representing the city at large, the union endorsed Tay Anderson, a recent graduate of Denver Public Schools who now works as a restorative practices coordinator for the district, helping students resolve conflicts.
This is Anderson’s second time running for school board. He did not earn the union’s endorsement when he ran for a different seat in 2017. Even so, Anderson was active during the teacher strike, leading chants with a megaphone and staying through the night as the union and the district negotiated the final deal.
In a three-way race for a seat representing northwest Denver, the union endorsed Brad Laurvick, a Methodist pastor and father of a rising second-grader who gave a speech on the state Capitol steps in support of teachers during the strike.
And in what was a four-way race for a seat representing southeast Denver, the union endorsed Scott Baldermann, who previously served as the president of the parent-teacher association at his children’s school and helped raise money for striking teachers there.
One of Baldermann’s opponents, parent Kristi Leech, dropped out of the race because she did not receive the union endorsement. One of Anderson’s opponents, Denver teacher Anna DeWitt, dropped out for the same reason.
The three endorsed candidates hold similar views. They have all raised questions about the district’s school choice system, which includes charter schools, and said students shouldn’t have to travel outside their neighborhood to attend a good school.
Anderson has said he wants to increase the number of mental health workers in Denver schools. Laurvick has called for greater financial transparency from the district. And Baldermann has said he’d like to reduce the amount of standardized testing.
“We are proud to endorse Tay, Scott, and Brad,” acting union president Rob Gould said in a statement. “These candidates will fight alongside students, community members, and educators to change the failed policies of the last ten years of corporate-led ‘reform’ in DPS.”
The union’s endorsements are made by a seven-member committee called the DCTA Fund. Per campaign finance rules, it is the fund that donates money to candidates, not the union itself.
In an interview a week after the endorsements were announced, Gould elaborated on the decisions. He cited Baldermann’s analytical skills, Laurvick’s community service, and Anderson’s lived experience as a former Denver student.
“Scott Baldermann, he’s already started to analyze the DPS budget,” Gould said, adding that such scrutiny could “bring some power to the board in terms of really dissecting where the money is going.”
Gould noted that Laurvick opened up additional classrooms at his church’s preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds whose district-run preschool classes were canceled during the teacher strike. (The district kept all grades open except preschool.)
“He’s got that unique compassion and understanding for students and workers — and when you take care of both, you can go to new heights,” Gould said of Laurvick.
And Gould praised Anderson’s extensive involvement with the district in the two years since the last school board election, when he did not get the union’s endorsement. Upon walking into a recent contract bargaining session between district officials and the school secretaries union, Gould said he found Anderson in the audience.
“Tay was just sitting with a group of secretaries and asking them about, what are their challenges?” Gould said. “He was already engaged in this real thoughtful process of what it is that you all need, what would work for you — and listening.”
The momentum from the teachers strike has given way to a movement to “flip the board” to elect a majority of school board members who oppose Denver Public Schools’ reform policies.
Candidates supportive of those policies — which have included closing struggling schools, paying teachers based on merit, and nurturing the expansion of independently run charter schools — dominated school board elections for years, allowing the policies to continue.
But in 2017, that started to shift. Two candidates who were, to varying degrees, skeptical of school closures and charter schools were elected to the board with union support. If two more such candidates are elected, anti-reformers will hold the board majority for the first time ever.
Separate from the union, a coalition of community groups dedicated to flipping the board was aiming to make its own endorsements. But the coalition disbanded in mid-July after its members could not come to consensus.
Some coalition members wanted to back the union’s endorsements, while others did not, according to at least two people involved. Some also questioned the union’s decision to endorse two white men — Baldermann and Laurvick — over women of color also running for those seats.
Gould said the union was “aware of the possibility of this perception” as it made its selection.
“We encourage everyone with concerns to get to know our candidates as we did through this process,” he said. “We feel that these candidates have the best chances of making positive change for Denver students.”
Among the candidates who openly oppose reform but didn’t get the union’s endorsement are former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Radhika Nath.
Here’s an updated list of the candidates still in the running, in alphabetical order. Candidates have until Aug. 30 to jump into the race. The election is Nov. 5.
Natela Manuntseva (entered the race after the endorsements were announced)
Alexis Menocal Harrigan
Northwest Denver, District 5