A coalition of community groups aiming to “flip” the Denver school board in November has disbanded after failing to come to consensus on a slate of candidates to support.
“It became clear that there was not a path to consensus about final candidate endorsements among the organizations that make up the Denver Community Education Coalition,” says an announcement from the coalition posted on social media. “Member organizations have been released to make individual endorsement decisions should they so choose.”
That’s significant because if the organizations endorse different candidates, it could split the vote among candidates who want to radically change the direction of Denver Public Schools, giving an advantage to candidates who think smaller tweaks are in order.
The coalition comprised eight organizations (see box) that disagree with the education reform policies championed by the Denver school board for more than a decade. Those policies have included paying teachers based on merit, closing struggling schools, and opening new charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.
Pro-reform candidates dominated Denver school board elections for years until two candidates skeptical of such policies won election in 2017. Those candidates had help from the Denver teachers union, which opposes school closure and the proliferation of charter schools.
This year, with three seats on the seven-member board up for grabs, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association has its sights set on winning at least two more seats, thereby “flipping” the board majority and gaining control over district policymaking. The union, which is not part of the coalition, endorsed three candidates last week using its own internal vetting process.
The coalition shared the goal of flipping the board majority, but was running its own endorsement process it hoped would represent the interests of the broader community. With at least two anti-reform candidates running in each of the three races, coalition members met for months to vet the candidates in an attempt to endorse a single candidate in each race.
But in the end, they couldn’t agree.
Some coalition members wanted to back the union-endorsed candidates, according to at least two people involved in the coalition. They figured that teaming up with the union, which spends big in support of its chosen candidates, would provide the best chance at flipping the board.
Other coalition members wanted to deviate from the union endorsements, particularly for the seats representing southeast and northwest Denver, those involved said. Whereas the union endorsed two white men, Scott Baldermann and Brad Laurvick, some coalition members preferred their opponents, Radhika Nath and Julie Bañuelos, both women of color.
Hasira Ashemu served on the coalition as a representative of Our Voice, Our Schools, an organization focused on improving education for the students of color who make up the majority of Denver’s nearly 93,000 students. He was pushing for the coalition to back the union-endorsed candidates, even if not everyone was thrilled with the union’s choices.
“Even people willing to support DCTA’s slate weren’t clicking their heels over the choices,” Ashemu said. “However, there were some of us who were committed to be disciplined in why we came together in the first place, which was to flip the board.”
Jeannie Kaplan, a former school board member and part of the coalition through a group called Our Denver, Our Schools, said she’s worried a lack of consensus will lead to a repeat of races in which pro-reform candidates won because anti-reform candidates split the anti-reform vote.
“We’re always the ones that have more than one candidate, and that hasn’t served us well in the past — and I worry that won’t serve us well this time,” Kaplan said.
It’s not clear whether all eight coalition groups will now make their own endorsements. Kaplan and Ashemu said the organizations to which they belong have yet to decide. Wendy Howell, deputy director of the Colorado Working Families Party, said her organization is in the midst of discussing next steps, as well.
However, a group of progressive educators called the Caucus of Today’s Teachers is planning to make its own endorsements, said member Elizabeth McMahon, a teacher at Denver’s South High School. She declined to comment on the specifics of the coalition’s decision-making process other than to say her group was excited to be part of it.
The Caucus of Today’s Teachers also endorsed candidates in 2017, agreeing with the union on some and disagreeing on others. McMahon said she expects the same to happen this year.
“I would expect there to be some overlap with the DCTA slate,” McMahon said, “but I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were places where we were interested in a different direction.”
Nine candidates are running for three seats on the board, though the field could grow before the Aug. 30 candidate deadline. The election is Nov. 5.
Here’s an updated list of the candidates: