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Candidate field for at-large Denver school board race narrows to two

Alan Petersime

A second Denver school board candidate has dropped out of the race after not getting the endorsement of the Denver teachers union.

Anna DeWitt posted an announcement on Facebook Wednesday that she is exiting the race — and it is her hope that the union’s candidates “will continue to push important conversations, ensuring that at the end of the day our children come before politics.”

In an interview, DeWitt said she was shocked that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association didn’t endorse her, given that she is a teacher and a dues-paying union member. She said the union’s decision is what caused her to withdraw from the race.

Anna DeWitt
Anna DeWitt

“They bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race, and I don’t have that money,” DeWitt said. 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.

DeWitt was running for an open school board seat representing the city at-large. She had two opponents: Tay Anderson and Alexis Menocal Harrigan. The union announced in mid-July that it was endorsing Anderson in the at-large race.

Both Anderson and DeWitt work at North High School, where Anderson is a restorative justice coordinator and DeWitt is a French teacher. Both aligned themselves with a movement to “flip the board” in November’s election and change the direction of Denver Public Schools, putting a stop to school closures and slowing the growth of independent charter schools.

Some community members who agree with “flipping the board” have called for the candidates who did not win the union’s endorsement to drop out of the race. Their fear is that a crowded field will lead to a splitting of the vote between candidates calling for big changes, thereby handing a victory to candidates who believe smaller tweaks are in order.

However, a coalition of community organizations aimed at avoiding a split failed to reach consensus to make its own endorsements.

Another candidate, Kristi Leech, dropped out shortly after not receiving the union’s endorsement. Leech was one of four candidates running for a seat in southeast Denver. There are still three candidates in that race, including two who want big changes.

DeWitt’s decision makes the at-large race a head-to-head contest between Anderson and Menocal Harrigan, who was endorsed by a group called the Students for Education Reform Action Network. The matchup is in some ways a classic Denver contest: a candidate endorsed by the teachers union versus a candidate supported by a pro-reform education group.

(Update: A third candidate, Natela Manuntseva, entered the at-large race after the publication of this story.)

For years, reform candidates dominated Denver school board elections. Anti-reformers are hoping the momentum from a February teachers strike, which saw significant support from parents and community members, will help their candidates at the polls this year.

Whereas Leech publicly announced her support for the union-endorsed candidate in her race, Scott Baldermann, DeWitt did not endorse Anderson in her Facebook announcement. She declined in an interview to elaborate on why.

On Thursday, Anderson released his own statement.

“I want to thank Ms. Dewitt for making the decision to step up to run for office and her desire to serve our Denver community,” he said. “I look forward to meeting with her to discuss the road ahead and how we unite to put our students, teachers, and community first.”

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