Colorado

DPS board likely still 4-3 split

Updated to reflect unofficial final vote results released Wednesday by the Denver Elections Division.

Denver school board candidate Happy Haynes overwhelmingly defeated her competition to win a citywide seat Tuesday while candidate Anne Rowe easily beat Emily Sirota to represent southeast Denver on the board governing the city’s schools.

Incumbent Arturo Jimenez mingled with supporters Tuesday night while watching returns in a tight contest in northwest Denver. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

But in northwest Denver, incumbent Arturo Jimenez and challenger Jennifer Draper Carson were neck-in-neck much of the evening, with the last results released at 11:50 p.m. showing Jimenez ahead of Draper Carson by just 114 votes. (Results released Wednesday showed Jimenez ahead by 144 votes.)

Draper Carson called Jimenez shortly after midnight but did not concede, said her campaign manager Greta Twombly.

“Jennifer is extremely proud of the campaign we ran with an extremely strong volunteer base,” said Twombly. “She knows the work that went into the campaign from every volunteer and person on on the ground. She spoke to Arturo tonight, and congratulated him on a race well run. I think once the unofficial results are posted, we will have a very clear idea of where things stand.”

Even without a Draper Carson victory, however, the preliminary results mean DPS is expected to maintain a 4-3 vote in favor of the reform-style policies championed by DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The final tally of results, released just before midnight by the Denver Elections Division, show Jimenez with 7,841 votes and Draper Carson with 7,697 votes. Jimenez, who was watching results with supporters at a restaurant, voiced confidence about the end result.

Vote tallies

“I think we’re going to come out on top,” he said. “It may be close enough that we may have to deal with results past this evening but I’m feeling good.”

In the citywide at-large race, Haynes, a former Denver City Council member and Denver Public Schools administrator, cruised to an easy win after trouncing her four competitors in fundraising for the post being vacated by the term-limited Theresa Peña.

Haynes’ results watch party took on an air of celebration almost as soon as it started.

“These people have worked extraordinarily hard through this campaign,” she said. “It has really been a direct voter outreach. We’ve just talked, literally, to thousands of people and everywhere we went, people cared about their Denver schools.”

That, she said, held true whether people had children in the district schools or not.

Happy Haynes (left) and her sister Khadija celebrated election results showing a commanding early lead for Haynes Tuesday night. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

“That was the most gratifying part of this campaign” she said. “Just realizing, how deeply people in Denver care about education.”

Rowe, a founding co-chair of A+ Denver with more than 15 years of activism in DPS affairs, led relative newcomer Sirota by about 2-to-1 throughout the evening.

Watching results with supporters at the Wellshire Inn, Rowe was confident that victory was hers by early evening. She and Sirota fought for the seat now held by Bruce Hoyt, who is term-limited.

“I’m so excited about creating great public education, and I think we can do it. And tonight is saying that we can,” she said. “And that makes me incredibly excited. Tonight starts the work, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Rowe campaign advisor John Britz, who declared the Rowe campaign victorious after seeing the first numbers, said Denver Classroom Teachers Association president Henry Roman called Rowe to congratulate her a half hour after the initial numbers were reported.

At a subdued gathering for Sirota at a Beau Jo’s Pizza, efforts to get comment from the candidate were blocked by her husband.

“Do not go near her,” cautioned David Sirota, as she stood nearby sipping a glass of wine. “You do not work for a real news organization.”

Another Sirota supporter, Cherry Creek News and North Denver News publisher Guerin Green, followed this reporter out of the restaurant, saying, “It’s a good thing this isn’t 100 years ago. You’d be hanging from a tree.”

Rowe, like Haynes, far outraised and outspent her competition. But in northwest Denver, where the night’s nail-biter took place, Jimenez lagged in dollars raised but appeared to secure victory anyway for a second term.

“The huge amount of outside special interest money has had a lot of influence in this race,” said Jimenez. “So it’s very much expected that it would be this close.”

Draper Carson ran on her record of seven years’ roots-level involvement in northwest Denver education activism, including volunteering for Jimenez in his successful 2007 campaign.

But Draper Carson lined up against Jimenez in this election, and amassed a campaign war chest of $177,400 through Oct. 23, close to three times what Jimenez was able to raise. Additionally, she was buoyed by endorsements not only of Stand for Children Colorado and the Denver chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, but also Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Haynes and Rowe also picked up those same key endorsements – among others. That did little to mute complaints that, along with Draper Carson, the three comprised a slate expected to align consistently with Boasberg.

Jimenez and Sirota benefited from endorsements by the DCTA and the support of many unhappy with Boasberg’s policies. The teachers union contributed heavily to their campaigns and provided lots of feet on the ground for neighborhood canvassing.

First sparks fly in northwest Denver

Jimenez and Draper Carson had remained largely congenial in pubic appearances through the campaign season. The rockiest moments for Jimenez may have been provided by a recently formed political committee calling itself Latinos for Education Reform.

LFER took out advertisements last month in news media serving northwest Denver claiming that Jimenez – and southwest District 2 board member Andrea Merida, who was not a candidate this year – had ill-served the Latino community by resisting reform efforts that LFER felt work to the advantage of their children.

Anne Rowe celebrated her impending election to the Denver school board with current at-large board member Mary Seawell Tuesday night at the Wellshire Inn. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

Additionally, Draper Carson used an Oct. 3 candidate forum at the Highlands campus of West Denver Prep charter school to challenge claims by Jimenez that he “helped usher West Denver Prep into North Denver” – despite having repeatedly voted against its eventual locations within his district.

Jimenez largely held his fire, and it was not until an Oct. 18 candidate forum, which Jimenez could not attend, that his stand-in, campaign manager David Sabados, gave Draper Carson perhaps her most uncomfortable moments. Sabados challenged Draper Carson aggressively that night, most notably on her claim that Jimenez had passed a one-year “moratorium” on new schools in their district.

Jimenez had, in fact, authored such a resolution in March 2010, but it was never brought to a vote. Instead, he was joined by board member Mary Seawell in forging a compromise resolution that created a community engagement process for the northwest.

Passed unanimously in June 2010, it called for no additional seats to be added during a one-year study period. But Seawell said it would be wrong to consider it a “moratorium,” since it would have allowed for closure of one school and opening of a new one, providing it didn’t add to the district’s seat total.

Southeast Denver race gains national exposure

The southeast race pitted Rowe, who was strongly rooted in the DPS community and heavily backed by pro-reform interests, against Sirota, who had not moved to Denver until June 2007. She, like Jimenez, had strong support from the DCTA.

The Rowe-Sirota contest had been low-key until Oct. 13, when Sirota’s former boss Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer came to Denver for a fundraiser, immediately on the heels of candidates’ first campaign finance report deadline. Those reports, covering through Oct. 6, had shown Sirota being outraised by Rowe about 3-to-1.

A week later, Sirota began to gain sudden prominence in the national media. Her publicity surge started with a column in Salon.com, penned by her husband, an author, blogger and local radio talk show host, in which he claimed big-money interests – and an education-themed visit to Denver by former President George W. Bush – were threatening to rob his wife of a fair chance to get her message across to voters.

Jennifer Draper Carson, locked in a tight battle with Arturo Jimenez, at her campaign party Tuesday night in northwest Denver. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

Throughout the brief Sirota media blitz, Rowe campaign members reserved comment. They held their tongues, even while a Sirota interview on MSNBC’s “Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” left viewers with the impression that the Sirota-Rowe contest was a proxy battle for Democrat-Republican wars at the national level – despite the fact Rowe is a registered Democrat, backed by many prominent local members of the Democratic party.

Recent history suggests caution is advisable in making assumptions about future power dynamics and alliances on election night. When current board president Nate Easley was elected in 2009, it was with the support of many in the DPS community opposed to Boasberg’s reform ideas. They believed they had helped elect someone who would hew to their agenda. Easley, however, soon established himself as solidly aligned with Boasberg’s administration, and a vote Boasberg could count on.

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said new members will be sworn in at the conclusion of the board’s meeting Nov. 17, providing the Denver Elections Division has certified results by that date.

By the numbers: Vote tallies for each Denver school board candidate

AT-LARGE CITYWIDE – 90,583 total votes

  • John Daniel – 7,884 votes – 9%
  • Frank Deserino – 8,891 votes – 10%
  • Happy Haynes – 53,639 votes – 59%
  • Roger Kilgore – 10,332 votes – 11%
  • Jacqui Shumway – 9,837 votes – 11%

DISTRICT 1 SOUTHEAST – 23,284 total votes

  • Anne Rowe – 15,182 votes – 65%
  • Emily Sirota – 8,102 votes – 35%

DISTRICT 5 NORTHWEST – 15,538 total votes

  • Jennifer Draper Carson – 7,697 votes – 50%
  • Arturo Jimenez – 7,841 votes – 50%

Unofficial final results as posted by the Denver Elections Division on Wednesday.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede