Election analysis

Ideological tides shift in four key districts

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Recall supporter Cecelia Lange waved signs at 52nd and Wadsworth Tuesday morning.

The tale of Tuesday’s changes in school board politics was told in four key districts — Jefferson County, Douglas County, Thompson and Colorado Springs District 11.

Here’s a quick look at board member turnover and more about those districts:

Jefferson County

Board control: Conservatives are totally out of power.

Winners and losers: Incumbent conservatives Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk were recalled by wide margins. A slate composed of Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell took those seats. Two other slate members, Ali Lassell and Amanda Stevens, were elected to two open seats not involved in the recall. (See story)

Money: The challengers, who received significant financial support from teachers union committees, outraised the incumbents. Some observers estimate total spending in the races at $1 million, spent by a long list of candidate committees, issue committees and independent groups.

Voter interest: 45.5 percent turnout. About 59,000 Democrats, 66,000 Republicans and 56,000 unaffiliated voters cast ballots.

Douglas County

Board control: Holdover conservative members have a 4-3 majority. Board vice president Doug Benevento said Tuesday, “The new board has obvious differences but we all care for our kids and our schools. In the coming days and months, I hope we can unite and move forward around that common sentiment.”

Winners and losers: The insurgent slate of Wendy Vogel, Anne-Marie Lemieux and David Ray easily defeated incumbents Craig Richardson, board president Kevin Larsen and Richard Robbins.

Money: The successful challengers also raised significantly more money than the incumbents. But the finance picture in the races is murky because some outside committees don’t have to file disclosures until January, and others don’t have to report at all.

Voter interest: 39.7 percent voter turnout. More than 19,000 Democrats, 47,851 Republicans and 23,000 unaffiliated voters participated.

Thompson

Board control: Conservatives lose it. The most immediate impact may be a softening of tensions between the board and the local teachers union.

Winners and losers: Incumbents Pam Howard and Denise Montagu, in the minority on the old board, were re-elected. Former board member Jeff Swanty and newcomer Dave Levy won seats vacated by two conservative incumbents, Donna Rice and Bob Kerrigan, who didn’t run for reelection.

Money: Substantial amounts of funding poured into the campaigns, included a total of more than $61,000 raised by candidates, at least $50,000 in union funds, $195,000 in advertising by the outside group Thompson Students First and additional five-figure spending by other outside groups, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Voter interest: 34.6 percent turnout in Larimer County, of which the district is a part. About 24,000 Democrats, 30,603 Republicans and 24,000 unaffiliateds voted.

Colorado Springs District 11

Board control: Status quo.

Winners and losers: Incumbents Elaine Naleski and Nora Brown and ally Martin Herrera held off a challenge from conservatives Jeff Kemp, Karla Heard-Price and Dan Ajamian. Theresa Null, wife of term-limited board member Bob Null, also was elected.

Money: Brown, Naleski and Herrera raised $10-$11,000 each, including union contributions. There was considerable outside spending, including $58,000 in advertising provide by the outside group D-11 Taxpayers for Accountability in Education, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Voter interest: 41.6 percent turnout in El Paso County. Republican turnout exceeded Democrats and unaffiliateds combined in the county as a whole, which contains 15 school districts.

Elsewhere around the state

Individual conservative candidates were unsuccessful in the Adams 12-Five Star and Mesa 51 districts. There were two conservative candidates in Aurora, Monica Colbert and Grant Barrett. Colbert was elected. Both candidates were backed by the low-profile nonprofit Ready Colorado.

In Steamboat Springs, candidates backed by the local teachers union, Michelle Dover and Margaret Huron, won election, along with incumbent Joey Andrew. Two other incumbents didn’t seek reelection. Huron and Dover campaigned on a platform to “keep controversial school reform out of Steamboat,” according to Steamboat Today.

Changes

Denver East High principal Andy Mendelsberg out after investigation into cheerleading scandal

PHOTO: John Leyba / The Denver Post
Denver's East High School.

The principal of Denver’s East High School has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist will return to Denver to lead the school, Boasberg announced Friday. Youngquist served for the past four years as a top official in Aurora Public Schools.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by DPS. The district on Friday released a report detailing the firm’s findings.

According to Boasberg’s letter, the investigation found that “over multiple months, in response to multiple concerns of a serious nature,” Mendelsberg and East athletic director Lisa Porter failed to keep the students on the cheer team safe.

Specifically, the letter says Mendelsberg and Porter did not “sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos;” failed to provide the necessary level of oversight for the cheer coach, “especially as concerns mounted;” and failed to take corrective action, including firing Williams.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Boasberg said that in addition to what was captured on video, concerns about Williams included that he instructed athletes not to tell anyone what happened at practice and required them to friend him on social media “with the express purpose of him monitoring their social media presence.”

Boasberg said that “raises deeper concerns about what was going on here.”

Mendelsberg, Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while the investigation was ongoing. The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Porter resigned her position earlier this week, Boasberg said.

Hickman received corrective action but is being reinstated after the investigation revealed he didn’t know the full extent of what happened, Boasberg said.

Cladis, who was not at practice during the splits incident and whose position was volunteer, is welcome to remain the assistant cheer coach, he said.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Regarding his decision to return to East, Youngquist said, “My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.”

As a parent and school leader, he said he understands the trust that parents put in schools. “I’m committed to strengthening that bond and partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff,” he said.

Munn has already appointed an interim chief academic officer: Andre Wright, who currently serves as a P-20 learning community director. In a statement Friday, Munn said he “will evaluate the role and expectations of the (chief academic officer) position prior to developing a profile for that position moving forward.”

“We thank John Youngquist for his four years of service … and wish him all the best in his next chapter,” Munn said.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.

showdown

McQueen’s deadline looms for Memphis and Nashville to share student info with charter schools — and no one is budging

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A request for student contact information from Green Dot Public Schools to help with enrollment efforts sparked a fight between the state and Shelby County Schools.

As Tennessee’s two largest school districts fought an order to share student information with charter schools, the state education commissioner set a deadline last week.

Candice McQueen told the superintendents of Shelby County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools they had to provide the data to charter schools that asked for it by Sept. 25 — or the state would “be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

But with just three days until the deadline, neither district has said it will budge. The consequences “will be determined Monday,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on Friday.

McQueen has not offered more information about what those consequences could be, though some lawmakers have worried it could mean funding cuts. There is some precedent for such a move: The Nashville district lost $3.4 million in state funding in 2012 when it refused to approve a controversial charter school, according to The Tennessean.

The clash comes after the Nashville and Memphis districts refused to turn over student contact information to charter networks, who argue that information is vital to their operation. Many Memphis schools, including those in the state-run school district, have been struggling with under-enrollment.

An amendment to an untested U.S. Department of Education rule suggests local districts can withhold information like phone numbers, addresses and email addresses — but a new state law requires Tennessee districts to hand it over to charter schools within 30 days.

The state department of education asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. Last week, the attorney general said the districts had to turn the information over, but also that districts could take a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents about their right to opt out.

Shelby County Schools posted opt-out forms for parents on its website the next day, and gave parents until Oct. 22 to fill them out. The form allows parents to keep their information from charter schools specifically or from outside entities more broadly, including companies like yearbook providers, for example.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The school boards for the two districts have been in lockstep in defying the state’s order, with the Memphis board even offering to write a legal opinion if Nashville were to go to court over the issue.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his legal team is still reviewing the attorney general’s opinion.

“We still want to make sure parents know what their options are,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday. “When we [McQueen and I] talked, she understood that our opt-out forms were out there.”

Anna Shepherd, board chair for the Nashville district, said the board met with its attorney this week to discuss the issue but took no action.

“We have not had any further conversation with the state concerning the release of data for MNPS students,” Shepherd said by email. “I’m not anticipating any action [before Monday].”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.