Thursday, December 2, 2021
HomeEducationDenver election results: School board race to set direction

Denver election results: School board race to set direction

In a contest that will determine whether a union-backed majority consolidates power or faces new pushback, twelve candidates are vying for four open seats on the Denver school board.
The winners will oversee a new superintendent, craft a new strategic plan, and grapple with several long-simmering issues, including declining enrollment and continued disagreement over the role of independent charter schools and semi-autonomous innovation schools. They will also help lead a district that is still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first election results are expected at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Only one incumbent is running for re-election: board President Carrie Olson, a former Denver teacher. Since a historic “flip” in 2019, when three union-backed candidates won seats on the board, members aligned with the union, including Olson, have held a 5-2 majority.
That has the potential to change. The two board members not backed by the union are not running for reelection. If union-endorsed candidates sweep all four open seats, the Denver board would be unanimous in a way it hasn’t been before. But winning even just one open seat would ensure union-backed members maintain a political majority on the board.
Since the 2019 flip, the union-backed board has undone or halted many reforms put in place by previous boards. For instance, it voted to reopen two comprehensive high schools — Montbello High and West High — that previous boards had dismantled.
Current board members also got rid of the controversial school ratings system previous boards used to justify closing low-scoring schools in an attempt to improve academic achievement. The union opposes closing low-performing schools. It also opposes the expansion of independent charter schools. The union-backed board attempted to delay the opening of a new DSST charter high school, but the State Board of Education overturned that decision.
This year, the union has spent big to hold on to its majority, but supporters of education reform and charter schools have spent even bigger to try to win back control of the board. They say the union-backed board hasn’t focused enough on academics, especially during the pandemic.
As of Monday, state campaign finance reports show independent expenditure committees associated with reform groups had spent more than $1.07 million in support of three candidates: Vernon Jones Jr., Karolina Villagrana, and Gene Fashaw. Such committees can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections but cannot coordinate with candidates.
Meanwhile, reports show independent expenditure committees associated with teachers unions had spent more than $184,000 in support of four candidates: board President Olson, Scott Esserman, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, and Michelle Quattlebaum. The Denver teachers union had also given more than $157,000 directly to the four candidates, while the statewide teachers union gave them at least another $75,000.
Esserman has raised more money — $106,650 — than any other school board candidate in Colorado, even with expensive races in many suburban districts, according to an analysis of campaign filings by Follow the Money Colorado.
Check back here for results.
This is a developing story and will be updated.

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