Denver elections could lead to unified school board during time of change

When Denver voters elect three candidates to the school board this November, there’s a chance that the city’s 90,000-student school district will, for the first time in recent memory, be governed by a school board whose members are mostly united in their support for the district’s approach to school reform.

The board’s majority already tends to back district proposals, but a consistently unanimous board could have implications for decision-making and debate at a time when DPS is making significant changes to how it works with schools, planning to renegotiate its teachers’ compensation, and setting the stage to open a number of new charter and district schools even as it runs out of open building space.

The current board is significantly less fractious than previous iterations. Since 2013, the DPS board has approved every agenda item presented by district officials. When items have not passed unanimously, District 5 board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, has been the sole dissenting vote in every instance since late 2014. The seat is term-limited and Jimenez will leave his seat this year.

Experts say that more-harmonious boards can be effective and well-received by the public, especially after times of dispute. But there is also a risk that members engage in less robust discussions at public meetings.

More than a month before final declarations for the 2015 election are due, campaigning has begun in northwest and southeast Denver.

Michael Kiley, a candidate for DPS’s District 5 board seat, and family.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and leader of several local nonprofits, and Michael Kiley, a project manager at Kronos, a workforce management software company, have declared their intentions to run for the District 5 seat currently held by Jimenez.

Plans for schools in District 5 were a hot topic this past school year: The board recently approved a shared enrollment zone for some middle schoolers and plans to temporarily place several schools in northwest buildings after a series of tense community meetings that surfaced questions about school quality and culture, the role of charter schools, and diversity in a fast-changing neighborhood. Jimenez voted against the district’s plan.

Kiley, who ran for an at-large seat on the board in 2013, has been a vocal critic of some district proposals and community engagement in recent months. He is centering his campaign on his leadership in a community effort to bring new resources and attention to Skinner Middle School and North High School. Kiley says he is focused on creating a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

Lisa Flores, a candidate for DPS District 5 board seat.

Flores says she hopes to bring attention to schools throughout District 5, where many schools are ranked in the bottom two categories on DPS’s school scorecard. She said she is also committed to improving services for and raising awareness of issues related to special education students, and to training and supporting school leaders. Flores says she supports high-quality schools regardless of governance model.

Meanwhile, in District 1, which encompasses southeast Denver, Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, and incumbent Anne Rowe have declared that they are running for office.

Candidate for DPS District 1, Anne Bye Rowe

Butkovich’s campaign announcement says she is focused on “fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning…That promise is under attack by those who demand and pursue austerity, polarization, privatization and DEprofessionalization.” [Emphasis in original email.] Butkovich says she hopes to improve public engagement with the district.

Kristi Butkovich, a candidate for Denver school board’s District 1 seat.

Rowe said she is focused on making decisions in the best interest of students and their families and in improving student achievement. She said plans to focus on implementing a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020, a set of goals for the city’s schools, which have been developed during her tenure on the board.

At-large board member Happy Haynes, who is the board’s president, is also up for re-election. No other candidates have yet declared for that seat.

Candidates for Denver’s school board must declare by August 30. Candidates must file 50 valid petition signatures, but those petitions aren’t circulated until August 6. Denver Public Schools board members are not paid.

Keep your eyes out next week for a series of Q&A’s with each of the four candidates for a contested seat.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Kiley’s employer, Kronos. Kronos is a workforce management company.