Rowe, Butkovich tackle testing during southeast Denver school board debate

Denver school board member Anne Rowe and opponent Kristi Butkovich sparred in a debate Monday over the purpose of standardized tests, the role of charter schools and other issues that highlighted stark differences in philosophy.

Rowe, who has been the chief architect on a number of policy shifts in Denver Public Schools during her four years on the school board, also defended the district’s use of broad enrollment zones to drive integration in schools.

“I believe if we think about these zones and bring communities together we can increase the integration in our schools,” Rowe said.

Meanwhile Butkovich, a staunch critic of Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, said the district needs to do more to improve traditional neighborhood schools and parent engagement.

“If we have a quality school in every neighborhood … there’s no need for choice,” Butkovich said.

The first of three school board debates co-sponsored by A+ Denver, Denver Decides and Chalkbeat highlighted the differing policy stances and styles separating the candidates voters in southeast Denver can elect to represent them on the school board.

The debate was moderated by Chalkbeat Colorado Bureau Chief Eric Gorski.

Rowe and Butkovich agreed that standardized tests should be limited.

However, Rowe argued that the annual standardized testing required by the state and federal government was a parental right.

“This is an equity issue,” Rowe said. “Parents have a right to know how their schools are performing for their kids.”

Butkovich, in perhaps the most heated moment of the debate, countered that the results from those tests only line the pockets of test-making companies.

“I could not disagree with Mrs. Rowe more,” she said. “Standardized tests are useless. They are useless. It pits schools against schools. We have to stop color-coding our schools. We have to stop tying our teacher assessments to test scores.”

In another tense moment, Butkovich claimed Denver officials didn’t do enough to rein in low-performing charter schools. She said the officials act quickly to close district-run schools in low-income communities but allowed charter schools with poor results to remain open too long.

“We need to address the charter schools that are falling further behind than our traditional neighborhood schools,” Butkovich said. “That never gets out there.”

But Rowe said the district has closed low-performing charter schools. She also disputed the claim that charter schools in Denver could reject students with special needs or English language learners.

“No one gets to skim off [anyone],” Rowe said.

In a rare agreement, both women said they support the district rethinking how it incentivizes educators to teach in the city’s neediest schools.

Butkovich is the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education and a former DPS employee. She last worked as a community liaison at George Washington High School in 2012.

Rowe formerly co-owned RP Publishing, a printing company.

Both Butkovich and Rowe have served extensively on a number of district committees.

The final two debates in this series will be Monday. School board President Allegra “Happy” Haynes and Robert Speth are competing for an at-large seat. Michael Kiley and Lisa Flores are battling it out in perhaps the most-watched race for a seat to represent northwest Denver.