20-year-old Denver school board candidate motivated by civil rights is leading in fundraising

A progressive young candidate who graduated from one of Denver’s most storied high schools and now works at another has raised the most money thus far out of the four candidates running for school board in Colorado’s largest district.

Tay Anderson raised $13,912 in the last six months, all from individual donors, many giving just $20 at a time, according to new campaign finance reports. His only opponent for an at-large seat on the Denver board, teacher Anna DeWitt, raised $5,005 as of April 26. (Update: DeWitt has since dropped out of the race, while other candidates have joined.)

Anderson has been in the race much longer than DeWitt. After losing a bid for a school board seat in 2017, the 20-year-old announced last August that he would run again this November. DeWitt entered the race in March, and it’s likely more candidates will declare soon.

In all, three seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs in November. The other two races have just one candidate each thus far.

Anderson’s high fundraising total is one indication he is running a more sophisticated campaign than he did two years ago. Others include his higher visibility, especially during the recent teacher strike, and detailed platform that includes ways to improve education for the students of color who make up the majority of Denver’s population.

“It’s one thing to talk about how we need to change policy for black students,” said Anderson, who identifies as African American. “It’s another to be that black student to change it.”

Since graduating high school, Anderson has held a variety of jobs in Denver and Aurora schools. He is now a restorative practices coordinator, helping students resolve conflicts at North High School, where DeWitt also works. What makes him stand out from his competitor, he said, is his wide-ranging experience, including as a student, activist, and hourly district employee.

Whereas DeWitt has called for giving every teacher a $5,000 raise, Anderson said the district should focus first on raising pay for teacher’s aides, cafeteria workers, custodians, and others.

“I understand what it means to make $12 an hour, $15 an hour, $18 an hour,” said Anderson. “All those numbers right now are not livable.”

Anderson is a staunch union supporter who led chants during the strike. But although firmly on the side of those who want to “flip the board” and reverse the district’s direction, he said his campaign is steering clear of traditionally divisive issues like charter schools.

“Our campaign is motivated by civil rights issues,” Anderson said.

For instance, he said one his first priorities would be to advocate for every Denver middle and high school to have a gender-neutral bathroom. He said he’d also work to end “period poverty” by stocking all school bathrooms with free tampons and pads.

Anderson also wants to increase the number of mental health workers in Denver Public Schools by redirecting some of the money spent on school police officers. And he wants to boost the number of educators of color, including by doing a better job identifying students of color who want to become teachers and giving them a head start on earning college credits.

Anderson said he himself had to pause his college career because he couldn’t afford it. His goal is to one day become a teacher and then principal of his alma mater, Manual High School. If elected to the school board, Anderson said he is prepared to quit his job at North High School to comply with a policy that prohibits district employees from serving on the board. He said he plans to seek a similar job in neighboring Aurora Public Schools.

The last time he ran, Anderson called for a moratorium on new charter schools. This time, he said he will not support opening any new schools, including district-run schools, until the district adequately funds the approximately 200 schools already in Denver.

Another of his priorities, he said, will be figuring out how to restore comprehensive high schools such as West and Montbello, which the district replaced with several smaller schools in a controversial effort to improve education for students in those neighborhoods.

“We do not need to open or close schools in order to do things like restore Montbello and reunify West High School,” his website says. “We need responsible, strategic community planning.”

Whereas Anderson is running to represent the district at large, the other two seats up for grabs in November represent specific regions of the city.

In southeast Denver, father Scott Baldermann is running for the seat currently held by board President Anne Rowe, who is barred by term limits from running again. Campaign finance reports show Baldermann has raised $3,500, all of which he contributed himself.

In northwest Denver, former teacher Julie Bañuelos is running for the seat held by board member Lisa Flores, who has not yet said if she will run again. Bañuelos has raised $1,134 from individual donors, campaign finance reports show.