Denver teachers union endorses Scott Esserman, Michelle Quattlebaum for school board

A close-up photo of a tin can full of paintbrushes. In the background, a student paints in art class.
Four of the seven seats on the Denver Public Schools board are up for election in November. (Nathan W. Armes for Chalkbeat)

The Denver teachers union has endorsed two more candidates for school board.

Denver Public Schools parent Scott Esserman, a former educator, is the union’s pick for an open at-large seat representing the entire city on the seven-member board.

Parent Michelle Quattlebaum, who works as a community liaison at Denver’s George Washington High School, is the union’s choice for a seat representing northeast Denver. 

Two other board seats are also up for grabs in November. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has endorsed a candidate for one of them: Carrie Olson, who is the current president of the board and is running for reelection to represent southeast Denver.

“As DPS parents, educators, and education advocates, Scott, Michelle, and Carrie engage with the district and have brought positive change to our schools through building solid community coalitions,” union President Rob Gould said in a statement Friday.

The union has not endorsed a candidate for an open seat representing southwest Denver. That race has only a single candidate so far, Karolina Villagrana, who has the backing of outgoing southwest Denver school board member Angela Cobián.

In past years, the teachers union has announced its endorsements in all races at the same time. This year’s practice of endorsing candidates one or two at a time is a departure from form. The union has historically endorsed candidates who oppose reform efforts such as closing low-performing district-run schools or approving new charter schools.

Candidates have until the end of August to file to run for the board. The elections are often hotly contested, and campaign spending has skyrocketed in recent years. Spending in the 2019 election, in which only three seats were at stake, totaled $2.28 million

Four seats are open this year, and Olson is the only incumbent who has announced she’s running. Cobián is stepping down, and Barbara O’Brien, who currently holds one of two at-large seats, cannot run again due to term limits. Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, who holds the northeast Denver seat, has not yet said whether she’ll run.

Whoever is elected will help lead a district that is still navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic. The board will oversee a new superintendent, Alex Marrero, who started his job earlier this month, and it will grapple with several long-simmering issues, including declining enrollment and differing opinions on charter and autonomous schools.

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