Denver school board to consider pausing policy barring board members from working for DPS

Denver school board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, in a black Nuggets t-shirt, gestures as he speaks at a school board meeting.
Denver school board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson speaks at a board meeting in June. (Sara Martin / Chalkbeat)

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Update: The Denver school board pulled this item from the agenda after Anderson decided not to take a job in a Denver school.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday on whether to temporarily suspend a policy that prohibits board members from working for Denver Public Schools.

Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson and two other board members placed the request to pause the conflict of interest policy on the agenda. Anderson said he is interested in working at a Denver school — though if the policy were suspended, any board member could pursue district employment during the suspension.

The board has paused the policy before to allow newly elected members to wrap up their jobs. But this would be the first time the board has allowed sitting members to take jobs in the district.

Anderson, who previously worked as a restorative practices coordinator at North High School, said that several DPS school leaders reached out to him “asking if I would like to join their school communities as an official employee” as his board term is ending in November. 

He said he’d rather start a job now, at the beginning of the school year, rather than a few months into it because mid-year staff transitions can be difficult for students.

“There are folks that see the value of my knowledge and expertise as a policymaker who want that skillset in their building in different roles, so I’m happy to support when I’m being asked to serve,” said Anderson. He has not yet accepted any position.

Anderson was first elected to the board in 2019. After initially announcing last year that he would seek re-election, he said in June he was withdrawing from the school board race to run for a seat in the state House of Representatives. 

Board members Scott Esserman and Michelle Quattlebaum confirmed that they requested the policy suspension proposal be put on Thursday’s board meeting agenda alongside Anderson. It takes three board members to add an item to the agenda. The board president can do so unilaterally, but that did not happen in this case. 

In interviews, both Esserman and Anderson emphasized that the board has temporarily suspended this part of the conflict of interest policy before. The policy says that “no individual may simultaneously serve as a Board member and as an employee of the school district.” The policy covers district-run schools and independently run charter schools.

In 2017, the board suspended the policy so that Carrie Olson, a 33-year DPS teacher elected that November, could finish the semester with her students. Olson resigned as a teacher on Dec. 31 that year. She is still on the board, having been re-elected to a second term in 2021.

In November 2019, the board suspended the policy for Anderson when he was elected. That suspension allowed him to work as a restorative practices coordinator at North High for the rest of the semester. He resigned on Dec. 20 that year.

And in 2021, Quattlebaum said the policy was temporarily suspended after she was elected that November so she could work until early January 2022 at George Washington High School as a family and community liaison. Board meeting minutes don’t show any vote in 2021.

“It’s effectively the reverse of what’s been done,” Esserman said. “It’s roughly the same amount of time, just on the other side of the election and with somebody who is being made offers. This is the only way he can accept a job offer.”

Anderson said he’s been working as a political and educational consultant for the past several months. Before that, he worked as the operations director at Struggle of Love Foundation, a nonprofit organization in far northeast Denver. 

While working at Struggle of Love, Anderson got into an argument with a district critic who worked in the same building. Anderson obtained a temporary restraining order, but a judge declined to make it permanent. His employment ended soon after.

Anderson also previously worked for neighboring Aurora Public Schools. But he said he wants to return to working for DPS because “I’m DPS through and through. I’m a DPS kid, a former DPS educator, and an outgoing DPS board member.”

Anderson is a graduate of Denver’s Manual High School. An outspoken member of the school board, he has championed many high-profile policy changes. But his time on the board has also been marked by controversy, including a 2021 third-party investigation into sexual misconduct allegations. The most serious allegations were not substantiated.

Anderson said that if he accepted a job at a particular school and a conflict of interest arose with a board vote, he’d follow the advice of DPS lawyers on whether to recuse himself.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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