New filings in failed DPS recall

New finance reports for a recall campaign that isn’t going forward – for now –  show Denver Public Schools board president Nate Easley continued to amass funds to defend himself while those seeking to remove him are still reporting little more than pocket change.

Logo for Denver Public SchoolsTake Back Our Schools, the committee formed to seek the ouster of the first-term representative from Northeast Denver, filed a report Tuesday showing no monetary contributions and no expenditures, listing just $454 in “non-monetary contributions” in the reporting cycle ending April 14.

It’s the second consecutive reporting period in which Take Back Our Schools listed no monetary contributions and no expenditures.

Easley’s campaign to defend himself against a potential recall vote, Easley 4 Better Schools, collected $25,090 in the one-month reporting period ending April 14, spent $11,715 and was left with a balance on hand of $38,082.

Prior EdNews’ coverage

Easley, elected as the school board’s District 4 representative in November 2009, won’t need to dip into that war chest just yet. The Denver Elections Division announced April 13 that recall advocates had fallen far short of the needed valid signatures to force a recall vote, missing the 5,363-signature threshold by 2,080.

However, John McBride, the registered agent for Take Back Our Schools, said Easley’s opponents will mount a second recall effort. McBride said he plans for it to coincide with the November general elections.

McBride said he does not plan to file a protest over the April 13 elections division finding that his group had gathered insufficient signatures to force a recall vote this summer. He expressed confidence, however, that Easley’s opponents will be more successful a second time around.

Opponents plan second recall effort

“We’re going to start the process again. We know what we’re doing,” McBride said. “This was our first time out. We were inexperienced. Highly inexperienced. We got 6,000 signatures with a grassroots effort. This time, we’ll have more time to get more information to the people.”

City elections officials last week said McBride’s group had turned in 5,899 signatures, but that only 3,283 were valid.

In a renewed recall effort, McBride said that once again, “We’re not going to take any money.” A moment later, he said, “That could change. But, right now, we’re not.”

He described the $454 in non-monetary contributions in his group’s report filed Tuesday as “printing, food, people donated different pieces of what we needed, stuff like that.”

McBride added, “We had $450. He had $35,000.”

Upon learning of McBride’s vow to continue with renewed recall effort, Easley uttered a sarcastic “Whoopee,” then became serious.

“I imagine the way the law’s written, this is not something that will ever be over,” said Easley. “They already have a record of not being able to make this happen, but if they want to keep it going, then I am happy to continue to talk to voters, sharing the message.

“We really have made some progress, and we’re continuing to make progress. Making progress with quality schools is something I can defend until I am no longer on the board. And I am confident they will not win.”

Easley has been criticized by his opponents for taking financial support from well outside his district. In his latest finance report, the single largest contribution is $4,000 from Joseph Bridy, a partner at Hamlin Capital Management in New York. Bridy has appeared before state education associations to present on the topic of infrastructures and facilities financing.

Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of Denver-based DaVita Inc., pitched in $1,000 to Easley’s campaign. DaVita is one of the largest providers of kidney dialysis treatment in the United States.

Also among Easley’s contributors is Cynthia Abramson, who gave $250. She is a CEO at the Denver Scholarship Foundation and she hired Easley, who is the foundation’s deputy director.

The central complaint by recall advocates against Easley in their initial recall effort was that Easley’s job at the foundation represented a conflict of interest for his position as a DPS school board member. Easley insisted that it posed no conflict, and he has been joined in that opinion by DPS legal counsel.

Easley draws from national field

Easley made no apologies Wednesday for accepting donations from outside his district – or outside Colorado, for that matter.

“If you look at the contributions that I had when I originally campaigned in 2009, you’ll note that a lot of my contributors were not from Denver. A lot of it was from people I know nationally, who have faith in me as someone who is always going to fight for education equity,” Easley said

“I have a national network. I worked in D.C., for 11 years” at the Council for Opportunity in Education. He added, “If it wasn’t for laws that say you can’t accept donations from other countries, I’m quite confident that I would have had people from other countries contributing, because of my integrity and my commitment to educational equity.”

Easley said he has consulted with an attorney to determine whether he can use his remaining campaign funds to hire staff to assist in healing the rifts stemming from the failed recall effort, and that he has not received an answer on that yet. If the answer is no, he plans to donate the money to a charity.

Meanwhile, he expressed surprise that McBride’s group once again showed no monetary contributions or expenditures.

“I want to know how that’s possible,” he said.  “Because I have seen a full box of at least 500 to 1,000 (pro-recall) fliers, when I was at East (High School) for an event. I’m curious to know how that’s possible, with no money.”

McBride has said any expenditures by recall advocates have been small personal payments out of supporters’ pockets. A spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office stated previously that if those do not exceed $200, they do not need to be reported.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Andrew Cole said that office would have no concerns about an issue committee filing consecutive reports showing no activity.

“It doesn’t matter to us whether they’re raising or spending, as long as they’re accurately reporting. That’s what’s important. We’d rather someone file a report with no activity, than not file at all,” Cole said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.