new blood

Denver Public Schools parent, behavioral health specialist appointed to fill vacant board seat

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DPS board vice president Barbara O'Brien. left, and board president Anne Rowe.

A mother of two Denver Public Schools students who works in behavioral health was appointed Monday by the Denver school board president to fill a vacant board seat after the previous appointee stepped aside more than two weeks ago.

Rachele Espiritu is set to represent northeast Denver until the fall of 2017. She will finish the term of former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February.

Previous appointee MiDian Holmes declined the seat last month after details about a decade-old misdemeanor child abuse conviction and her mischaracterization of it came to light.

The task to fill the vacancy fell to school board president Anne Rowe after the 60-day window state law provides school boards to fill a vacancy had closed.

Rowe didn’t have many candidates to choose from in the end. After Holmes dropped out, the board president announced she’d pick a new member from among a group of finalists. But several finalists withdrew, leaving just three choices, including Espiritu.

In announcing her pick, Rowe said Espiritu would “engage deeply” with all the communities of northeast Denver.

She also spotlighted the diversity Espiritu will bring to the board in representing District 4, the largest and most racially diverse district in DPS. Espiritu was born in the Philippines, grew up in the United States and has lived in Denver for more than three years. One of her children attends a traditional DPS school and the other goes to a charter school.

“We are so fortunate on the board of education to have a truly diverse board of education — different lived experiences, different professional talents bringing different things to the board,” Rowe said.

Espiritu (photo provided by DPS).
Espiritu (photo provided by DPS).

Espiritu, who attended the meeting, said she believes in meeting the needs of every child regardless of background and station in life. She said she will advocate for great schools in every neighborhood that address the interests of the “whole child” — a DPS priority.

“Our families, the community, the district and the board need to work collaboratively together to achieve our common mission,” she said.

Espiritu, 46, is a project director for the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health and serves on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado. She is also a member of the Denver Asian Pacific-American Commission.

The process of appointing someone to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member DPS school board has been long and marred by district missteps and candidates dropping out.

Initially, more than 20 candidates applied. The six remaining board members narrowed the field to 10 finalists, one of whom withdrew shortly thereafter.

The nine remaining candidates were interviewed by the board members in early April. In her interview, Espiritu said she and her family were drawn to Denver partly because of the school district’s reputation for being innovative and transformative.

She touted her ability to find common ground and ask questions. And she framed her relative newness to Denver as an asset because she doesn’t have longstanding ties to any one group.

On April 12, the board took two votes by secret ballot. The first winnowed the pool of nine finalists to three: Holmes, Espiritu and Jennifer Bacon. In a second round of voting, Holmes got four votes, Bacon got two and Espiritu got none, making Holmes the appointee.

But on April 14, she announced she wouldn’t accept the appointment, saying she would be doing the district “a great disservice” if she allowed the facts surrounding her 2006 child abuse conviction to continue “to be a distraction.”

On April 18, Rowe said she would likely choose a new member from among the finalists who received votes on April 12, whether or not they made it into the top three. Those finalists were Holmes, Espiritu, Bacon, Makisha Boothe and Dexter Korto.

But by Monday, only Espiritu was still in the running.

In an email to the DPS board and the district’s general counsel, Bacon said she was dropping out of the race “in consideration of my need for growth and readiness for this position as well as my interests in supporting the board.” She told Chalkbeat by text it wasn’t the best time for her to serve on the board and she wanted “to do a little more learning and reflecting.”

Boothe wrote an email to Rowe and the board’s assistant explaining that the April 12 vote tally contributed to her decision to drop out. In a separate email to Chalkbeat, Boothe said she knew Rowe hadn’t voted for her. “Knowing that, I was just ready to move on,” she said.

Rowe voted for Holmes and Espiritu in the first round and Holmes in the second round, according to vote tallies obtained by Chalkbeat through an open records request.

Korto, a DPS charter school teacher, wrote in an email to Chalkbeat that he decided to “pursue leadership opportunities elsewhere.”

On Monday, the district’s website listed just three remaining candidates: Espiritu, Jo-Nell Herndon and Adrienne Tate. Herndon and Tate were among the original top 10 finalists.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.