Updated – At least three people – including former Colorado Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll – are toying with the idea of running for the at-large seat on the Denver school board now held by Mary Seawell.
Meanwhile, two names have surfaced in southwest Denver, a district in which board member Andrea Merida will be seeking re-election.
Seawell surprised backers and critics alike when she announced Monday that she would not seek re-election when her term is up in November after saying for months that she would. Seawell said work and family demands are making board service beyond November untenable.
Seawell’s announcement opens a void in what is expected to be a hotly contested election in which the political direction of the school board hangs in the balance. The slim 4-3 board majority firmly backs reforms underway in the district, including an open arms approach to charter schools that meet district standards and expanded school choice. The minority, on the other hand, has raised concerns about district initiatives they believe could undermine the quality of traditional neighborhood schools.
Carroll, an attorney and civic leader whose legislative career was marked by a passion for education reform, said Thursday that he was pondering running for Seawell’s seat. Carroll also co-chaired the Community Planning Advisory Committee (known as CPAC), which met early in 2012 to define pressing school district needs leading up to the $466 million bond and $49 million tax increase on the November 2012 ballot.
“Right now it’s an intriguing idea for me,” said Carroll, noting that he planned to have an answer within a week or two.
Lisa Flores, a senior program officer for the Gates Family Foundation, also considered running for Seawell’s seat but said she has decided not to because of the time commitment – but did not rule out a future campaign.
“I very much care about the Denver public school system,” Flores said. “But it seems that in order to serve on the Denver school board, people really need to have some give either at work or home.”
Jones considers another run
Vernon Jones, Jr., an administrator at Manual High School, said he too is considering running for either the at-large seat or the seat in District 4, which represents northeast Denver and is now held by Landri Taylor, head of the Denver Urban League.
Jones also applied to serve the remainder of Nate Easley’s term in District 4. In the end, Seawell selected Taylor, who plans to run for re-election.
In 2011, Jones filed paperwork necessary to run for the at-large seat then held by Theresa Pena, but later decided to pull his name from the mix. Former Denver City Councilwoman Happy Haynes won that at-large seat, one of two on the board.
Jones narrowly lost a run for the northeast Denver board seat to Easley in 2009.
“Folks always try to pull you back into it,” Jones said. “For me, I always evaluate what is the best position for me to be able to make an impact. We have achievement gaps that need to be eliminated, and tons of issues we need to focus on. Would I be able to make a bigger impact as a school leader or … as an elected official?”
Jones said he is meeting with a group of his “confidantes,” parents and DPS employees, to determine a course of action.
“What’s the best thing for the school long-term and what’s the best thing for the community long-term.”
Under district policy, Jones would have to leave his job as assistant principal at Manual High School, a school focused around social justice and experiential learning that embraces longer school days and a longer school year than most Denver schools. It is proud to pump out of its doors not only graduates, but what the school calls “revolutionaries.”
“I love what I’m doing at Manual and that is my priority,” Jones said. “Whatever is decided, I have that at the forefront – what is the best thing for Manual High School.”
Jones said he would make his decision based, in part, on who commits to run for both seats.
“They are two very different fundraising challenges,” Jones said.
Big money marks school board races
For instance, Seawell raised a record-setting $240,605 for her campaign in 2009, while Haynes raised $234,972 two years ago. Also in 2011, board member Anne Rowe raised $197,645 and won the southeast Denver seat; while board member Arturo Jimenez raised $72,248 and, despite being outspent by $133,000, won the seat in northwest Denver.
Because of the big bucks it takes to win an at-large seat on the Denver board, Rosemary Rodriguez, state director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, said she is considering running against Merida in southwest Denver, but not the at-large seat.
Bennet was superintendent in DPS before being appointed to the Senate seat in 2009 and launched a slate of reforms still being championed by Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
“I have been focused on the southwest …I just think that would make more sense,” Rodriguez said. “Citywide, you’ve got to raise a whole bunch more money, do a lot more knocking and walking. I think I can attempt a district.”
Meanwhile, Jose Silva, who unsuccessfully attempted to launch a recall campaign against Merida in late 2010, indicated on his Facebook page that he was considering another board run. He ran for the board unsuccessfully in 2007. During the recall talk, Silva and his supporters cited Merida’s failure to disclose that she was a paid field organizer for U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff while she was criticizing a DPS pension transaction approved under Romanoff’s primary competitor, Michael Bennet. She subsequently resigned as a Romanoff staffer.
“OK I HAVE A HUGE DECISION TO MAKE,” Silva wrote on his Facebook wall. “With Mary Seawell not seeking re-election for DPS At Large Board seat, do I run? During this moment I feel like I can add great value to DPS but with the division of the board, could we actually get work done.”
Lucero opts not to run
Others whose names have surfaced have pondered a run, but opted against it. That is the case with businessman Gene Lucero, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum.
“It’s a major challenge and somebody really needs to have the time and energy and passion and commitment to do that type of position,” Lucero said, noting that he’s putting his support for the at-large seat behind Michael Kiley II, unless a very strong Latino candidate emerges.
Kiley, a critic of the current brand of school reform in Denver who was outraged by the co-location of a charter school at North High, last month officially announced plans to run for the at-large seat now held by Seawell.
“I think he has a balanced type of approach to the issues,” Lucero said. “Hopefully, he would be able to bridge some of the differences between the different factions there on the board. That board is just an example of some of the most dysfunctional type of government I’ve seen.”
In addition to Kiley, the only other person who has formally announced plans to run is Meg Schomp, a DPS parent and volunteer seeking to replace term-limited Jeannie Kaplan.