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Here is information on school board races, education initiative important to ALG

Ballots have begun landing in people’s mailboxes, and election day, November 2, is less than three weeks away. There are a variety of issues on the ballot, and the African Leadership Group urges everyone to study those issues closely and to cast ballots as informed voters.

We are going to focus in this article on issues related to education, one of ALG’s main advocacy areas. There are pivotal school board elections in Denver and Aurora, and a statewide ballot issue that, if passed, would provide funding for out-of-school tutoring and enrichment services for children ages 5-17. 

As a nonprofit organization, ALG cannot endorse candidates or ballot issues. But we can provide information to educate voters.

Here is some information on the education issues and races mentioned above.

Proposition 119

According to the website Ballotpedia:

Proposition 119 would create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program, also known as the LEAP Program. Eligible children would include children at least five years of age and no older than 17 years who are eligible for admission to Colorado public schools. The program would provide out-of-school services that would consist of but not be limited to the following:

  • Tutoring in core subject areas;
  • enrichment opportunities including music, dance, and art programs;
  • instruction in English and foreign languages;
  • career and technical training;
  • emotional and physical therapy;
  • mental health services;
  • special support for students with special needs; and
  • mentoring.

The measure would increase the marijuana retail sales tax incrementally from 15% to 20% to partially fund the program.

Proponents of the ballot issue explain the need for it this way:

“Despite heroic work by educators and school districts among unprecedented circumstances, many Colorado school children have been falling further behind – particularly students of color, those from low-income families, or those with special needs. This ‘opportunity gap’ and ‘achievement gap’ have been a cause of great concern in Colorado for years. COVID has only made the situation worse. Out-of-school learning has shown to be an effective tool for closing the gap, but not everyone can afford it. On the heels of COVID, closing the gap has taken on a special urgency. Now is the time to take the first step, because the future of so many young people is on the line.”

Aurora school board

There are four open seats on the seven-member Aurora school board, and six candidates are vying to fill those seats. In Aurora, all seats are at-large, which menas they cover the entire districts and voters can vote for four candidates to fill the four seats. 

Those candidates are (in alphabetical order):

  • Michael Carter. Here is how Chalkbeat describes Carter: “a military veteran, criminal lawyer, and father to three children in the school district. His priorities include improving communication between the board and the community and helping recruit and retain teachers of color. He is also concerned about the instability parents in the district felt at times during the pandemic, unsure whether or not school would resume in person.”
  • Christy Cummings. Chalkbeat says “a psychologist who also teaches in the Colorado Community College System and a mother of two district students. Her priorities include addressing student mental health by removing COVID-related restrictions and providing access to more after-school programming. “I want to represent moms,” she said.
  • Tramaine Duncan. “a math teacher in a Denver school and parent of three Aurora students. He lives near one of the schools the district closed last school year and near Aurora Central, a school that has been struggling and is facing more changes. Duncan said his priority is to better engage the community and to ensure equity as changes happen,” Chalkbeat says.
  • Debbie Gerkin. Chalkbeat says: “a former school principal who has already served four years on the school board. Her priorities include student achievement, social and emotional supports for students and teachers, and continuing to roll out the Blueprint plan, which is the district’s long-term facilities plan to address shifts in enrollment.”
  • Anne Keke. An active member of ALG. “a teacher at a district charter school and the Community College of Denver, and mother of an Aurora student. She is also an immigrant from the Ivory Coast. Her priorities include helping to give a voice to immigrant communities in the district and closing academic achievement gaps. “The asset of Aurora lies in its diversity, in its people, and we have not tapped into it yet,” she said to Chalkbeat.
  • Danielle Tomwing: “a software engineer originally from Trinidad and Tobago and mother of two Aurora students. Tomwing is also a board member at Vanguard Classical School, a charter her daughters attend. Her priorities include addressing equity issues in the district and pushing the district to be innovative,” Chalkbeat says.

Carter, Duncan, and incumbent Gerkin have been endorsed by the Aurora Education Association, the local teachers union. While education issues are complex and multi-faceted, unions tend to endorse candidates sympathetic to their agenda, which includes opposition to charter schools and much standardized testing, and increased funding for schools, including higher pay for teachers.

The union has been by far the largest donor to the campaigns of Carter, Duncan, and Gerkin.

An Independent Expenditure Committee called Students Deserve Better, which sends out mailers in support of union-backed candidates across the state, has also been active on behalf of Carter, Duncan, and Gerkin, spending more than $32,000 to date on mailers urging people to vote for the union candidates and to oppose two of the others — Tomwing and Cummings. Keke has not been targeted by the mailers.

In the Denver races (see below), the mailers sent out by Students Deserve Better have been negative in nature, and have been filled with inaccurate and misleading characterizations of the candidates opposed by the union. ALG urges candidates and committees to stay positive and to treat voters with the respect they deserve by refraining from spreading falsehoods.

Denver school board

As in Aurora, there are four of seven seats open on the Denver school board. Denver’s board is structured differently than Aurora’s, in that five seats represent geographically defined ‘director districts,’ while two seats are at-large, which means citywide. All voters will be able to vote for the one at-large seat this year, while the other seats — northeast Denver, southwest Denver, and central Denver — are open to voters who live within the boundaries of those districts.

In all, 12 candidates are running for seats this year: five at-large (citywide), three for the northeast Denver seat, and two each for central Denver and Southwest Denver.

Central Denver:

Only one incumbent is running in any of the races: Board President Carrie Olson, a former teacher who is backed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. She is running for the central Denver seat she currently holds, and is opposed by Mike DeGuire, a veteran educator and principal coach.

Here are Chalkbeat’s snapshots of the candidates for the other races:

At-large: 

Marla Benavides: Benavides describes herself in a campaign video as a home-school mom concerned about literacy rates in the district. She sells books as an independent contractor.

Scott Esserman: The teachers union-backed Esserman is a Denver Public Schools parent who previously worked as a teacher in public and private schools. He volunteers as the chair of the district’s accountability committee.

Vernon Jones Jr.: Jones is a Denver Public Schools parent and until recently was executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, a group of autonomous schools in the district. He previously ran for a school board seat in 2009 but did not win. 

Jane Shirley: Shirley is a former teacher and principal in neighboring Aurora Public Schools and the former head of a school leadership program. She now works at a management consulting firm.

Nicky Yollick: Yollick is a community activist who has worked on Democratic political campaigns and helped found several Denver-based education advocacy groups.

Northeast Denver:

Gene Fashaw: Fashaw is a Denver Public Schools graduate who worked until recently as a math teacher at a Denver charter school. He now teaches at a charter school outside Denver.

Michelle Quattlebaum: The union-backed Quattlebaum is a Denver Public Schools graduate whose three children graduated from George Washington High School. She works as the family and community liaison there.

Jose Silva: Silva is a Denver Public Schools graduate and executive director of the Colorado Association of Infant Mental Health. He twice ran unsuccessfully for Denver school board, in 2003 and 2007.

School board races in Denver have become extremely expensive, with teachers unions pumping in money on one side, and people and organizations who support education reform matching or exceeding those contributions.

Independent Expenditure Committees are also spending big on the Denver races, on both sides. But to date, only Students Deserve Better, which backs union-endorsed candidates, has gone negative, sending out misleading information about the candidates the group opposes.

Again, ALG urges all candidates and committees to run a clean race and to tell the truth to voters.

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