Denver Michael Hancock speaks at a news conference on March 13, 2020 in Gov. Jared Polis' office. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

The sudden resignation of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova has sparked a small but politically powerful group, led by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, to promote a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy theory — a charge so outrageous it cannot go unchallenged. 

Therefore, the Colorado Latino Forum Board is compelled to respond by challenging the mayor’s smear campaign against duly elected DPS Board of Education members.

First, Cordova resigned last week of her own accord to take a high-level position out of state. Her hefty pension from the DPS budget will allow her to transition comfortably into a new, well-paying job. 

Xóchitl ‘Sochi’ Gaytán and Arturo Jiménez

However, unlike Cordova, many underpaid DPS teachers will struggle to teach students without adequate resources, such as basic internet access for remote learning. Parents will continue to struggle financially to make ends meet during a pandemic, yet the mayor does not express the same level of outrage for these teachers, students and their families.

Second, when selecting former Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s replacement, Hancock loyalists ensured that Cordova, as Boasberg’s protege, was the sole finalist after an expensive and superficial national search process. 

These same political insiders are now demanding that the school board relinquish their responsibility to an “independent” search firm under the guise of transparency and community engagement. Yet these same power brokers stifled community input when appointing a succession of politically connected superintendents for years.

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Third, blaming teachers for Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean-spirited. Last year, Hancock loyalists opposed the teachers’ strike, pay raises and better working conditions while funneling increased resources to charter schools. 

For years, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a back seat to multi-million-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned the $1.4 billion budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system.

Fourth, Hancock is facing the end of his political reign due to term limits. The influence he once wielded through his appointees who held dual positions in both his administration and on the school board is waning. Instead of meddling in DPS business, Denver taxpayers would be better served if the mayor instead focused on managing the pandemic, racial unrest, an economic recession and the housing crisis.

Fifth, CLF dispels the myth that there is a monolithic Latino group that speaks for all Latinos, including the usual suspects who are peddling Hancock’s meritless conspiracy theory. We strongly object to the mayor weaponizing race and gender to smear volunteer school board members which include people of color. 

Screaming “racism” and “sexism” by wealthy political insiders hurts our social justice movements. If the mayor wishes to go there, CLF reminds him that Cordova’s administration threatened striking immigrant teachers with deportation.

Further, the inequitable system of economic disparities and institutional racism continues despite having a Latina superintendent. According to statistics from the DPS and the Colorado Department of Education:

●  Only 68% of Black and Latino and 49% of Native students graduated within 4 years, compared to the 81% of white students.

●  Latinos receive only 39% of advanced-placement credits despite comprising 54% of the student population vs. 43% of AP credits afforded to white students who comprise only 25% of the student population.

●  Latino and Black teacher representation has remained virtually unchanged over the last five years.

●  Latino teachers only make up 17% of teaching staff, while Black teachers comprise only 5%.

These disparities occurred during Cordova’s tenure as deputy superintendent and superintendent. Absent proof, it is a disservice to DPS teachers, students and families to mischaracterize her lucrative departure as the result of racist and sexist victimization

Rather than the mayor making baseless accusations to undermine an independent school board, he should be encouraging the community to come together and engage in a search for a superintendent of the highest caliber.

Denver deserves top-notch candidates who can steer the billion-dollar DPS behemoth on a course of independent governance that takes our students to their highest educational and social potential. 

Let’s stop calling racism when millionaires don’t get their way. Instead, let’s get on with the business of supporting the school board’s search for an equity-driven, pro-public education candidate for this critical position.

Xóchitl ‘Sochi’ Gaytán is co-chair and Arturo Jiménez is board director of the Colorado Latino Forum, a nonprofit organization with the mission of increasing the political, social and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos in Colorado.

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