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Education

Denver was a reform darling. Now, union-supported candidates hold all 7 board seats.

Four years ago, members supported by education reform groups had all seven seats on the Denver school board. Now it’s the opposite.

George Washington High School is seen on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.

The Denver school board is once again politically unanimous — but in the opposite way it was four years ago. In a complete flip, all seven members will now be backed by the Denver teachers union instead of by education reform organizations.

Rob Gould, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, and Carrie Olson, president of the school board, said they see the result as a vote of confidence in teachers.

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Olson, who was reelected for a second term, said when she was knocking on doors and speaking to voters, “a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh you’re backed by the teachers union? I support teachers. I love my son’s teacher. I love my daughter’s teacher.’”

The 7-0 board shows that voters trust educators to know what’s best for students, Gould said: “Denver and our voters really said, ‘Wait a minute. Yes, we’re listening to educator voice.’”

But Parker Baxter, director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver, said that interpretation discounts the educators who don’t belong to the union, including teachers who work at Denver’s 58 charter schools.

It’s clear, Baxter said, that people interested enough to vote in this election favored the union-backed candidates. “But it’s very difficult to tell what it means,” he said. “I think the rubber meets the road when actual decisions will need to be made.”

In emailed statements, backers of the losing slate called on the new board to keep student achievement and student well-being front and center and to remember that many Denver families value school choice.

“I would have liked to see higher engagement by voters in these critical races,” former Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez wrote. “I’m grateful to the voters who cast their ballots and congratulate all the newly elected members of the Board of Education.

“I hope this new board is able to move past the divisiveness of the past two years. Our community needs to come together to develop a clear strategy for moving all students forward.”

Read more at chalkbeat.org.


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