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Contentious meeting, survey results highlight ongoing DPS board divisions

A survey filled out by five of Denver school board members before a retreat earlier this week highlights in stark terms the mistrust that is damaging relationships among some board members and hampering the board’s ability to function.

The 17-question survey, obtained by Boardhawk through a Colorado Open Records Act Request, reveals that only one board member of the five who completed the survey feels his or her colleagues follow the board code of conduct and covenants, as detailed in governance process policies revised late last year.

A synopsis of survey results also showed that at least some board members blamed noncompliance on issues ranging from a lack of trust of other board members to a lack of focus on collective goals to a lack of a common vision.”

Board members’ survey responses show they are aware that they are damaging their individual and collective reputations. “Non-compliance impacts public perception of the board, impacts effective operations, and becomes a distraction for staff and the superintendent,” the synopsis says. “Some felt that constituents do not have confidence that the board is acting in the best interests of DPS.”

Board Vice President Tay Anderson said he was one of the two board members who didn’t complete the survey. It’s not clear who else declined to fill it out.

The survey also revealed that “some respondents” feel that “other board members enable bad behavior from other board members. They shared that the fear of retaliation for calling on bad behavior is real and the concern of what the media would do was also a fear.”

Much of the current animosity appears to stem from board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán’s June media interviews, during which she accused Anderson and board member Scott Esserman of a mix of sexism, misogyny and racism for disrespecting and undermining her role as president.

During a highly contentious work session Thursday, Anderson asked Gaytán to apologize to the board for violating the code of conduct by going to the media with her grievances. Gaytán declined to do so, and in fact doubled down. “I’m not apologizing for exposing your misogyny and sexism,” she said to Anderson.

The meeting had to be adjourned abruptly shortly before 7:30 because of a disturbance among members of the small in-person audience. Gaytán’s mother and activist Lisa Calderon raised their voices while confronting Hashim Coates, who served as Vice President Tay Anderson and Esserman’s campaign manager.

The truncated work session left much unclear, including how the board will move forward when its president and vice-president are openly hostile to one another, other board members appear to feel disrespected or overlooked, and work on key policy issues is stalled by interpersonal drama.

Facilitator Dante James, co-founder of The Gemini Group, stepped out of his role briefly near the end of Thursday’s meeting to make an impassioned plea to the board.

“You all can remain entrenched in your positions and the community is suffering,” James said. “Whether the superintendent describes you as dysfunctional or not, the community describes you as dysfunctional. Students described you as dysfunctional.

“I have spoken with organizational leaders who have said they know of funders who are no longer given money for programs at DPS because of the way this board functions. So the board can continue this and the students, the community, and the programs that are so phenomenal in DPS will continue to suffer.”