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Auon’tai Anderson spikes his attempted DPS board member conflict-of-interest policy suspension

A request by Denver School Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson to suspend a policy prohibiting board members from being employed by the district was pulled late Thursday after Anderson decided to wait until his term ends to seek DPS employment.

Anderson, Scott Esserman and Michelle Quattlebaum had requested the seven-member board waive the conflict-of-interest policy until 2024 to allow Anderson to work in the district while still on the school board. His term ends in November and he is not seeking re-election.

“I just did get a job doing education work for a new client in my consulting business,” Anderson said in an interview prior to Thursday’s meeting. “So I won’t be seeking a job in DPS until after my term ends.”

The request was scheduled for a discussion and vote at Thursday’s monthly board meeting, but Anderson opened the meeting by asking that it be removed from the agenda. Board member Scott Baldermann asked why it was removed, and Esserman said “circumstances have changed” since his original request.

The board voted 6-1 to remove it, with Baldermann dissenting.

However, it was not clear whether the full board would have supported the request to suspend the conflict-of-interest policy. Anderson said he had not heard from other board members about their opinions prior to the meeting.

The original request stirred some controversy prior to Thursday’s meeting when Esserman wrote other board members that it would be added to the consent agenda rather than the regular meeting agenda. The consent agenda is typically a host of routine items approved without discussion, unless a board members requests that an item be pulled out.

For example, there were 27 items on Thursday’s consent agenda, such as district programs or funding requests from individual schools.

In his email to the board prior to the meeting, Esserman said the board waived its conflict-of-interest policy in the past to allow newly elected board members who were district employees to finish their semester rather than having to quit in the middle of the school year. He said “this would simply be doing the reverse of that” by allowing Anderson to take a DPS job before his term ends.

Previous waivers were only for newly elected board members, however, not for sitting board members.

“Numerous school leaders are interested in employing Director Anderson before the end of his term, and Dr. (Alex) Marrero and (DPS) Attorney (Aaron) Thompson do not see any potential conflicts arising from his employment with the district,” Esserman wrote to board members prior to the meeting.

Esserman added in his original request that a waiver for Anderson also would send a positive message to other DPS employees that “we should want employees to run for the board and also have comfort in knowing they have a guaranteed job when their service ends.”

The controversy over the consent agenda request was first reported by columnist Jimmy Sengenberger in the Denver Gazette earlier this week.

After members of the media raised questions, the request was moved to the regular agenda under “new business,” which would have involved a discussion and separate vote if Anderson had not pulled it Thursday.

Prior to being elected four years ago, Anderson was employed at North High School as a restorative practices coordinator and has also worked in Aurora Public Schools. He did not say what new position he will seek in DPS after his term ends.

The candidates running to replace Anderson as one of twos at-large board member in the Nov. 7 election were asked by Boardhawk prior to Thursday’s meeting how they would vote on suspending the DPS conflict-of-interest policy if they were serving on the board. Three responded that they oppose suspending the policy for board members.

“I would vote no,” said Paul Ballenger. “It just seems like a conflict of interest” for board members to also be employed by DPS given the “power our board wields’’ over schools and employees.

Candidate John Youngquist said: “Members on the current Denver School Board should not be abusing their power to suspend policies that help hold the board accountable… This is latest example of how our current board is failing to serve our district.”

And candidate Kwame Spearman added: “I’d vote to not suspend the rules at this time. Based on my research – historically – we’ve used the suspension to allow incoming school board members an opportunity to transfer out of their jobs.  This situation is different.”