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Survey shows DPS board incumbents, community far apart on top priorities

Editor’s note: This article was written by founding Resign DPS Board steering committee members Lynne Ly and Kirsten Benefiel. Ly has children attending Morey Middle School and East High School. Benefiel has children at Teller, Denver Downtown Expeditionary and Bromwell elementary schools, and East High. 

In March 2023, in the aftermath of a spring of violence at East High School, we formed to shine a light on the irresponsible and dysfunctional leadership of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.

Since then, one board member has decided not to run for reelection –  largely as a result of unwavering pressure from the community. But we are still left with six members who many believe are jeopardizing the safety and academic success of our students and our beloved DPS. 

Lynne Ly

In the upcoming board election, Denver voters will have a chance to weigh in on two additional incumbents who have contributed to this board’s abysmal record:  Scott Baldermann and Charmaine Lindsay.

In the spirit of voter education, Resign DPS wanted to check in with candidates and voters alike about their priorities and goals as we look to a reconfigured board post-election. We offered a bi-directional survey to elevate where there are similarities and where there are differences in how candidates view their jobs and what voters want in a board member.

The survey was taken by nine board candidates and 530 parents and community members across Denver. The candidates were asked to identify their top three priorities for the district and to then suggest three specific goals and related metrics that they would push to implement if elected or re-elected to the school board.

Community members were then surveyed to identify their top three priorities for the district and rank the ideas offered by the candidates themselves around specific goals and accountability metrics. To avoid inherent bias, the goals were listed without naming the specific candidate who offered the idea.

Kirsten Benefiel

On priorities, the community response was very clear: 85 percent of respondents stated safety and academic outcomes should be the top priorities for DPS.

  • Contrary to what their constituents want, neither incumbent Scott Baldermann nor incumbent Charmaine Lindsay identified academic outcomes as a top priority. Additionally, neither District 5 challenger Adam Slutzker nor at-large candidate Brittni Johnson listed academic outcomes as a priority.
  • Safety was a top priority for all candidates except Adam Slutzker, but the goals to achieve safety and the metrics for accountability were vastly different between candidates, and significantly insufficient according to many community members.
  • Specifically, community members stated that of the goals offered by candidates around safety, none of them addressed the current expulsion policy, which allows students charged with violent crimes to remain in comprehensive school settings.

Our primary takeaway is the following: The incumbents who seek to remain in office and the Denver community are further apart than ever in what they want from DPS. Community members across Denver want DPS to focus on two things: Ensuring our staff and students are safe and improving academic outcomes for all students.

By contrast, four of nine candidates running for the Denver school board did NOT list academic outcomes as a top priority for the district, including incumbents Scott Baldermann and Charmaine Lindsay. 

Moreover, neither incumbent, nor many of the other candidates running for the board’s three contested seats, offered goals around safety that respondents found sufficient. Not a single candidate mentioned the flawed discipline matrix or expulsion policy. This is a serious concern for our entire community.

Fundamentally, this board, and this superintendent, are barreling forward with an agenda that is starkly out of line with most parents and community members. Even in the weeks since the survey, the board has been embroiled in disputes about personal expenses, legal settlements, and in taking the extraordinary measure to limit community voice at public board meetings.

Neither school and staff safety, nor the educational success of students has been a priority since last spring.

We encourage voters across Denver to take a deep look at this board and its record. Whether you are a parent, a grandparent or a community member, your vote in November is critical to the future of our city.