By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
But Merida's critics — and even some of her friends — say Merida's problem isn't what she does, but how she does it. "She is a very strong person. She fights for what she cares about," says Ferrandino, who represents Merida's district and for whom Merida worked as an aide this past legislative session. "But I think sometimes she can come across as abrasive and strong-willed."
"I'm not sure it's Andrea's advocacy for southwest Denver that's getting her in trouble," says Moss. "It's that sometimes her verbage comes off as very negative about the DPS administration, about anything previous boards have done, about anything that looks like 'reform.' It's made it difficult for her to work within the system to get what she wants done."
Some of her fellow boardmembers agree. "She's a smart lady. If she wanted to ask the hard questions, I'm sure she could," says Peña. "But asking the hard questions is not the same as asking the gotcha questions."
At meetings, Merida is prone to interrupting and raising her voice. When someone says something she disagrees with, she shakes her head or mutters under her breath. She's quick to draw battle lines, publicly referring to boardmembers Peña, Seawell, Easley and Hoyt as "the other side."
Seawell says it can be challenging to work with Merida because she jumps to conclusions. "If she has a gut feeling on something, it becomes fact for her," Seawell says. "But sometimes life is illogical and counterintuitive, and we can't govern that way." On the other hand, Seawell says, she appreciates Merida's willingness to communicate — even if her communications can sometimes be harsh. "She is the one person on this board who will always call me back, will always answer the phone. She will not duck and cover. At the end of the day, that is such a relief. It makes it that much less complicated."
Sabrina Stevens Shupe is thankful that Merida is such a fighter. Shupe was one of several non-tenured DPS teachers out of 189 up for dismissal, or "non-renewal," in May whom Merida stood up for and voted to keep. Shupe taught at Oakland Elementary School in Montbello for two years. Eager and headstrong, Shupe says she was treated like a star at first; her lessons were videotaped to use in professional development sessions for other teachers, and her classroom was used for demonstrations. She says she got nothing but glowing reviews from her principal — until she started questioning some of the extra testing and interventions the principal was requiring teachers to do.
When Shupe tried to resign, her principal moved to non-renew her instead. In DPS, teachers are considered "probationary" for their first three years and can be non-renewed for any number of reasons if administrators see fit. But Shupe didn't think her principal had a valid reason other than retaliation.
Boardmembers have the final say, and Shupe says she e-mailed all of them a packet of information that included excellent evaluations from her principal, other good feedback she'd gotten and a letter describing what had happened. The union suggested she also contact Easley, who represents Montbello, and Merida, who wasn't connected to the case at all but who the union said was known to ask questions when others wouldn't.
Merida was the only boardmember who responded, Shupe says. "What struck me about her is she didn't have to stand up for me, but she did because she saw that something was wrong," Shupe says.
Merida insisted to her fellow boardmembers that a handful of teachers, including Shupe, deserved a closer look. Easley, on the other hand, said it was "dumbfounding" to think the board should question decisions made by administrators after a long process. Merida called Easley's view "lazy."
In the end, Shupe and the 188 other teachers on the chopping block were non-renewed anyway. But Shupe appreciates that Merida tried.
"Whatever these people want to say about her, she's standing up for these important things," Shupe says. "She's speaking uncomfortable truths. And I don't think we get to hate on people because they're saying things that make us uncomfortable."
But that hasn't stopped some people from trying.
On September 7, community activist Jose Silva dropped off a petition at the Denver Elections Division to initiate the process of recalling Merida from the board. As grounds, it cited "unethical conduct," "unbecoming behavior" and "failure to perform duties." Merida's main offense, according to the petition, was failing to disclose that she was a paid Romanoff staffer while serving on the board.
"This recall is based on the ethics and moral behavior of Ms. Merida and is not in any way, shape or form a witch hunt or personal vendetta," read a letter from the petitioners.
But the reasons the petitioners gave Westword make it seem like it might indeed be personal. The petition is signed by three voters from District 2, Merida's district. One of them, Anita Banuelos, says she used to be friends — or at least Facebook friends — with Merida. In fact, Banuelos says she admired Merida's work with the Democratic Party and even looked up to her. "I wanted her to be my mentor," Banuelos says.