If historical precedent tells us anything, voter turnout for Denver's off-year election is likely to be extremely low this November. That’s especially true for an important but often overlooked race to fill three seats on the Denver Board of Education.
While plenty of parents, teachers and education advocates have been immersed in the school board race for months, education advocacy organizations are well aware that not many people know who the candidates are, or even what the school board does. This year, a bunch of them are banding together to try to engage people who don’t generally follow the race, educate them, and get out the vote. They're hosting a free event called “Back to School Night” tonight, October 23, at the DIME Denver Theater on Metropolitan State University’s campus.
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According to event organizer Jami Duffy, the executive director of Youth On Record and cofounder of All In Denver, the event was inspired by the success of the latter organization’s “Mayoralpalooza” this past May. It was billed as an “anti-forum,” designed to bring fun to civic education. Like Mayoralpalooza, Back to School Night will do away with the often-dry format that pulls only a handful of dedicated citizens into a near-empty high school gym or theater. There will be free food and drink, a DJ, and live arts performances. There will also be opportunities for attendees to “get schooled” on what the school board does, and learn about what Denver Public Schools is doing.
Then, there will be a question-and-answer session with the candidates. All were invited to attend; most have accepted the invitation.
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The event is designed for anyone who reads their ballot and thinks, “What the hell does the school board do, and why should I care?” says Duffy.
And she has an answer to that question: You should care, she says, because Denver Public Schools educates over 90,000 children every year, and they are the future of Denver. The school board doesn’t control day-to-day operations in the classroom, but these seven elected volunteer members make up to 300 decisions each year that deeply impact how children are educated. They hire the superintendent, decide which schools are part of the district, and set district-wide policies that affect the mission of DPS.
And Duffy points out that issues that affect the school district are intersectional. “We’re tackling issues from the housing crisis, to mental wellness, to addiction, to trauma, to policing in the schools, to racial and social equity in the schools, to everything in between,” she says.
This year, all Denver voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on three at-large candidates, and voters who live within District 1 and District 5 will also face a choice between three candidates for those positions. If you can’t make it to Back to School Night at 6:30 p.m. tonight, find at-large candidates’ answers to questions about important issues facing DPS here. Oh, and ballots are due November 5.