I am a female former Denver Public Schools board member (1995-1999) who declined to sign on to the op-ed published on November 21. The piece has caused quite a stir in the DPS community, exacerbated by mayors Michael Hancock and Federico Peña issuing a statement parroting much of what was in the letter and essentially calling on the board to forgo its constitutional obligation and let a so-called “impartial” unelected team of Denver residents decide who to hire to replace Susana Cordova.
Neither the former board members’ piece nor the mayors’ piece provides any evidence to support allegations that Cordova was pushed out by the board. As a former board member, I can’t imagine that the current board wanted its superintendent to leave mid-year during a pandemic. The writers claim the board created a hostile work environment and did not communicate its vision, in spite of the fact that the board has passed a number of policies that express its priorities, including, among others, the Black Education Resolution, eliminating police in the schools, and restoring a comprehensive high school in Montbello.
The writers may disagree with these policies, but they can’t ignore them to justify a claim that the board has not provided leadership. Moreover, at the beginning of the pandemic, the board provided clear crisis-management priorities for the superintendent to implement above everything else. It makes no sense in the midst of a global pandemic that is changing the educational system on a daily basis to expect the board to spend time developing a long-range plan.
The writers cite the low rating the board gave Cordova in her performance evaluation (3 out of 5) as another fault of the board. In fact, a fair reading of the evaluation indicates that the board made clear its plan to fulfill its electoral mandate by shifting direction from the previous superintendent, and that it looked forward to working in partnership with Cordova in its efforts. This superintendent has, after all, been at the helm for only two years — during which DPS weathered a long-planned teachers’ strike, a bomb cyclone and a 100-year pandemic.
An elected mayor calling for the board to abdicate its primary constitutional responsibility of hiring a superintendent and former school board members making accusations without evidence only serves to confirm the view of many stakeholders that they can’t count on elected officials to tell the truth or to do the right thing. Because both missives are devoid of facts, the only thing we know for sure about the reasons for Cordova’s resignation is what she told us herself in her resignation letter. Unless she offers a different statement to the public and confirms or denies the allegations, the letter writers offer nothing more than speculation. And left in the dust is the current board, whose unpaid members are faced with not only managing the district through the pandemic and conducting a superintendent search, but also trying to fend off doubts about their leadership sown by those who should know better.
The voters of Denver unequivocally rejected the free-market, privatization approach of Tom Boasberg and Michael Bennet in the elections of 2017 and 2019. Current and former elected officials should understand that it is the prerogative of those who win elections to fulfill their campaign promises, even if the losers still hold on to establishment power. Mayor Hancock, former Mayor Peña and the former board members who signed the op-ed should accept the results of those elections and stop trying to denigrate and diminish the duly elected leaders of the district.
Laura Lefkowits was a member of the DPS Board of Education from 1995 to 1999.
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