Jennifer Draper Carson, Arturo Jimenez's stand-in clash at DPS board candidates forum

Tense exchanges between Denver Public Schools board candidate Jennifer Draper Carson and a stand-in for incumbent Arturo Jimenez marked a forum last night at the University of Denver, one of the last before the November 1 election. But while those two threw barbs, the debate between the other seven candidates (or their stand-ins) produced far less drama -- as well as some singing, some seriousness and a few zingers.

Jimenez did not attend last night's event. His campaign manager, Dave Sabados, took the stage instead, explaining that Jimenez was attending events in his district of northwest Denver. Sabados took several shots at Draper Carson, including accusing her of lying about Jimenez voting for a moratorium on new schools in the neighborhood.

"The moratorium talking point Ms. Draper Carson has been using simply isn't true," Sabados said, and then asked her if she had a vote to cite. Draper Carson turned to the audience. "Can anyone in the audience pull up voting records?" she asked.

The truth is a bit murkier; in June, the board voted to start a community engagement process in northwest Denver with the promise not to add any additional student seats to the neighborhood this school year.

Sabados also accused Draper Carson of being associated with "attack ads that bring up a candidate's race." He was referring to ads sent out by the group Latinos for Education Reform, which has criticized Jimenez and board member Andrea Merida. (Read more about the ads in this piece by Education News Colorado.) Draper Carson responded that she's proud to have earned the group's support and said she doesn't think "anything they've put out is degenerative to anyone's race."The back-and-forth between Anne Rowe and Kevin Paquette, candidate Emily Sirota's campaign manager, who stood in for her last night, was much more tame and often more vague. One difference that emerged was in regard to the pace of reform the district should adopt. Rowe emphasized tackling problems quickly, while Paquette said Sirota thinks the district should slow down in order to first engage the community "to make sure the actions you're taking are the will of the people."

"I can't look children in the face and say we should take a pause," Rowe countered.

The debate between the candidates in the five-way race for the board's at-large seat was the most genial. At one point, candidate Jacqui Shumway, known for her off-the-cuff remarks, broke into song. "Somebody told me, 'Jacqui, you might have won last time if you weren't so crazy,'" she said, referring to her previous run. Then she started to sing a Billy Joel song: "You may be right, I may be crazy/But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for."

Happy Haynes, who has been endorsed by Mayor Michael Hancock, stayed serious. She arrived to the debate half an hour late and spent the next hour emphasizing her support of the district's efforts to "turn around" failing schools, which DPS has sometimes done by closing them and opening new schools in their place.

By contrast, Earleen Brown, who stood in for candidate Frank Deserino, a South High School teacher who had parent-teacher conferences last night, said not all district turnarounds are working. At-large candidates Roger Kilgore and John Daniel also expressed concerns about school turnaround.

Daniel, who's raised the least amount of money in the campaign thus far (just $244 compared to Haynes, who's raised over $200,000), also criticized the district's use of standardized tests and was the most uninhibited in blasting the current board's decorum -- a common theme last night.

"Every child has a fundamental question: Do you believe in me?" he said. When board members come to the table with their own agenda, he said, "they're answering that. They're saying, 'No, I don't believe in you. I believe in me.'"

More from our Education archives: "School discipline policies in Colorado too harsh? Lawmakers and advocates say yes."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar