Controversy Swirls Around New DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero

Alex Marrero is the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
Alex Marrero is the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Denver Public Schools
On June 3, members of the Denver Board of Education approved hiring Dr. Alex Marrero as the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools. But Marrero shouldn't expect much of a honeymoon period. A slew of advocacy organizations he'll need on his side if his tenure is to be successful opposed his selection. And while the board was close to unanimous on his selection, it faces other challenges.

The board approved Marrero by a 6-1 vote, with Barbara O’Brien the only member who disagreed; she reportedly questioned his level of experience and lack of familiarity with the western U.S. in general and Denver in particular. Those backing Marrero included embattled at-large director Tay Anderson, who recently announced that he would be stepping back from most of his board duties amid assorted accusations of sexual impropriety while an investigation is under way.

Marrero's victory was hard fought. Last month, after the superintendent finalists were narrowed down to Dr. Stephanie Soliven, Andre Wright and Marrero, the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CO-CABE) and the affiliated Congress of Hispanic Educators, as well as the Colorado Black Round Table, essentially called for a hiring search do-over because of doubts about all three candidates, particularly regarding experience levels and commitment to bilingual education.

DPS wasn't dissuaded, and after picking Marrero, the district engaged in a publicity campaign to demonstrate support for the choice. For example, in this video, community members including Verónica Figoli, president and CEO of the Denver Public Schools Foundation, offered Marrero their blessing.

In the midst of these efforts came news of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 28. The plaintiff is Brooke Balchan, medical director for the City School District of New Rochelle, and Marrero, who'd been interim superintendent, is among the defendants, along with former New Rochelle superintendent Laura Feijoo and other administrators.

Balchan filed the complaint "as a result of maltreatment and retaliatory actions taken against her after she raised matters of a public concern regarding health and safety," according to the lawsuit. "Plaintiff also brings this action for her rights under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Dr. Balchan believes that current District leadership has wrongfully taken actions against her because (1) she engaged in protected speech by vocalizing opposition to District leadership about health and safety matters of public interest, (2) exercised her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act."

On June 1, a joint statement was released by the Auraria Historical Advocacy Council, the Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE), Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and CO-CABE. "When the DPS Board announced their intention to hire Dr. Alex Marrero, we were still concerned but willing to try to work with him," it reads in part. "Now that we have learned about the impending lawsuit in New Rochelle, New York (Dr. Marrero's previous position as acting superintendent), we are once again asking the board to halt the confirmation of Dr. Marrero pending a more thorough investigation into this lawsuit. Without commenting on the merits of the case, this is especially important given that the lawsuit relates to the way in which Dr. Marrero allegedly handled the response to COVID 19 in his previous school district."

The statement reads: "The DPS Board have not shared this critical information with the Denver community. One of the absolute priorities in this new position will be to have a comprehensive post-pandemic plan in place before schools open in the fall. Recently, we brought to your attention what we believe to be a serious lack of transparency regarding the superintendent search, in general. This latest bombshell substantiates our opinion."

June 3, the day of the vote, brought another open letter, this one from an even larger group of critics — among them En Comunidad, the Latino Education Council, Servicios de La Raza Executive Director Rudy Gonzales and other notables. "We strongly urge the school board to suspend any further decisions on Dr. Marrero until more information is made available about his litigation," it stresses. "The New Rochelle board’s denial of the federal allegations is insufficient. Clearly it was not going to admit fault of any kind, but Dr. Marrero will nevertheless be consumed with responding to interrogatories, participating in his depositions, and committing many hours with his attorneys. These same concerns may apply to potential legal actions against Mr. [Tay] Anderson."

This plea wasn't heeded. Marrero's first official day on the job is July 6, and his contract extends to June 30, 2023. His starting salary is $260,000.

Click to read Brooke Balchan v. City School District of New Rochelle.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts