DPS school board drama could have statewide impact

The post-election drama at the Denver School Board could not only impact students in Denver— it could hurt the state’s chances for federal Race to the Top grant dollars, the Denver Post speculated today.

Let’s hope Denver children didn’t stay up to watch the antics of some of the adults who run their public schools Monday night.

Let’s also hope the Obama administration wasn’t watching. Otherwise, Colorado can say goodbye to the millions of dollars it had hoped to win from the federal Race to the Top fund, which is designed to seed reform efforts in our nation’s schools.

Andrea Merida
Andrea Merida

At its Monday meeting, the board narrowly approved six turnaround plans for failing schools.

But that’s not what observers will remember. They’ll remember Andrea Merida, a newly elected candidate, secretly finding a judge to swear her in before the meeting. Merida wanted to make sure that she—not current board member Michelle Moss—could vote on the proposals. According to EdNews Colorado, Merida didn’t support a reform proposal for the district’s lowest-performing secondary school, Lake Middle. Moss did.

As board member Michelle Moss walked up to take her seat for what was to be her last meeting in eight years representing southwest Denver, her newly elected replacement Andrea Merida told her that she would be sitting on the dais instead.

Merida, rather than waiting to take the oath of office with two other new members after the meeting, had instead been sworn in hours earlier so she could cast a vote on the controversial reforms.

A shocked Moss reacted with tears and anger.

“I worked very hard to get Andrea elected … and I cannot imagine someone going behind my back and doing what she did today,” she told the standing-room-only audience before leaving.

The proposal passed even with Merida’s “no” vote, but Merida said she expected others to challenge it in court.

She cited an opinion from Mark Grueskin, a prominent Denver attorney whose clients have included Gov. Bill Ritter and the Colorado Education Association.

Grueskin said Colorado courts have frowned on outgoing or “lame duck” school boards acting on policy matters, naming a 1971 Colorado Supreme Court ruling overturning a board’s decision to hire a new superintendent  four days before a new board was sworn into office.

“There is no reason to think that the broad policy questions to be addressed tonight would be viewed any differently,” Grueskin wrote in a letter to Merida dated Nov. 30.

Tensions between the board members have gotten so bad, reports the Denver Post, that it plans to meet tomorrow with a marriage counselor to try to iron out its differences.

On Thursday, the new board will meet at the luxury Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Despite pleas for more transparency, the board’s meeting is closed to the public and media. The board said it wants to meet with Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor.

Let’s hope she can help them kiss and make up.

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