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

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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."

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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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3 comments
DPS is a joke
DPS is a joke

Neither Jennifer Draper Carson no Arturo Jimenez are decent candidates.  Draper Carson is an anti-union yuppie with ties to Michael Bennet and Jimenez is a status quo board member who likes to run up a tab on the taxpayer dime.  If only "none of the above" were an option.    

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

There is one question I would like to pose of all candidates for the School Board:  "Which should be our greatest concern, low graduation rates or low competence rates?".

There have been articles about the appalling situation at colleges in Colorado:  a third of incoming freshmen who graduated from Colorado high schools cannot function in introductory college coursework and must enroll in remedial courses -- many never successfully complete them and so do not graduate.  The other shoe apparently has yet to drop -- if a third of Colorado high school graduates who enroll in college are not qualified to be there, what does that say about the competence rates of graduates in general?  I am confident that it is less than fifty percent, but others suggest that it could be twenty percent.  I have never heard of the issue being raised with respect  to the administration of our high schools, but it needs to be, right now!

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