Denver school board election mailer’s false statement about ‘for-profit charter school’ draws criticism

The mailer was paid for by Brighter Futures for Denver Students, an independent expenditure committee that is supporting the candidacy of Jennifer Bacon, who has worked as a teacher, administrator and lawyer.

The flier under fire.
The flier under fire.
The flier under fire.

By Eric GorskiChalkbeat

School board elections, like all elections, brim with harsh accusations, cherry-picked data and political posturing.

An election mailer from an independent committee trying to influence the outcome of a hard-fought race in northeast Denver goes a step further, falsely stating that the school district is “ceding space to a for-profit charter school” on one of its campuses.

In December, the school board unanimously voted to locate DSST: Conservatory Green High School — run by a charter network registered as a nonprofit — in a separate building from existing district-run Northfield High School on the Paul Sandoval Campus in northeast Denver.

In Colorado, charter schools are required to be run by nonprofit boards. Charter school boards are permitted to contract operations and management to for-profit companies, often known as education-management organizations or EMOs, but that is rare in Colorado. DSST operates its own schools.

The mailer was paid for by Brighter Futures for Denver Students, an independent expenditure committee that is supporting the candidacy of Jennifer Bacon, who has worked as a teacher, administrator and lawyer. As of the last reporting deadline, the group had brought in $139,000 from the Denver teachers union and the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

The Denver teachers union has endorsed Bacon in the three-candidate race that is the most watched among the four DPS board seats in play.

With ballots mailed and Election Day on Nov. 7 drawing nearer, Denver mailboxes are filling with literature produced both by candidates’ campaigns and independent committees seeking to grab voters’ attention in what are are traditionally low-turnout off-year elections. Union-backed committees are supporting critics of the district’s direction, while committees affiliated with groups such as Democrats for Education Reform are pouring money into maintaining a 7-0 majority in favor of DPS reforms.

Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST, which operates some of the city’s highest-performing schools, criticized the mailer’s language about a “for-profit charter school” in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“As adults in this country, we have an obligation to model integrity, and to model truthful discourse,” Kurtz said. “It’s disturbing that the adults in Denver are modeling for our young people in a school board race factually untrue, categorically untrue statements in the name of trying to elect adults in the city to lead our school system.”

The registered agent for Brighter Futures for Denver Students is lawyer Scott Martinez, a former Denver city attorney. He did not respond to two requests for comment this week. The president of the Denver teachers union, Henry Roman, declined to answer questions about the mailer, saying in an email that he is “not involved in the Independent Expenditure side.”

Independent expenditure committees have grown in prominence in Denver school board elections in recent years. Such committees have to report their contributors and what they spend; they are barred from coordinating efforts with candidates and their personal committees.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Bacon distanced herself from the direct mail piece. “With campaign finance rules the way they are, my campaign has no control over the communications of outside groups,” said Bacon, who once worked for DSST. “I’d like to see the conversation stay focused on the issues that matter to families, teachers, and community members.”

Bacon is trying to unseat incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to her seat in 2016. Tay Anderson, a 19-year-old recent Manual High School graduate, is also vying for the seat.

To learn more about the candidates and their positions, read Chalkbeat’s profile of the race and replies to our DPS candidate questionnaires.

Here’s the mailer from the District 4 race:

The flier under fire.
The flier under fire.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.