Tag Archives: Phillip Anschutz

Big Win for Denver Public Schools

7 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/7/2019

Denver voters rejected the portfolio model of school management on Tuesday. Candidates endorsed by the teachers union were the victors and the “corporate school reform” candidates lost. Leading up to the election, the education focused publication Chalkbeat pointed out,

“If candidates backed by the Denver teachers union win at least two of the three seats, union-backed members will have a majority on the board for the first time in recent history. That could set the stage for a shift away from encouraging school choice and school autonomy to more heavily investing in traditional schools.”

The teachers union endorsed candidates won all three of the seats up for election.

Big Money No Longer Enough

The board of directors’ at-large seat is voted on by the entire city. There were three candidates vying for the at-large seat: Tay Anderson, Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Natela Alexandrovna Manuntseva. Anna DeWitt filed for the seat and raised some money but was not on the ballot. Manuntseva did not have enough resources or organizational support to compete. The race was essentially between Anderson and Harrigan.

Harrigan was the most politically connected of the nine school board candidates. A Denver Post biography noted,

“Menocal Harrigan currently works in advocacy for expanding computer science education. She previously was an education adviser to then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Denver City Council aide and a staff member for Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent.”

Anderson’s biography on the other hand looks anything but formidable. The Denver Post reported,

“Anderson, a Manual High School graduate, ran unsuccessfully for the District 4 seat in 2017, when he was 18. He currently works as restorative practices coordinator at North High School.”

Tay is now 21-years-old.

Harrigan received large contributions from Colorado billionaire, Phillip Anschutz, and from billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter who lives in New York, Emma Bloomberg, and from a billionaire Teach For America champion from Silicon Valley, Arthur Rock. In total, she had over $350,000 supporting her campaign. Three independent expenditure committees spent more than $190,000 dollars in her support including $127,000 from Students for Education Reform (SFER).

It should be noted that Phillip Anschutz has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. Walden Publishing  was behind the school privatization movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for Superman.’

Surprisingly, Tay Anderson had more than $125,000 supporting his election including $40,000 from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). Committees that bundle many individual contributions are allowed to make large direct donations.

At-Large Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS At-Large Director

The board of directors’ seat-1 contest was a three way race between Diana Romero Campbell, Radhica Nath and Scott Baldermann.

Nath was endorsed by other groups skeptical of reform, including the Working Families Party and local parent and student group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos.

Baldermann was endorsed by DCTA.

Romero Campbell had the backing of groups that favor the district’s reforms, such as the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform.

Campbell is President of Scholars Unlimited, which offers tutoring and other educational programs. She previously was director of early learning and education at Mile High United Way.  Like Harrigan, she received donations from Anschutz and Bloomberg. She also had more than $100,000 in support from the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund.

However, Campbell’s in excess of $250,000 supporting her election was dwarfed by her opponent Scott Baldermann and she was not happy about that.  It does seem a little ironic to see a “corporate reform” candidate complaining about being outspent.

Scott Baldermann’s Denver Post bio says, “he is PTA president at Lincoln Elementary and a stay-at-home father. He previously owned an architecture business.” Evidently, Baldermann is wealthy enough to finance his own campaign with more than $350,000 while contributing $10,000 to both Tay Anderson’s and Brad Laurvick’s campaigns.

District 1 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-1

The contest for the board of directors’ seat-5 was the most competitive of the day. The teachers union endorsed Brad Laurvick for the position. He is a Methodist pastor who participated in rallies in support of striking teachers. He has a son in DPS and a daughter who hasn’t reached school age.

Candidate Tony Curcio had the support of groups that favor many of the current reforms, including the advocacy organizations Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform. He also received support from Emma Bloomberg and the same three independent expenditure committees as Harrigan and Campbell: SFER, Students Deserve Better and Ready Colorado Action Fund. Curcio had almost $250,000 in campaign support.

Julie Bañelos, a former school teacher who ran for the board in 2017, was the third candidate for seat-5. She currently works for Catholic Charities and has an impressive resume as an educator. She is an outspoken opponent of the “corporate reform.” Part of her answer for why she was running says,

“The governing body of DPS needs a champion of equity for all our students, particularly for our black, indigenous, and people of color, English language learners, students receiving special education services, and LGBTQ+ youth. As a public servant, I will materialize the values of the whole community, not the interests of the powerful few.”

Bañelos had more than $14,000 in campaign support which would have been more than adequate a few years ago, but in 2019 with the other two candidates wielding more than $200,000 in support it was not sufficient.

District 5 Votes

Denver City Official Election Results DPS Director Seat-5

The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children and Students for Education Reform appear to be the only candidates who supported the portfolio model of school governance. They received less than one-third of the vote. Candidates opposing privatizing public schools and closing schools received greater than two-thirds of the votes cast.

A Big Repudiation of the Portfolio Model of School Governance

Jeanne Kaplan was a former school board director in Denver and is a blogger. In a 2017 article, “What’s Next”, she described how the board was captured:

“2009 was … the first time outside money appeared in [School] Board Election campaigns. Stand for Children came with the goal of making the board “more reform oriented”… In spite of their $30,000 expenditure per candidate – which at the time was unheard of – our side, as Osborne notes, won the election. Each following election more and more reform money … appeared …. In addition to Stand, Democrats for Education Reform, Students First, and wealthy local businessmen, both Democrats and Republicans, … put enormous amounts of money and human capital to be sure … a unanimous board was achieved. Much of the money while identified by independent expenditure committee remains hidden as to who is making the individual contributions. In 2011 the people were able to hold on to a ‘mighty minority’ of three: 4-3. In 2013 the minority dwindled to one: 6-1. In 2015 the Board was unanimously ‘reform’: 7-0.”

The portfolio model which promotes disruption as a virtue is anti-union. It is not conducive to stable harmonious relations with either labor or communities and it is anti-democratic. Denver is held up as an exemplar of school reform; however the outcomes look more like a warning. Expanding achievement gaps; bloating administration; significantly increasing segregation; ending stable community schools; inefficiently busing children out of their neighborhoods and stripping citizens of their democratic rights are among the many jarring results.

This election result was a public repudiation of the portfolio model.

Neerav Kingsland, the Executive Director of the City Fund, recently wrote,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

The City Fund is a $200,000,000 dollar fund dedicated to expanding the portfolio model of school governance. The funds come from billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix), John Arnold (Enron), Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Michael Dell (Dell). City Fund is very secretive about its operations.

In his post, Kingsland tried to defend the miserable results coming from Denver which he cites as the national example for the portfolio model. The truth is transportation costs are up because of the inefficient structure. Administration costs have zoomed compared to the rest of the state of Colorado and the achievement gap is among the largest in the nation. On the 2019 NAEP reading and math tests, Denver’s students were still below both the national average and were also significantly outperformed by comparable cities like San Diego and Austin.

When Kingsland says “expand high-quality schools,” he means charter schools. And for him “quality” means the school scores well on standardized tests. Lawyers like Kingsland probably don’t understand how useless those tests are for evaluating teachers or schools. If they do, it must be an inconvenient truth.

Obviously, the Denver voters have seen through the corporate smoke and mirrors and are calling for a change. No more closing schools in a poor community because they have low test scores. Instead, help those schools and their educators. No more bringing in unqualified Teach For America corps member and pretending that they are ready to lead classrooms. No more following the dictates of the American Legislative Exchange Council and removing public schools from the purview of the elected school board. No more pretending that politicians and businessmen know better how to run schools than trained experienced educators.

No more using the portfolio model to privatize public schools.