There is no other way to describe the November 7, 2017 DPS School Board Election.
Some quick and rather raw observations:
- Dr. Carrie Olson 33-year DPS teacher, defeated incumbent “reformer” Mike Johnson even though he out spent her over four times to one. Grassroots and community beat big money and reform. Really extraordinary!
- Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) lost two of four seats it heavily supported. Extraordinary
- Teach for America (TFA) made inroads into decision making positions within Denver Public Schools as two new board members are TFA alums.
- Big money won in 3 out of 4 contests, but they didn’t win in all 4 for the first time in several election cycles in Denver! Extraordinary!
- If more than two people run for office on more or less the same side of a debate, it almost always ensures the viewpoint represented by the two will not come to be. (See Presidential election 2016; DPS at large 2017).
If you want to know more, read on; if that’s all you want to know, realize what happened last night in Denver was truly extraordinary. Maybe even the beginning of the pendulum swing.
Dr. Carrie Olson, 33 year DPS teacher, soundly defeated incumbent, “reformer,” Mike Johnson., and she did so with $33,747 in her campaign war chest and a completely volunteer “staff.” The dollars and vote totals cited in this post can be found here and here. As of the last campaign finance report Mr. Johnson had raised $101,336 on his own and was the beneficiary of $42,777 from Democrats for Education Reform( DFER) dark money and $6320 Stand for Children dark money. His 11,193 votes cost his campaign $13.44 each; Carrie’s 11,121 votes cost her $2.73 per vote. He spent almost 5 times as much per vote as she. Extraordinary.
As the quintessential “reform” school district with a previously unanimous 7-0 board, this is a HUGE VICTORY. Congratulations to Dr. Carrie Olson and her amazing, grassroots organization, spearheaded by a mother/son team of Susan Johnson and her 18 year old (!) son Zachary Cheikho. They had never done this before but between them and candidate Olson, they were smart enough to take the best their volunteers had to offer and let them roll with it.
The second major victory for pro-public education advocates occurred when DFER’s independent expenditure committee, Raising Colorado lost two of the four races it invested heavily in. For incumbent Rachele Espiritu in District 4 Raising Colorado spent $97,000. DFER’s sister reform organization Stand for Children lost one of the two races it invested heavily in: Mike Johnson, cited above. And as an aside, in the Denver suburb of Aurora the Raising Colorado supported candidates lost all four seats.
If you have followed the Denver election story, you know that four of seven seats were up this go round. The community organization, Our Denver Our Schools (of which I am a co-founder) (ODOS), supported its team of Robert Speth, Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan, Carrie Olson, and Tay Anderson. It was able to raise and spend around $11,000 of “dark money” under the independent expenditure committee called Our Denver Our Schools Independent Expenditure Committee. Please note: not so dark. The teachers union and ODOS agreed on the three candidates but parted ways over District 4 endorsement: ODOS went with student/activist/2017 DPS graduate Tay Anderson; the union landed on TFA alum, Jennifer Bacon, in whom they invested $140,000. Bacon raised $69,000 herself. $200,000 total for her.
Union support of Ms. Bacon greatly complicated the election landscape and became a rather difficult situation to negotiate for the remainder of the election cycle. Jennifer Bacon is not only a TFA alum but both she and the other newly elected colleague TFA alum, Angela Cobian, are currently employed at the TFA leadership training organization, Leadership for Education Equity .
Now, I make no bones about this decision to support Bacon: I have not liked it nor supported it from the beginning. Neither have many befuddled teachers. TFA in Denver has not been viewed in a favorable light. The decision was made to support her because of a belief that union money along with the promised LEE money/support could deliver a victory. It did, but to me, it always seemed to be a Pyrrhic victory at best. The day after it happened it still seems to be. I sincerely hope I am wrong. Jennifer Bacon defeated two other candidates, incumbent Rachele Espiriteu and 19-year old phenom Tay Anderson.
The at-large race garnered the most money, as you can imagine. Incumbent and former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien raised $116,000 on her own and had DFER’s Raising Colorado kick in $98,000 on her behalf, followed by Stand’s Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado $79,000. Almost $300,000. And she didn’t come close to breaking 50% of the votes cast. She collected 42%, Robert Speth received 36%, Julie Banuelos 22%. Per vote they spent respectively: $7.74, $ 1.07, $0.62.
District 2 in Southwest Denver provided an interesting competition between two very capable Hispanic women: Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan, and TFA alum Angela Cobian. The last financial report shows them both gathering contributions in the $160,000 range. Both candidates were the recipients of “dark money,” Ms. Gaytan from the teachers, Ms. Cobian from DFER. Ms. Cobian was the recipient of several large individual contributions as well. It will be interesting to see the final dollars spent in this race, for there is a belief that much of the “dark money” expenditures for Cobian have not yet appeared.
Extraordinary. That is what happened last night in Denver. And even as we ODOS and other volunteers lick our wounds because we really thought we could FLIP THE BOARD, we must celebrate our victory last night. Dr. Carrie Olson won a seat on the formerly unanimous “reform” DPS school board. Public education advocates WON a seat in Denver. And two of the other “victors” received less than 50% of the vote. I think it was an extraordinary night in Denver.
No story about this election cycle could be complete without thanking the ODOS guru extraordinaire, Scott Gilpin. Scott’s expertise and analyses allowed ODOS to make a difference in this election. To him – and his family who put up with the countless hours – thank you. Onward!