Anderson: This Election a ‘Referendum’ on Reform

Denver School Board At-Large Candidate Tay Anderson

At just 21-years-old, Tay Anderson is by far the youngest person running for school board. But he said he’s matured a lot since he lost his bid for school board in District 4 (Northeast Denver) two years ago. He said he’s better able to relate to students because, “People can come talk with me because I’m not 50 years old, I’m one of them.”

Tay is quick to point out that he is the only at-large candidate who graduated from Denver Public Schools (his opponents graduated from Westminster and Cherry Creek public schools), and he said that “lived, direct experience” is what sets him apart from his challengers. “It’s one thing to go to students and ask what they want to add to the conversation, but it’s another to have lived that story,” he said. Anderson was the student body president at Manual High School for three years and served on the district’s Student Board of Education. 

He said his experience in school support roles matters as well. Rather than going to college and getting into debt, he said, he chose to work as a paraprofessional in DPS just out of high school. He later went to Aurora Public Schools where he was a campus safety monitor, and now works at North High School as a restorative justice counselor. “We have politicians, parents and policymakers running, but no one who has been a student or in a support role and can actually relate to our kids and understand what they need,” he said. 

His experience working as a paraprofessional making just $12 an hour led him to advocate for teacher pay during the strike this spring, noting “even though I lost their endorsement in 2017, I still showed up on the picket line.” This year, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (teachers’ union) has contributed more than $10,000 to his campaign in the form of in-kind contributions for digital ads and printing. He said while having teachers behind him means a lot, “we wish we were receiving more help, but understand that these are union member dues; they aren’t funded by millionaires.”

And though Anderson said he thinks teacher pay still needs to grow, he said he won’t advocate for more teacher pay until other student support staff — such as paraprofessionals, janitors and bus drivers — get the raises they need to work only one job and live comfortably. “I want $25 an hour for paras. I strongly believe that you should be able to work one job when you work with kids,” he said. 

In addition to DCTA, Anderson is backed by the Denver Area Labor Federation and his largest monetary donation is $1,000 from Scott Balderman, who is running for school board in Southeast Denver. Anderson has endorsements from U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette and U.S. Congressmen Jason Crow and Joe Neguse, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, State Representatives Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Monica Duran, and former School Board Member Arturo Jimenez, among others. 

Anderson said he was motivated to run for office because the district co-located Manual High School while he was a student there, and he didn’t feel he had a voice in the decision. “Four years ago, when I was a student in DPS, … [School Board Member] Happy Haynes walked into the room and said ‘Manual and Lincoln [high schools] will be co-located, whether you like it or not.’ When I asked how to get our voices heard, she said to run for office, so I am running to replace her.” 

He said the district has been “selling out our schools to the highest bidder and closing them,” and he wants to stop that. He said the district has to ensure neighborhood schools are a viable option for families because having to choice into a school across town to get a quality education isn’t a real choice. 

“We need to keep working on choice being a choice for everybody. It isn’t choice if you have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get a bus to go somewhere else because we closed the schools in their neighborhoods,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood because those schools don’t perform. A majority of those kids want to stay in their communities but the district has not given them the option to do that.”

He notes that part of the city’s traffic and pollution problems are because a full two-thirds of DPS students — roughly 62,000 kids — are driving across town to get a decent education. (The district disputes this number of students choice out of neighborhood schools.)

When asked his thoughts on the education reform movement, he said “it has been a failure.” He said this election “needs to be a referendum on reform and we need to flip our board.”

Anderson said he is part of a generation that has had to “crouch under our desks in fear of school shooters,” and his security experience would help him address that. 

He also said he is the only candidate running on a gender equity platform. He wants to see schools provide feminine hygiene products to students. He said one in five young women miss one class or more during their menstrual cycle, and he wants to put an end to that. He also wants to ensure there are “Gender X” bathrooms in all schools, and said he led the charge on that policy proposal, which other candidates have since signed on to. 

Anderson said it’s a priority to increase the number of educators of color. “As the only African American running across the entire district… We need to show especially our black male students that you can almost drop out, not go to college, and go on to be elected for school board, retire from board at 29 and go to college to become a teacher and return to schools. That’s what I want my story to be.”

If elected, Anderson would have to resign from his job at North High School, but said he has already committed to stay in a volunteer role working with the debate club for the next four years. 

You can learn more about Tay Anderson at


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