Five applicants are hoping to be selected to fill the empty northwest district seat on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.
The applications were made public May 4, and a community engagement meeting is scheduled for May 16. Finalists for the seat will be selected June 2, and the board is expected to appoint its selection by June 9.
The replacement for board member Rev. Brad Laurvick, who recently announced his resignation because of a transfer within his church, will serve the remainder of his term, which ends in November 2023.
The main topics The Denver North Star discussed with the applicants were their policy agendas as well as how they intend to address potential school consolidation that DPS is considering.
The following is a summary of each of the applicants’ responses.
Bañuelos finished with 302 votes, or 1.1%, short of winning the District 5 Denver Public School Board of Education seat in the 2019 election.
She said bringing as much transparency to the board as possible is her main goal, and she said she wants to see reform on school funding from the General Assembly.
“We fund our schools by per-pupil funding. Why don’t we change that at the state level, and make it equitable?” Bañuelos said. “Instead of per-pupil, we (pay) the school whatever it needs to function.”
Keeping a sharp eye on the district’s budget is part of Bañuelos plan if she is selected for the seat in order to make resources more equitable among schools, which she said could help curtail any planned closures.
“We have schools that don’t have enough substitute teachers or they don’t have a full-time nurse, or in the case of our high school students, don’t have an athletic director,” Bañuelos said.
Bañuelos highlighted her experience as a community member participant in the superintendent search and involvement in education advocacy groups as evidence of her commitment to the district even after not being elected in 2019.
“We have asked our taxpayers for bond and mill levy money. We got to do it. It’s gonna cost money to keep the lights on or whatever. But it means keeping our teachers employed.”
Darnell is an assistant dean at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning, and he is the Colorado board chair of the ACE Mentorship Program.
He said what makes him the best candidate is his experience working with students, and many of his pupils come from the DPS system.
“I have a lot of educational, budgetary-process experience that affects staffing, facilities management resources, and I understand how that process goes and has a significant impact on academic achievement,” Darnell said.
Darnell said he is committed to helping “underrepresented and marginalized” communities as well as supporting diversity within the student body, the faculty, and staff.
Regarding declining enrollment, Darnell pointed to rising housing costs within the city and how that strains young families, who may be forced to move elsewhere.
“Retention is a huge issue that does need to be addressed,” he said. “What we need to do is figure out ways to keep the students in school and successful and thriving but at the same time recognize that we are looking at projected decreases in enrollment.”
Darnell also said he has concerns about the state of the school district’s budget.
“I think that’s a huge piece that has to be looked at, and it’s a part that I’m very interested in getting into,” he said. “I understand where we are with the reserves and … what’s required by the state. But I think that that’s something, as we look at the projections that have been put out, is super important.”
Diaz currently owns Fitness Together in Edgewater, but for years he was a math teacher at Martin Luther King Middle School and Denver North High School as well as a baseball coach.
For the last seven years, he has been a volunteer at Lake Middle School and a DPS Prep League coach for various sports.
He said his children have been educated through DPS schools and his decades of involvement with the system make him uniquely qualified to fill the seat.
“The social and emotional crisis that our students are going through, that’s something I think we need to address collectively, not just in Northwest Denver and not just for students,” Diaz said. “That would be one thing that I like to push towards the top of the plate because there’s too much misdirected anger.”
Diaz said he has experience dealing with colocation policies at Lake Middle School as part of the Choose North Now Coalition, and he said that experience makes him prepared to tackle school consolidation efforts.
“I think a lot of it should be done on a piece-by-piece basis,” he said. “It can become very ugly, very political and very divisive. I think this should be a time of bringing folks together. I feel like I can be that bridge between the two communities.”
Khan is the founding principal at Denver School of Science and Technology: Conservatory Green High School and held that position from 2017 until last year when he left to work for a company that he said coaches other principals.
Khan also worked for Teach for America’s KIPP STRIVE Academy from 2012-2014 in Atlanta.
“I’m someone who’s worked in public schools my entire adult career,” he said. “I’ve worked in all kinds of public schools, I’ve worked in traditional public schools, I’ve worked in charter schools, that are also public schools.”
Khan said he’s worked in nearly every role in children’s education, including as a special education teacher, a general education teacher, and administrative positions.
As a principal, he said he constantly looked at data to show trends of equity, how certain students were performing compared to their peers by way of race or educational pathway.
Khan said as a founding member of a school, he had to convince parents that his was the best choice for them and enrollment was a key topic among the administrators.
“Let’s do what we can to keep schools open and retain kids, and what that means is (getting) a real understanding of what the community wants,” Khan said. “I think that the better we understand what the community needs and what they want, the better we’re going to make those decisions.”
According to her application to the Board of Education, Lindsay has more than 15 years of experience in family law, particularly with family disputes. She said he has a proven ability to resolve legal matters and has experience in mitigation from 24 years working as a private practice attorney.
The Denver North Star was unable to reach Lindsay for comment and a photo before the print deadline, but Christian Caldwell, the president of the nonprofit My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper, wrote a letter of support on behalf of her.
“Charmaine is committed to equity and leads in ways that amplify the needs of our community in
ways that produce visible outcomes for youth,” Caldwell wrote. “Her legal work has allowed her to create deep relationships with students and families. Similarly, she has helped schools to become more inclusive and helped them to understand the underlying needs of the community.”