For those who didn't see, a group of citizens are planning to attempt a recall of Denver school board member Andrea Merida. As a citizen of Denver and frequent critic of Denver Public Schools' leadership, I can say no member of the Board of Education who takes her responsibilities to the Denver taxpayers more seriously than Merida.
My support is not based on agreement between Merida and me. We frequently disagree. However, Merida brings to the Board of Education that which it has been sadly lacking -- debate.
Debate is at the heart of our democracy. Through debate we find compromise, and, generally, compromise serves taxpayers better than simple consent. Merida's willingness to challenge the status quo at DPS is incredibly important to achieving moderation in our public schools.
Just as importantly, however, Merida is incredibly responsive to her constituency. She tirelessly works with members of her community, unlike the old guard on the Board. She listens, assimilates, and tells others her thinking rather than letting her vote solely demonstrate her stand. This trait is fairly rare on the DPS board and it is my hope it is valued by members of Merida's district.
The issue surround Merida's recall is the fact that she was paid $5,000 by Andrew Romanoff's Senate campaign for community organizing in southwest Denver. I admit to being frustrated with Merida at times, no more so than when it was reveled that she was being paid by the Romanoff campaign. It was a slip, but one that is not terribly hard to understand.
- Fellow board member Theresa Pena is Michael Bennet's campaign treasurer. That position is traditionally unpaid but critical to all activities associated with the campaign.
- Jeannie Kaplan openly raised funds for Romanoff's campaign.
- Mary Seawell raised money for the Bennet campaign.
- DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg maxed out, giving the Bennet campaign more than $2,000.
No one should have any illusions that DPS' board members and leadership are not involved in statewide politics. That involvement exists, in spades.
The question becomes, is the $5,000 received by Merida worse than these other activities? Well, by DPS standards it is. If the money had been received from the Bennet campaign, however, I doubt it would have been an issue.
Look at it this way -- no one has cried that Pena, Seawell, or Boasberg are playing politics, despite withholding information potentially damaging to the Bennet campaign, information about the millions of dollars spent in interest and fees as part of a highly speculative Wall Street transaction entered into by Michael Bennet and Boasberg.
Instead, Boasberg cries that Merida and Kaplan are playing politics, that questions about DPS' finances are being raise just to hurt Michael Bennet. Boasberg has repeatedly not responded to Merida and Kaplan's requests for information about the transaction. When he has responded, Boasberg's answers have been partial or misleading.
Pena and Seawell have condoned this behavior by never saying anything to Boasberg about his behavior. No one among Denver's political elite has cried foul when Boasberg publicly impugns Kaplan or Merida. John Hickenlooper, Wellington Webb, Federico Pena, and every other politician associated with A Plus Denver sits quietly by while Boasberg's insubordination continues.
On Tuesday, Boasberg sent an email to every parent in DPS (who gave an e-mail address to DPS) as well as to every District employee. The e-mail's subject line was "Big Savings Equal More Teachers." It goes on to say,
It was unfortunate to see the New York Times last month publish an erroneous story about the District's financial condition. The Times reporter did not identify the political affiliations of her primary source and did not adequately check the facts of the situation.
Readers are left to guess if Boasberg is referring to Merida or Kaplan, either of which is his boss.
I find this last statement especially laughable. It took Gretchen Morgenson and her editors 4 months to write the story about DPS' costly pension funding scheme and $115 million it had sent to Wall Street as a result. Morgenson interviewed both Boasberg and Bruce Hoyt, the school board's treasurer when DPS entered the deal. Neither had any thing to say to refute the facts Morgenson presented.
Boasberg did say to the Times that the whole issue surrounding the story was politically motivated by a couple of disgruntled school board members, however. Now, after the story has gone to print, Boasberg says the New York Times failed to find out Andrea Merida or Jeannie Kaplan was a supporter of Andrew Romanoff.
If you believe Boasberg's statements are not politically motivated, I encourage you to think again. The same is true for statements made by school board members Easley, Hoyt, Seawell, and Pena,
So, while Merida is not perfect, she is far more trustworthy than most of those surrounding her.
Yes, Merida should have been transparent about her involvement with Romanoff. I completely agree with those who criticize her on this front. But, taken in whole, Merida is still a board member worth keeping --
- She typically does the right thing for the community and students of Denver. True, like most every other board member, she has political involvements outside the District; however, she does not appear to be solely driven by these involvements.
- She listens to her constituency and works across schools, many of which are outside her jurisdiction but who feed schools within her jurisdiction.
- She works at a grassroots level with all of her constituency, not just those that are convenient to her momentary political objective.
- Best yet, she speaks her mind without looking to Boasberg or his counterparts for approval.
I encourage every resident of southwest Denver to remember these qualities when deciding to sign a petition recalling Andrea Merida. You could do much worse, and likely will.
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