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Barbara O’Brien Headshot

DPS Board Elections Should Focus on Issues

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The Denver school board election is just a few days away, and more people are paying attention to this year's race than ever before. But in the last couple days, it has not been for the right reasons.

As the former lieutenant governor of Colorado and as a lifelong community advocate, I've met with thousands of Denver parents, grandparents, teachers, and students. In all of these conversations, I've found that we want the same things: strong communities, great schools, and elected leaders who truly represent our interests.

In Denver, we also expect our candidates to offer bold leadership and solutions, not mudslinging. Unfortunately, mudslinging is how Emily Sirota and her supporters have chosen to run her race for the Denver District 1 school board seat.

Instead of presenting solutions to the challenges within her district, Sirota has used every opportunity to create hysteria around the school board race. She has allowed her supporters to create the impression that her opponent, Anne Rowe, is part of a Republican conspiracy that aims to take over the school board in order to privatize and voucherize our public schools. Never mind that Anne Rowe is a registered Democrat who has repeatedly and publicly opposed vouchers. Nevertheless, Sirota, her husband and his friends have spread this misinformation on national cable TV and radio.

And it gets better -- Emily's husband David Sirota has written articles for national news organizations where he claims his wife came under attack by George W. Bush. The simple fact is that Bush was not in Denver for anything related to the school board race and did not mention Anne Rowe, Emily Sirota or the DPS Board. Somehow, the Sirota campaign translated this into an "attack" on her. Stunning.

I don't know what race Emily is running in, but it sure isn't the one I've been following.

If Sirota were truly interested in changing the odds for Denver's students, she would have focused her campaign on the issues that matter to Denver parents. Only half of Denver third graders can read at grade level. Only half will graduate from high school on time and of those who do, just a handful will enter college without taking remedial classes. In all of her national media appearances, Sirota is silent on how to address these critical problems.

While Emily has been on her media tour, those of us who have put our sweat into improving public schools have been talking to Denver families. I've knocked on doors with Anne Rowe and have heard parents share their concerns about the state of Denver's public schools. The families we've talked with want their elected officials to make a difference now so that we don't put another generation at risk.

Over the past eight years, I've watched the Denver school board lead the state -- and in some cases, the nation -- in finding bold solutions to improve our schools. The leaders we elect to the school board this Tuesday need to be ready carry on that legacy. They should make us proud. So should the campaigns they run.

That is why I cannot watch idly as Sirota injects negativity, conspiracy theories and misinformation into this election. School board leaders should be about doing what is best for Denver's kids by making sure every school is a good school. I applaud Anne Rowe, along with all the Denver candidates who stick to the issues and who give us a reason to be proud and hopeful. That's the Denver I know.

Note: Former Lt. Governor Barbara O'Brien has endorsed Anne Rowe and made a donation to her campaign.

Barbara O'Brien was Lieutenant Governor of Colorado from 2007-2011 and was president of the Colorado Children's Campaign from 1990-2006. She lives in Denver.