Two Denver school board members backing an advocacy group’s protest against the lack of Hispanic finalists for a board vacancy did not themselves vote to make any of the three Hispanic candidates finalists, records show.

Tally sheets obtained by EdNews Colorado show that none of six Denver school members, including Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan, voted for a Hispanic candidate to be among nine finalists for a vacant northeast Denver board seat. On Monday Kaplan and Jimenez sent an email to other board members urging the selection process be reopened, as has been requested by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Arturo Jimenez, Lisa Calderon
DPS board member Arturo Jimenez (left) was among elected officials speaking to the Latino Forum on Feb. 12. At right is Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Denver chapter of the Latino Forum.

The Denver metro chapter of the forum held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the lack of Hispanic finalists for the seat vacated by the recent resignation of Nate Easley.

“If we can’t be in the boardroom by appointment we will get there by election,” Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez told the group.

He was among of gaggle of elected officials that attended the meeting of about 40 people at Escuela Tlatelolco in north Denver.

Kaplan and Jimenez also addressed the group.

Asked Tuesday evening about why they didn’t vote to make any of the Hispanic candidates finalists, both Jimenez and Kaplan declined to discuss their votes, saying the selection process was a secret ballot. Both said they objected to what they called a “flawed” process. Kaplan claimed that board president Mary Seawell changed the selection process at the last minute.

During the Feb. 4 meeting the six board members filled out tally sheets that listed the 25 candidates. Each board member was allowed to select three candidates, assigning five points to their first choice, three points to their second and one point to their third choice.

The nine finalists were those who received the highest number of points.

Education News Colorado requested the tally sheets from DPS and examined them. The six sheets were not identified by board member, but no board member selected Hispanic applicants Tim Camarillo, Jesus Escarcega or Barbara Medina. Of the nine finalists, eight are black and one is white. Six are male and three are female. The current board has two Hispanics, one black and three whites.

Also making a cameo appearance at the meeting was board president Mary Seawell. She told the group, “I’m just here to listen” and said she welcomes emails or phone calls from anyone concerned about the process to fill the vacancy.

EdNews later asked Seawell if she would consider reopening the selection process, which must be completed by mid-March. She explained that the board has been taking “baby steps” in that process, deciding what to do at each step along the way. She indicated that the board might discuss reopening the process when it next meets on Feb. 19.

Kaplan told EdNews that she believes the best course would be to select an “interim” board member who wouldn’t run for election in November. If the board doesn’t go for that – which she expects it won’t – Kaplan said she will advocate for reopening the process to look for additional Hispanic candidates.

Also attending the meeting was Denver Council member Debbie Ortega. Her comments were less emphatic than those made by Lopez, and she said, “This is a very important issue” and that community input on board candidates is “a critical part of the process.”

And also making an appearance was unsuccessful applicant Medina, a former administrator at both DPS and the Colorado Department of Education who was greeted with applause. “I was very disappointed that I wasn’t given an interview,” Medina said. “The board’s in a tough place. … I’m not here as a spoilsport. I will support whoever the board selects.”

Hispanic forum first raised the issue

The lack of a Hispanic candidate for the vacant District 4 seat first was raised last week by the Denver chapter of the forum. Chapter leaders Lisa Calderón and Rudy Gonzales sent an open letter to Seawell criticizing the list of nine. Calderon said Tuesday she hadn’t yet received a response.

They wrote that the three Latino applicants on the original list of 25 applicants had “extensive backgrounds as educators in early childhood education and/or bi-lingual education, and had advanced graduate degrees including one Ph.D.”

Jimenez and Kaplan sent an email to other board members on Monday, writing, “community members are asking that the process be extended so there can be serious consideration given to Latino candidates, including interviews with the board of education like those held last Thursday for the other nine candidates.

“We are writing to let you know we support the Colorado Latino Forum’s desire to include Latino candidates in the selection of the representative from District 4. We are asking that we meet expeditiously to see how this can best happen.”

The board originally set Jan. 25 as the application deadline for District 4 residents interested in the seat but later delayed that until Feb. 5. Any interested person who was a registered voter in the district for 12 months could apply. (The residency requirements are set by state law.)

A community forum featuring the nine candidates currently is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 20, at Smiley Middle School, 2540 Holly St.

Under state law the position must be filled within 60 days of Easley’s resignation, which was officially accepted Jan. 18. If the board can’t agree on a replacement, Seawell has the power to name a new member. She has said she’ll pick that person from among the nine finalists. Whoever is selected will have to run in next November’s election if they want to serve a full term.