Denver School Board District 5 Candidate Julie Banuelos
Julie Banuelos didn’t win an at-large seat when she ran two years ago, but that loss didn’t deter her, setting her sights on the District 5 seat in North Denver where she taught for 11 years. As a teacher for a total of 16 years with the district, she worked primarily with English language learners, and she feels her experience as a teacher makes her uniquely qualified to serve on the school board.
“We’ve always had candidates come to our community and ask for our vote and promise us all these things they’re going to do on our behalf, but it’s never been the case — it hasn’t happened,” Banuelos said. “I’m more radical instead of moderately always siding with the status quo.”
Banuelos doesn’t hold back with her criticisms of DPS, including the district’s failure to meet the 2012 consent decree and the district spending $168 million on what she considers bad financial deals and “predatory loans” in 2008 going back to (now) Senator Michael Bennet’s time as superintendent of Denver Public Schools. The consent decree was a 2012 order from a federal judge that requires DPS to offer more English language classes for students with low language test scores (as well as essential information for families in their native languages), which a 2016 analysis showed the district was still not meeting, especially in charter schools.
She’s also skeptical of the education reform movement in Denver, saying “It’s created more manufactured segregation. It’s become a very expensive program,” saying that school choice sounds wonderful but doesn’t work in practice.
She is, however, more optimistic about the direction current Superintendent Susana Cordova is taking the district. “She’s definitely more involved in the community… she’s starting off on a more positive note than what we had before,” saying that former superintendents were controlling and didn’t have organic conversations with teachers.
Banuelos is concerned that the district’s budget reflects a city of haves and have-nots, noting that 57 of the schools without cooling systems are in less affluent neighborhoods, while only three without cooling systems are in higher income areas. She also wants to change what she sees as a discrepancy where charters and some other schools don’t have to publicly share their budgets like traditional neighborhood schools do, hoping to increase transparency. (Note: Charters are legally required to post their budgets on their school websites.)
As a former teacher, she wants to ensure teachers have more training before going into the classroom and are paid a living wage, noting that teaching is no longer a middle class profession as teachers can’t afford to live in the city. While she’s not opposed to alternative licensing programs as a whole, she singled out Teach for America (TFA) as a problem specifically. “TFA has brought a lot of teachers that don’t look like the kids. They’re cheaper — they’re replaceable by another group of college students but they don’t stay… you don’t want to have somebody you got off the street and trained in six weeks.” Banuelos said she was a strong supporter of the teachers during the strike, but feels the teachers union leadership has failed the members too often. (Between the time this interview was conducted and this article was published, DCTA held elections that resulted in the former president being replaced by a challenger.)
Regarding the Denver 2020 plan, Banuelos points to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, saying we need more “holistic support” for students: social workers, nurses and other professionals to help make sure students’ basic needs are met. “Are we providing kids with a solid start to the day when they come to school? Are we checking in with them about how they are doing emotionally?” For Banuelos, the answer to these questions is no, or at least not enough.
Banuelos would also like to bring back trade-oriented classes like woodshop and automotive, partnering with more apprenticeship programs, noting that only 35% of DPS students go on to college. She believes it’s more than just policy differences that set her apart from her opponents though: “I resemble the majority of our kids, but I have a shared experience with them. I grew up in poverty. I’m bilingual. I understand how trauma impacts them.” She said she doesn’t believe her opponents have the depth of experience working with the schools and the district that she does and that her heritage is important to consider. “That board should reflect the students who attend DPS.”
Without support from the teachers’ union or ed reform advocates, Banuelos hasn’t raised the same sums as her opponents. She said the bulk of her contributions have come from small dollar donors, including many educators. Public records show her largest donor is Kaitlyn Peterson, a Denver librarian who contributed $600 at her campaign kickoff. The only contribution over $1,000 was an in-kind donation for campaign materials. She points to the endorsements of organizations including the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, elected leaders including freshman Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and other community leaders as a strength of her campaign.
As a former teacher who is not currently working with the district, Banuelos does not believe she has any conflicts with serving on the board, but noted at least one of her opponents’ ties: “Tony [Curcio] isn’t hiding his relationship and his favor with the district,” she said, and noted individuals she thought were former Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) consultants on Laurvick’s donor list.
Banuelos’ campaign manager, Vinne Cervantes, who participated in the interview, noted that Banuelos did well in North Denver during her at-large campaign in 2017 despite a lack of funding for that race. Both he and Banuelos said they have a more professional campaign operation this time around, including bringing onboard Cervantes who was involved in Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, Douglas County School Board races and others.
You can read more about Julie Banuelos at JulieforDPS.com.