Denver School Board District 5 Candidate Tony Curcio
Just over three and one-half percent separated Tony Curcio from Arturo Jimenez, the eventual winner of the district five school board seat in 2007. In that race, Curcio was outspent more than 2-1 and may have been considered an underdog. This campaign, he’s leading in fundraising and has the support of the majority of the DPS board, including outgoing member Lisa Flores who has represented District 5 for the past four years. Outside organizations tied to the ed reform movement have also been spending heavily in support of his bid.
Curcio, who has served on the district’s Collaborative School Committee (CSC), Bond Oversight committee and has had three children in DPS, believes his experience on volunteer boards within the district makes him the best candidate running. “I’ve been super active in education almost as long as I’ve been in North Denver,” noting he moved into the community 21 years ago and quickly became involved in an organization called Northwest Parents for Excellent Schools and served on the collaborative school committees in his children’s schools. Curcio’s oldest child graduated from DPS and he has two others still at DPS schools.
Curcio says the current board is comprised of “amazing people” but notes there isn’t anyone with the expertise in the capital construction and financial side that he brings. “I know what a school revitalization effort looks like,” Curcio said when asked why he’s the best choice.
Curcio believes his experience with different schools is a benefit, highlighting involvement with improvements at Brown International Academy and Remington elementary schools in North Denver. He sees a stark difference between the two, believing that Brown had strong community engagement where Remington did not (Remington has since closed). For Curcio, that parent and community engagement is key to a school’s success.
Heat in schools has been a topic at the start of every school year when classroom temperatures have skyrocketed, and after addressing cooling systems in some buildings, Curcio said there are 57 schools still needing heat mitigation. “There are limits on our bonding capacity and we know that we need new schools. It’s this balance,” noting that different schools needed different improvements. He believes finishing cooling systems is a $200 million project and supports it being part of the next bond in 2020.
He’s also concerned with the handoff of school improvements from private contractors to the district. “I’ve heard a number of stories where we have schools where we’ve spent a lot of money and the system still doesn’t work,” he said. “We need to get what we paid for.”
Regarding whether the district has spent money well, Curcio worries that spending has at times lost focus, believing the question should be “how can we improve how we’re spending the money so that we have better outcome for all kids across the district.” Curcio jokes that he’s a “wonky guy” when it comes to the district’s finances and thinks the district also needs to spend more on ensuring culturally-relevant curriculum and attracting teachers of color in addition to other spending priorities.
Regarding DPS’ strategic plan, Denver Plan 2020, that started under former superintendent (now Senator and presidential candidate) Michael Bennet, Curcio says “we know we’re not there,” noting the achievement gap, but sees “a glimmer of hope” in the district. “We’ve done a great job in terms of [improving the] graduation rate,” but noted he hasn’t looked at the remediation rate recently and wants to see more data on how students fair when they enter college. “We’re telling our kids they are the valedictorian of the school and then we’re sending them to college and having remedial classes all through their freshman year of college. That isn’t the promise we wanted for our kids.” Overall, he believes we are a long way from the goals of the plan.
Curcio believes “we’ve had successes and failures in terms of the ed reform movement across the city,” noting that when he began his involvement, the ed reform movement wasn’t as big. “The promise of charter schools is that they would be an incubator,” he said. “We need better collaboration across the district.” He is glad to see schools adopt policies and programs that have succeeded in other schools, and wants to see more intentional collaboration.
Curcio worries that teachers don’t feel respected, something he sees as different from his run in 2007. “I didn’t know how bad it was,” he said, noting that the district has a lot of work to do in order to rebuild trust between the administration and classroom educators. Curcio, who is the son of two teachers, said he’s glad the district gave teachers a raise after the strike. He points at TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment as two reasons the state doesn’t have the funds to better pay teachers. While school board members can’t directly change either, he does believe TABOR may change, but Gallagher won’t.
While Curcio said he has a mixed view of education reform in the city, reform advocates have heavily supported his race. Five of the seven sitting school board members (Rowe, Cobian, Flores, Haynes, O’Brien), all of whom are considered education reformers, are supporting Curcio. Curcio’s largest donor is Ron Williams, a former oil and gas CEO; Williams donated $10,000 to Curcio’s campaign. Curcio said the donation is not just about ideology, however (Williams has a history of supporting candidates who favor charters and other education reform efforts) — the two worked together on efforts at the National Western Center. Curcio is quick to note that he brought in more contributions from within Denver than at least one of his opponents. A Denver Post article last month analyzed candidate contributions and showed Curcio raised a considerably higher percentage of funds from within the city than Laurvick and slightly more than Banuelos.
Curcio, like his opponents, doesn’t believe he has any conflict on serving, noting that the construction company he works for hasn’t bid on DPS contracts and won’t in the future.
You can read more about Tony Curcio at tonycurciofordenverkids.com.