By Cassis Tingley
UPDATE NOV. 16: City Council passed the bill reviving the City-School Coordinating Committee at its Nov. 13 meeting. It was amended to allow the superintendent of DPS to appoint a resident who is a DPS administrator to the city-school coordinating committee. The Mayor signed the bill into law on Nov. 16.
Since City Council members Amanda Sandoval and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez proposed the revival of Denver’s City-School committee in late August, the City Council and the board of Denver Public Schools have been at odds. Complete with a “propped up” press conference, lawyers and comparisons to “Pandora’s box,” Sandoval’s and Gonzales-Gutierrez’s hopes to update the historic committee have turned into something of a saga.
“It’s been really eye-opening, to be honest,” said Sandoval, who is also president pro tempore of the council. “There’s been pushback from Denver Public Schools of wanting to re-establish this committee for a reason that I just don’t understand.”
The bill in question would revive an existing ordinance mandating a City-School Coordinating Committee which, originally written in the 1930s, was decommissioned in 2011. According to a committee and public comment meeting on Oct. 18, the committee would serve as an avenue for the city of Denver and DPS to communicate and collaborate to address the effects of Denver’s housing crisis, the ongoing “gun violence epidemic,” the influx of Venezuelan refugees and other dynamic issues facing both the city and DPS.
DPS School Board President Xochitl Gaytan said she began discussing a forum for DPS-city communication last year with City Council President Jaimie Torres after a shooting at East High School injured two administrators.
“For me, it’s about, ‘How can we speed up the avenues of communication so that the information is being sent and received in a timely manner and we can determine what resources or funding need to be allocated?’,” Gaytan said.
Communication lapsed during the mayoral election and didn’t pick up again until Sandoval emailed Gaytan and the other DPS board members the proposal for the new coordinating committee in August. In her email, Sandoval requested that the DPS board and Superintendent Alex Marrero provide edits for the proposal.
To Gaytan, this was not a collaboration.
“It was brought upon us through an email by City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval saying, ‘Here’s the updated draft of this old ordinance, here’s how we’re gonna do it, give us some feedback,’ and that was it,” Gaytan said. “There was no real … back and forth.”
Superintendent Alex Marrero’s office declined to comment for this story.
Now in its seventh round of edits, the proposed committee would have nine members and would meet once every two months. The committee would have two administrative city representatives, the mayor and the director of the Office of Children’s Affairs; three legislative city representatives, comprised of two City Council members and one Denver resident appointed by the City Council president; and four DPS representatives, including two DPS board members, the superintendent and one Denver resident who is also a DPS educator or principal and would be appointed by the superintendent.
While the proposed committee would use bylaws “as rules of procedure,” Sandoval and Gonzales-Gutierrez insisted that these bylaws would not give the committee policy-setting power.
“It doesn’t supplant power or decision-making of any of the authorities, whether it’s the mayor, the school board, the council or any of the departments,” Sandoval said. “I’m not interested in doing the jobs of Denver Public Schools.”
“That’s what they’re saying now,” Gaytan responded. “That’s not what was being said before.”
Sandoval and Gonzales-Gutierrez took the proposal to committee on Oct. 18. Former educators, DPS parents and DPS board members voiced support for the proposal and brought up concerns over collaboration, bylaws and the composition of the committee during public comment.
Speaking on behalf of DPS, DPS Government Political Liaison Deep Singh Badhesha requested that another DPS representative be added to the committee to give both the city and DPS five committee seats. He also requested that committee bylaws be waived.
“We believe there is no need to create formal bylaws of the committee as the purpose of the committee is simply to study, discuss and collaborate,” Badhesha said.
Several DPS parents voiced their support for and expectations of collaboration between DPS and the city, citing issues of gun safety and the COVID-19 pandemic as remaining unaddressed.
“For our own kids, and honestly all of our young folks, we need to work together to have regular communication between the city, our school district and legislation that takes their experience into account,” said Katie Terrazas-Hoover, parent of two DPS children and former DPS employee.
“We pay the same tax bill, so to us, there’s no division between city council and the school district,” said Steve Katsaros, DPS parent and a founder of Parent Safety Advocacy Group. “However this mess was created, we don’t care. However it gets sorted out, we’ll be watching.”
While Denver City Council members expressed overwhelming support for the committee, Councilwoman Shontel Lewis and Councilwoman At-Large Sarah Parady raised concerns about co-creation versus collaboration between DPS and the city, as well as the proposal’s quick timeline. The council agreed unanimously to pass the proposal out of committee. At the request of Parady, the proposal will go to a final vote no earlier than Nov. 13.