by Roger K, Clendening (reprinted with permission)
The campaign to recall Denver Public Schools (DPS) board president Dr. Nate Easley made significant headway in just a few days after petitions were approved last week, recall committee members told DWN Wednesday. As the petition drive heated up, State Senator Mike Johnson, D-Denver, came under scrutiny and was pointedly questioned for his allegiance to Easley after he expressed disappointment about the Easley recall effort in his Senate District 33 newsletter. Recall campaign committee members this week reported that they’ve collected “nearly 1,000” of the 5,363 valid signatures they need to put the recall measure on the ballot, all within “two or three days” of hard work after getting approval last Wednesday from the city’s elections division.
“We started, earnestly, last Saturday and by this past Monday, we had nearly 1,000 signatures on the petitions,” John McBride, a spokesman for the recall coalition and president of the Northeast Community Congress for Education (NCCE), told DWN in an interview Wednesday afternoon. In addition to NCCE, the recall coalition includes the Black Education Advisory Council (BEAC), and Democrats for Excellent Neighborhood School Education (DeFENSE). The groups, their members, and citizen-taxpayers from across the city are working collaboratively to collect the 5,363 valid signatures they need by the last week in April. If and when Denver elections officials determine enough valid signatures have been submitted, they will arrange to put the recall measure on the ballot, comprised of a yes or no on recalling Nate Easley, and on who shall replace him if the recall succeeds. As the recall effort was making headway, Sen. Johnston, who represents parts of Northeast and Far Northeast Denver, said he is backing Easley and hopes his constituents do the same. In taking that position, Johnston, considered by some an education “expert,” was sticking to his years-long agenda that includes “education reform” as espoused by corporate and foundation backers who financially support charters and privatization of public schools. Johnson, in fact, was among those who called for closing and reconstituting Montbello High School a year before DPS followed Easley’s lead as board president last November, uniting with Theresa Pena, Bruce Hoyt and Mary Seawell – the four of whom comprise a majority seen as consistently favoring education reform via charter schools and privatization – in approving the largest “turnaround” of public schools in Denver’s history, all of them in Easley’s, and Johnston’s, district.
Over three years, DPS will spend $12.6-million (with some of the money expected to come from the Walton Family Foundation, a major financier of charter schools) to close some schools, replace some with charters, and “phase out” and “turnaround” others as part of its proposal to “strengthen schools” and “expand options” in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch.
In Johnston’s newsletter dated January 2011 Vol. 1, Issue 2, in a section entitled “Moving Forward in the Far Northeast,” he told constituents: “Over the past year, dedicated community leaders in the far northeast took part in a long and collaborative conversation about the future of schools in Montbello and ultimately supported the decision that we needed dramatic change to give all kids a better chance at success. “No one knew this better than Nate Easley,” he wrote, adding that Easley, a Montbello High School alum who was a “teenage father who earned a PhD and rose to become” DPS board president. Dr. Easley, Johnston wrote, is a “courageous and accessible leader who took seriously his responsibility to do what was best for kids.”
“That is why I was disappointed to hear this week that there is an effort to recall Nate,” Johnston continued, adding that “I will be standing strong to support Nate and hope that you do the same.” He then asserted that “there is too much work to be done on behalf of Denver’s kids to waste time trying to go backwards.”
But Johnston’s support of Easley angered many, according to interviews. In particular, though, it “saddened” Earleen Brown, an education and political activist who, as the former president of the Green Valley Ranch (GVR) Metropolitan District, is deemed a blossoming political powerhouse by many.
“I am saddened and disappointed to read that you are publicly supporting Nate Easley,” wrote Brown in an email she shared with DWN. By doing so, she wrote, “you are obviously and publicly supporting the conflicts of interest that exist as a result of (1) Nate Easley’s position as President of the Denver Public Schools Board of Directors and (2) Nate Easley’s position as Deputy Director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation – at the same time.” “Surely,” she went on, “you have not forgotten (from our meetings and electronic communications) the intense ethical, legal, and financial battles that residents of Green Valley Ranch endured because of similar conflicts of interest that existed when one T.J. Stone served as (1) board member and President of the GVR Metropolitan District Board of Directors as well as (2) board member and President of the Homeowners Association of Green Valley Ranch – at the same time.”
“I was President of the GVR Metropolitan District during the time when the community was devastated by the conflicts of interest imposed upon it by one T.J. Stone,” wrote Brown in providing Johnston with an example that should bring home the point of Easley’s conflict. “I and other community leaders met with you, Michael Hancock (City Council member for the northeast and now a mayoral candidate supportive of the DPS “transformation” in his district) and Angela Williams (now a State Representative covering the district) during those many months of community turmoil. “
“Angela has taken action,” Brown wrote. She has introduced a Bill which “prohibits individuals from serving concurrently on the board of directors for a metropolitan district and HOA within that district. The bill also requires HOA members to abstain from voting on issues where they or their family would benefit financially.”(Emphasis in Brown’s email)
Brown went on to remind Johnston that her property tax statement, the 2010 real estate tax due in 2011, reads: “60% of these taxes are determined by and collected for the Denver Public Schools.” “I am opposed to the current DPS turnaround/closure plans,” she pointed out to Johnston. “I support public, neighborhood schools, and the right of every child to have an opportunity to receive a high quality education.”
She went on to challenge Johnston, wondering whether, in deciding and determining his support of Easley, if he can support Easley’s purported conflict of interest; violation of state open meetings law; violation of open records law; and Easley not being responsive and representative of constituents in his district.
Johnston had not responded to an email or a telephone message by DWN’s deadline.