A new DPS board member resigns from her teaching position to avoid conflict of interest

Carrie Olson has been a teacher in Denver Public Schools for 33 years.
3 min. read
George Washington High School. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat

A Denver teacher recently elected to the school board announced Monday that she is resigning her teaching position to comply with a policy barring employees from serving on the board.

Carrie A. Olson was sworn in Monday evening as the school board representative for central-east Denver.

She was elected Nov. 7 with 54 percent of the vote. Olson, who disagrees with some of Denver Public Schools’ more controversial improvement strategies, defeated incumbent Mike Johnson, who earned 46 percent of the vote.

Olson has been a teacher in Denver Public Schools for 33 years. She currently teaches English language development and social studies at West Leadership Academy, a secondary school in west Denver. Nearly all of the high school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty, and three-quarters are English language learners. Olson is bilingual.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Olson said it had been an emotional day because she’d told her students about her decision to resign her position effective Dec. 31.

She said she made the choice based on informal conversations with district officials and the advice of several attorneys, some of whom reached out to her after the election.

“It became apparent there wasn’t a way around the board policy,” said Olson, who had never run for office before running for a seat on the seven-member board. She said she decided to resign “after lots of soul-searching.”

Olson said she will look for a new job to support herself and her daughter, who is in college. Serving on the Denver school board is not a paid position.

School board president Anne Rowe said she stands by the board’s 1987 policy, which says it would be a conflict of interest for employees to serve on the board.

She said it’s a good policy for the district and for employees elected to the board “so they can serve that office for the kids of Denver to the best of their ability without conflicts of interest.”

However, after Olson and three other board members were sworn in Monday evening, Rowe brought forward a proposal to temporarily suspend the policy through the end of the year so Olson can finish the semester.

“Thinking about our values and putting students first, we want to allow her to finish off the semester with her students that she cares deeply about and we care deeply about,” Rowe said before the swearing-in.

Olson said said she’s grateful for the move to allow her to finish the semester.

“This is difficult for my kids,” she said. “At least we have this time to process through it all.”

The three other board members who were sworn in were incumbent Barbara O’Brien, who represents the city at-large, and newcomers Jennifer Bacon and Angela Cobián, who represent northeast and southwest Denver, respectively.

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