Proposed revival of DPS-city collaboration group is moving forward at City Council but not without concerns from the school district

DPS officials are worried this revival of the committee could result in the city overstepping its authority.
5 min. read
At-large City Council member Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez at the legislative body’s weekly meeting. Oct. 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Back in the late 1930s, the City-School Coordinating Committee was created and placed into the city charter. It was a committee meant to bridge the gap between city officials and Denver Public Schools. Both entities are separate governing bodies, so the ordinance sought to create a space for communication and collaboration.

That ordinance was last revised in the 1950s, and the last time such a group convened was around 2011.

Now, Councilmembers Amanda Sandoval and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez are trying to change that by proposing an ordinance seeking to revise and revive the committee.

Their first legal step was getting the ordinance passed through the Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee on Wednesday.

However, DPS officials are worried that the ordinance's revival is more of an overstep than a collaborative effort.

Gonzales-Gutierrez and Sandoval have proposed several updates to the prior ordinance. For starters, the committee would go from 14 members who served three-year terms to nine members who serve two-year terms.

The mayor, DPS superintendent and director of the city's Office of Children's Affairs could all serve or appoint someone to represent their offices.  The rest of the committee would be two city council members, two DPS board members and two community members, one chosen by council and the other by DPS. Out of that pool, there'd be two chosen co-chairs who would set the schedule and have the ability to cancel any meetings if needed.

From there the group will meet every two months instead of quarterly where they will "have discussions and share information" as opposed to making recommendations.

Gonzales-Gutierrez and Sandoval, in address two of DPS' major concerns, said repeatedly that the committee would not be creating policies and that attendance wasn't mandatory.

A Denver Public Schools board members Carrie Olson (left to right), Scott Baldermann and President Xóchitl Gaytán in a meeting at district headquarters downtown. June 15, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

While the board has worked together to address issues like school safety and campus closures and consolidations, as well as taken actions like the reopening of Montbello High School, the public perception that the board can't get along has led to distrust and raised questions about its functionality. One vocal group has called on the entire board to resign.

Mayor Mike Johnston, who supports the ordinance to revive the DPS-city committee, called the board "a public embarrassment" at one point during his campaign, according to Chalkbeat and former Former Mayor Michael Hancock accused the board of both "immaturity" and "dysfunction."

When the ordinance was announced last week, DPS and board members took issue with the timeline of the ordinance and the communication surrounding the ordinance.

Deep Singh Badhesha, the government political liaison for DPS, told Chalkbeat that the councilmembers did not co-create the ordinance with DPS but instead "said, 'Here's my ordinance. You can agree with it or not.'"

During the safety committee's public comment section, Badhesha acknowledged that DPS and the councilmembers were working together on the ordinance, but there was still strong concern from the school district.

He said DPS asked that the ordinance be delayed so it could work out any issues, but the request was "denied." He added that many agreed upon changes have been made but there were two major points of concern. One being the distribution of power within the proposed group: the city having five members and DPS having four.

A Denver Public Schools board members Michelle Quattlebaum (left to right), Scott Esserman, Charmaine Lindsay and Superintendent Alex Marrero in a meeting at district headquarters downtown. June 15, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Sandoval said the make-up of the committee can be changed in the future but the number should remain odd. She added that there was no real power distribution because the committee would not be making decisions.

When asked to clarify Badhesha's concerns regarding communication efforts, Gonzales-Gutierrez pointed back to the three presentation slides that detailed communication efforts between herself, Sandoval, DPS and board members.

She added that "this is not the only time that changes can be made. This is not the end all be all of the language in here. There's still, of course, more opportunity for collaboration and working on what that language and outcome can look like."

Councilmember Shontel Lewis and Sarah Parady both asked whether a delay could be placed on the ordinance.

Sandoval agreed and committed to moving the final reading of the ordinance. However, she added that the "co-creation" process hasn't been simple and that she's never felt such resistance from another group.

"This has not been easy for a committee that does not have any standing," Sandoval said. "I have shown grace. I have not been combative. I have over communicated on this. So to everyone's point we need to be met with that same type of authenticity."

District 1 City Council member Amanda Sandoval at the legislative body's weekly meeting. Oct. 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Ordinances are given two reading dates. The final reading for this ordinance, based on when it was brought to committee, would have been on Nov. 6, the day council votes on the budget. It's also one day before the Nov. 7 election, when three school board seats will be decided.

Sandoval committed to moving the final reading date to Nov. 13.

"I've seen directly the benefits of having multi agencies come together and in this particular bill and policy, it is about multi government agencies coming together," Gonzales-Gutierrez said. "It is purely about our community and what are we doing to benefit our community."

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