Denver school board members lashed out Thursday against a ballot initiative that would dismantle bilingual education and also condemned the behavior of parents on one elementary school’s governance committee.
The board voted unanimously to oppose Amendment 31, an initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot that would dismantle bilingual education that includes instruction in an English learner’s native language.
“This is a very dangerous law,” said school board president Elaine Berman.
The two-page resolution opposing the proposed amendment said it would eliminate local control, destroy parental choice, dismantle the district’s dual language Montessori school and create legal and financial hurdles for schools.
“This amendment is poorly drafted,” said superintendent Jerry Wartgow. “It is extremely ambiguous. It will almost certainly result in a legal quagmire that will bog us down in this state for years to come.”
Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley businessman financing the initiative, said the board’s decision was not unexpected.
“We recognize their right to oppose this,” he said. “We think it’s completely misguided given the data and information, but if the people decide to support the initiative, despite their opposition, we trust they will honor and enforce the law.”
Board members also voted to support the suspension of Bromwell Elementary’s school governance committee until the end of the year.
Bromwell’s students have some of the top test scores in the state. But for several years, infighting has plagued the parents and staff who serve on the governance committee.
The suspension is meant to give everyone a chance to cool off and attend training to help them get along.
“If the children behaved on the playground like these adults behaved, we’d be ashamed,” Wartgow said.
Board members also directed the governance committee to make decisions by majority rule. Many Denver school governance committees have been requiring unanimous decisions, even though it’s unclear that they must do so.
At one point during the lengthy debate about the issue, Wartgow got so impatient, he proposed that the Denver school board seize control of the Bromwell committee.
“This whole process has been an embarrassment to Bromwell,” Wartgow said. “It’s been, to me, unconscionable behavior. He said. She said. Who cares?”
Wartgow said the Bromwell situation illustrates why the district is appointing a task force to examine what future, if any, the district’s school governance committees should have.
The committees were written into the teachers’ contract more than 10 years ago as part of former Gov. Roy Romer’s efforts to prevent a strike.
Jeanne Price, a Bromwell parent and school committee member, said some of the Bromwell problems stemmed from staff members who “don’t want to sit at the table with me.”
But she said the issue had grown bigger than that. She supported the temporary suspension, but not the majority rule proposal.
Another parent, Peter Kirsch, supported both board actions.
“We want to put the past behind us,” he said.