Hispanics backed for DPS

Montero's challenger gets support

The powerful Denver teachers union said Tuesday that it is supporting two Hispanics running for the Denver school board – one of them a challenger to incumbent board member Rita Montero.

Candidates James Mejia and the Rev. Lucia Guzman have the union’s backing, said Becky Wissink, vice president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Guzman is challenging Montero, who is now the lone Hispanic on the board but who has alienated some Hispanic activists with her stance on bilingual

The candidates were judged in a variety of areas, Wissink said, including their knowledge of educational issues and their views on the new teachers’ contract.

The recommendation by the DCTA carries positives and negatives, said political analyst Eric Sondermann.

The union has clout: Almost 3,000 of the district’s 4,300 teachers are members of the group. But it’s also a somewhat renegade union, Sondermann said, and at times out of touch with its constituents.

Regardless, the endorsement is a win for some local Hispanic organizations, who have been pushing Mejia and Guzman as champions for change in DPS, where almost 50 percent of the district’s 70,000 students are Hispanic.

‘The Hispanic community has been energized about this school board election, and now their candidates are getting the blessings and the curse of the DCTA endorsement,’ Sondermann said. ‘I do think the (recommendations) will have political consequences.’

Guzman is in a heated battle with incumbent Montero to represent District 5, which encompasses northwest Denver and central portions of the city.

Guzman said the recommendation by the teachers union is a signal that many are unhappy with the status quo.

‘Rita has had four years on the board, and a major group like the DCTA lends its support and recommendation to an opponent of an incumbent,’ said Guzman, who owns a coffee house in northwest Denver. ‘I think that means there’s a strong sense they’re not happy with the representation.’

Montero, the lone Hispanic on the school board, said she was surprised that the DCTA picked Guzman instead of her and that the decision must have been based on Montero’s support for the district’s new merit-pay plan, which links teacher compensation to student performance.

It is Guzman who is out of touch, Montero added.

‘She has no experience, either personal or professional, in public education,’ Montero said. ‘Lucia is being promoted by a handful of interest groups who do not represent the larger population of the district.’

Mejia, outgoing executive director of the Denver Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations, welcomed the endorsement.

He is running against Jennie Rucker and Antoinette Alire for one of two at-large seats on the board.

‘I showed good faith in wanting to work with them, and now they are showing good faith in that they believe in my candidacy,’ Mejia said.

The DCTA sent questionnaires out to each of the 12 candidates for school board. Those who returned them were asked back for interviews.

Montero said because of a school-related meeting, she asked the union to reschedule her interview. But they declined to accommodate her, Montero said.

The teachers union recommended that current school board President Sue Edwards be re-elected, but didn’t recommend any of the six candidates for the second at-large seat.

‘There were no clear-cut choices,’ Wissink said.

That race includes incumbent Les Woodward, appointed to the position earlier this year, Kasey Miller-Leyda, Rosario C. de Baca, Leo Smith, John Luoma and Alice Langley.

The teachers union joins several other organizations in announcing recommendations for school board, including the Coalition for Community Involvement in Education, which includes the DCTA; the Latino Coalition for Education; and the Denver Area Labor Federation.

Carlos Illescas’ e-mail address is cillescas@denverpost.com

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