Guzman wins District 5 school board seat

Woodward, Mejia also win as DPS gets 2 Hispanic board members

Lucia Guzman routed incumbent Rita Montero in the hotly contested race for the District 5 school board seat, despite predictions the race would be a close one.

According to unofficial final returns from the Denver Elections Commission, Guzman easily outdistanced Montero for the seat, which encompasses northwest and parts of central Denver.

‘I’m just ecstatic and elated,’ Guzman said. ‘I felt like it would be very much tighter.’

Incumbent Les Woodward eked out a victory over Alice Langley for the two-year, at-large seat on the school board, a race that featured six candidates. James Mejia breezed by his two challengers for the four-year, at-large seat. School board President Sue Edwards ran unopposed.

Guzman’s election to office marks a new era in Denver Public Schools. For the first time in history, there will be two Hispanics on the seven-member school board. Almost 50 percent of the district’s 70,000 students are Hispanic.

The most heated battle was between Montero and Guzman. During the campaign, each took numerous shots at each other. Montero, who was elected to the school board four years ago, criticized Guzman, saying she lacked educational experience.

But Guzman countered that Montero had not represented the wishes of the community. ‘This election really gives us a clear statement regarding what the people wanted,’ Guzman said.

Montero was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

The hot-button issue in the District 5 race had been the kind of program that will be installed at a new elementary school to open next year in the 3300 block of Zuni Street.

Guzman, 54, supported the dual-language Montessori school that community members have pushed for. In that school model, lessons would be half in Spanish and half in English. Under the Montessori philosophy, students are required to enter at the preschool level, and teachers follow children from grade to grade.

Montero, 48, proposed a more traditional school.

Guzman, former executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, won endorsements from the Denver Area Labor Federation, the Denver teachers union and the Latino Campaign for Education.

During Montero’s four years on the board, she helped implement the district’s new bilingual-education program, which moves most students out of Spanish classes within three years. But that plan drew criticism from a number of Hispanic activists, and some Hispanic parents questioned Montero’s commitment to them.

Mejia, 32, easily won over challengers Jennie Rucker and Antoinette Alire.

Mejia, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, won several major endorsements during his campaign, including one from Mayor Wellington Webb and another from the Denver Area Labor Federation.

A product of DPS, Mejia said he will be a conduit between the city and the school district, although the relationship between the two sides has been rocky at times.

‘I’m just honored to be able to be part of the system that did so much for me and had such a bearing on the direction of my life,’ Mejia said. ‘I will do everything I can so that all kids throughout Denver have the same opportunities that I had.’

Five people were challenging Woodward for the two-year, at-large seat on the board.

‘It was a squeaker,’ said Woodward, 65, who was appointed in January and was seeking his first full term.

Also, a measure to free the school district from restrictions imposed by the state constitution was victorious Tuesday. The so-called TABOR amendment limits how much money government agencies can collect and spend. The DPS measure will let the district keep about $ 700,000 this year and additional money in the future.

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