Denver college board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson is dropping his re-election bid and can run as a substitute for a seat within the Colorado Home of Representatives.
The 24-year-old is essentially the most high-profile member of the Denver college board, and his exit from the race will imply a change in the dynamics of the board, which has been criticized for infighting, together with between Anderson and President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán.
“The Anderson period of the college board has been consequential and we’ve made loads of progress,” Anderson mentioned in an interview. “However it’s additionally a chance to return to being boring. You received’t have a lightning rod of 1 individual of seven being outspoken on the college board.”
Anderson was elected in 2019 to an at-large seat representing your complete metropolis as a part of a historic “flip” of the college board to members backed by the lecturers union. His four-year time period ends in November. Anderson had introduced greater than six months in the past that he was working for re-election to the board. Two different candidates — Kwame Spearman and Paul Ballenger — introduced this spring that they might problem him for the seat.
However on Monday, Anderson mentioned he plans as a substitute to run for the Home District 8 seat representing northeast Denver in 2024. The seat is held by state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Democrat who’s barred from working once more as a result of time period limits. 4 different candidates have already filed to run for the seat, in response to the secretary of state’s workplace database.
Different politicians have concurrently served within the state legislature and on native college boards, together with in Denver, however Anderson mentioned the timing of the races would have made that troublesome.
Within the wake of a taking pictures inside East Excessive Faculty in March, Anderson mentioned he started desirous about the restrictions of the college board to make broad political adjustments. As an example, Anderson mentioned the college board can’t enact gun management measures, whereas state lawmakers can. He recalled a dialog he mentioned he had with a Black mom and scholar.
“The coed mentioned, ‘You’re telling us every thing you possibly can’t do. What are you going to do about it?’” Anderson mentioned. That dialog helped push him to run for the legislature, he mentioned, the place he hopes to advocate for gun security, lease management, and reproductive rights, amongst different points.
In a marketing campaign video, Anderson mentioned he achieved every thing he got down to do on the college board, a declare he repeated in an interview. Within the video, he listed reunifying Montbello and West excessive colleges — two colleges in communities of shade that the district beforehand closed for low scholar check scores. West Excessive reopened in 2021, and Montbello Excessive reopened final yr.
Anderson talked about elevating the minimal wage for district workers to $20 an hour, stocking college loos with free menstrual hygiene merchandise, and passing insurance policies inclusive of LGBTQIA college students, similar to mandating all-gender restrooms — all of which he championed.
“I’m strolling away with my head held excessive,” Anderson mentioned in an interview. “Even when I’m by no means elected to a different seat in authorities once more, I’m strolling away having no regrets.”
Anderson additionally helped lead the push in 2020 to take away law enforcement officials from Denver colleges following the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis. However the way forward for that coverage is unsure. The board voted to briefly droop it after the East taking pictures, and some board members now need to convey college useful resource officers again extra completely.
Board members Michelle Quattlebaum and Scott Esserman have joined Anderson in publicly opposing the return of SROs. Anderson mentioned he’s assured that Quattlebaum, Esserman, and others will “hold that work going” after he leaves the board.
A ballot taken in April earlier than different candidates had declared discovered simply 9% of respondents mentioned they deliberate to vote to re-elect Anderson and greater than half mentioned it was “time for somebody new.” A 3rd of respondents had been undecided.
Anderson’s time on the college board has been controversial. In 2021, his fellow board members censured him for violating expectations of board member habits.
The censure got here after a five-month investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations, essentially the most severe of which weren’t substantiated. However investigators did discover that Anderson had flirtatious contact with a scholar whereas he was a board member and made social media posts that had been coercive and intimidating towards witnesses in the course of the investigation.
“Management at all times comes with bumps, and folks make errors,” Anderson mentioned. “However it’s about how we be taught from these errors and hold transferring the mantle ahead.”
This would be the third time Anderson has run for workplace. A graduate of Denver’s Guide Excessive Faculty, Anderson first ran for college board in 2017 when he was simply a young person. Although he misplaced that race, he ran once more two years later and received.
In asserting his now-canceled re-election bid final November, Anderson mentioned he’d thought of working for a seat on the Denver Metropolis Council however modified his thoughts after the board’s debate final fall on whether or not to shut colleges with low enrollment.
However 4 months later, in March, the board got here again and voted to shut three of the ten colleges. Anderson voted to shut Math and Science Management Academy and Denver Discovery Faculty, nevertheless, he solid the only vote towards closing Fairview Elementary, the place enrollment projections had been in dispute.
Declining enrollment and faculty closures will likely be among the many points the following college board might want to deal with, and Anderson left open the likelihood that he may run for the board once more sometime. However he additionally mentioned that this coming election, when three of the seven seats are up for grabs, “is a chance for us to hit a very good restart.”
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, protecting Denver Public Colleges. Contact Melanie at email@example.com.