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Denver Public Schools board president fears leadership takeover by two board members

Xóchitl Gaytán
Posted at 4:49 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 19:26:21-04

DENVER — Denver Public Schools Board of Education president Xóchitl Gaytán is speaking out against two fellow board members who she says verbally attacked her and may be planning to strip her of presidential powers and responsibilities during a Thursday meeting.

“As people in our DPS community in the public watch Denver school board meetings, they will see a division among board members. You see attacks being thrown at certain board members, including myself as being the only Latina,” Gaytán said. “Of course, we're going to have disagreements, we're going to have discourse, but unfortunately, it is leading now to personal attacks that I find very unprofessional.”

Gaytán, who has served as school president for the past seven months, says DPS Board of Education vice president Tay Anderson and DPS Board of Education treasurer Scott Esserman are responsible for the attacks.

“I, myself, was raised as an immigrant Latina, and I come with that experience. When I try to voice that, I get interrupted, I get disparaged. My character is maligned,” Gaytán said. “They tell me that as president, I have failed, telling me that, as president, my interpretation of our policy, governance policies is garbage. That is very painful and hurtful and damaging, and I will no longer take that behavior.”

Gaytán says after a contentious process of filling a seat on the school board, Anderson and Esserman’s behaviors escalated. Gaytán cited incidents that took place during the May 19 and June 8 school board meetings, in which Gaytán says both Anderson and Esserman repeatedly interrupted her and displayed aggressive behavior.

“I'm concerned about the retaliatory action that these two men on the board are taking against me,” Gaytán said.

Gaytán fears Anderson and Esserman will begin taking steps to strip her of presidential powers and responsibilities during a public meeting on Thursday, June 16. She says her fears stem from comments Anderson made during a recent interview he did with community organizer Brother Jeff Fard.

Anderson denied the allegations.

“Dr. Lisa Calderon, founder and executive director of Emerge Colorado, made a statement around how Robert's rules of order were being used to potentially silence individuals on our school board. I utilized that opportunity to say it's part of our policy, and if we're going to talk about policy changes, let's talk about how we restructure ourselves as a board. How do we ensure that our board of seven is truly a board of seven and not a board of one?” Anderson said.

During the interview with Brother Jeff Fard, Anderson said he would like a Black woman to become president of the board, but Anderson denied any plans to strip Gaytán of power.

I think that in every healthy space, we are entitled to have those disagreements to ensure that we can continue a productive environment that really needs to be centered back around children,” Anderson said. “There is nothing on our June 16 board agenda that currently indicates any sort of conversation around readjusting board officers, readjusting the roles of a board individual, or even talking about a specific individual, period."

Anderson also responded to Gaytán's concerns surrounding his behavior

"Am I perfect? No, I am not. I look forward to always hearing constructive criticism," he said.

Gaytán has also accused Anderson and Esserman of creating conflicts between board members of color.

“It's really unfortunate that there's two men — one older white male, one younger Black male — who choose to set up the oppression Olympics for us, all of us to participate in, and I refuse to participate in the oppression Olympics,” Gaytán said.

Anderson also denied this allegation.

“I walked into this seat as a student, a Black male student, going through various things in our district, and then being elected to the school board as the youngest African American ever elected in DPS history. So, I come to this lens first, always, as a Black man,” Anderson said. “But I will always be empathetic to everyone, and if I am not getting it right, I love and welcome the opportunity for us to have one-to-one conversations, not dueling it out in the press.”

For years, the DPS Board of Education has faced criticism for infighting and the impact it’s had on the board’s productivity and effectiveness.

Both Gaytán and Anderson agreed that the board's focus should always be on the students.

“I'm disappointed that we're not centering our students in these conversations,” Anderson said.

But Gaytán says Anderson’s actions have disrupted the board and, in turn, taken attention away from the students that they serve.