Nothing Funny About DPS Failure To Appoint Board Member
When Landri Taylor resigned from the Denver Public Schools Board on Feb. 16 to spend more time with his family, the remaining board was required to appoint a replacement within 60 days.
What followed was a chain of events that culminated in the announcement that MiDian Holmes would be appointed to fill the seat – only to withdraw two days later after past convictions of child abuse and inaccurate claims of a college degree came to public view. The entire episode left many astonished at the failure by the school district to properly vet their top pick of 20 candidates.
In a hastily arranged press conference on April 18, DPS President Anne Rowe, announced the board would not vote to appoint Holmes after all. Rather, Rowe indicated she would appoint a new District 4 representative, as is legally allowed.
Insisting the process had been “extremely transparent,” Rowe acknowledged the failed appointment of Holmes to the board. “We didn’t have all the information,” Rowe said.
The first 55 days
In February, Nancy Mitchell, chief communications officer for DPS, announced the search for a replacement in District 4. The district is the largest in DPS, extending from Green Valley Ranch and Montbello through Stapleton, Park Hill and extending to the Cole and Whittier neighborhoods. It includes all of Park Hill north of Montview Boulevard.
However, Mitchell mistakenly described the district as limited to the “far northeast.”
After Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. pointed out the mistake to DPS, it was corrected on DPS communications.
On April 12, the board announced Holmes, a Montbello resident, would serve out Taylor’s term. She was their top pick of 20 people who applied. This was no surprise to many, as Holmes has been a long time advocate of the Board’s reform agenda. She has, among other positions, vocally endorsed school turnarounds in northeast Denver that resulted in a number of neighborhood schools, including Montbello High School, being shuttered and replaced by charters.
When Holmes was appointed, board member Mike Johnson was quoted in the online education news outlet Chalkbeat, saying, “I feel like she’s almost a board member already, she’s been so involved in the district for so long.”
Indeed, Holmes had been a vocal advocate of DPS reforms as the Denver chapter chair of Stand for Children, which was formed in the 1990s in Oregon as a grassroots organization that advocated for children.
By the time it reached Colorado, Stand was a full-blown education reform political machine. Indeed, since 2011, Stand has poured more than $72,000 in direct and in-kind contributions into the campaigns of DPS board candidates who advocate for education reform. Stand also pushed for Senate Bill 191, which ties teacher evaluations to student outcomes on standardized tests.
Regarding Denver turnarounds, Stand claims its role and stance on its website. “We built community demand to turn around six of the state’s lowest performing schools in far northeast Denver and continue to organize parents to closely monitor the implementation of the turnaround plans.”
Holmes’ vocal involvement with Stand and as a parent led to more appointments within DPS. She was on the DPS District Accountability Committee and was a member of the Bond/Mill Levy Committee. She has also been a parent representative on the academic review team for DPS Community Engagement.
Additionally, Holmes was tapped by Gov. John Hickenlooper to be on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness.
Holmes was also featured in the Rocky Mountain PBS four-part series Standing in the Gap, which describes the pro-reform education movement that has taken place in Denver over the last 10 years in undeniably positive terms.
Who embarrassed whom?
On April 8, board member Rosemary Rodriguez asked the finalists for the position to “notify the board liaison of anything in their background that might embarrass the board if they were to be appointed.”
Less than 24 hours after the appointment was announced on April 12, Fox 31 broke the news that Holmes had possibly misrepresented herself in her application to the position by claiming she had no prior arrests. Fox 31 also stated Holmes had not graduated from the University of Denver, as DPS claimed.
That same night DPS President Rowe jumped to Holmes defense.
“At the end of the day, we felt that MiDian, overall, was the best qualified applicant to represent District 4,” Rowe told 9News in a televised interview. Rowe also stated that Holmes had been upfront with the Board about a prior 2005 arrest for child neglect, a case involving Holmes’ two-year old wandering away from home.
That same news report, however, revealed more than one arrest. When asked about the second, Rowe looked like a deer in the headlights. Noting she could not speak to a second arrest – this one in 2006 – the board president reiterated she was comfortable with the decision the school board had made.
Simultaneously, Mitchell issued a press release claiming Holmes had indeed informed the board of her prior conviction, and took responsibility for misrepresenting Holmes’ college credentials. Mitchell wrote, “[Holmes] also did not represent on her resume that she graduated from the University of Denver; she simply indicated she had attended the school. The press release from the DPS Office of Communications incorrectly stated she was a DU graduate.”
But had Mitchell and other DPS staff dug just a bit, they would have quickly found what we did. On April 13, Holmes’ listed having an “Associate’s Degree” from DU on her professional LinkedIn page. By the next morning, that claim was gone.
On April 14, the slow moving train crashed, when reports revealed Holmes had been convicted of a more serious misdemeanor involving leaving her three young children alone while she was at work. The board retreated to consult with its legal team. Holmes issued a new statement, saying she would not accept the position after all.
What went wrong?
By not disclosing all her convictions, Holmes put the board in an awkward position and revealed a level of naïveté incongruent with this level of political appointment. But the board and staff dug the hole even deeper by not properly vetting their candidate, especially after learning of the first conviction.
So what went wrong? Too many things!
In its application form for the position, DPS asked if the applicant had ever been convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. Because there is no “Class A” misdemeanor in Colorado, this left the door wide open for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor to simply answer “no.” DPS has a legal team. How did this not catch anyone’s eye?
The same application clearly stated, “Potential applicants will be subject to a criminal background check.” Was this done? And if so, was it thorough?
If board members knew anything about Holmes background before her appointment, they had a responsibility to properly inform the media and Denver’s residents to avoid the circus that ensued. Given that the candidate would probably run for election to a full four-year term in 2017, they had to expect that Denver media would be looking into any candidate’s background.
Before jumping to anyone’s defense, DPS staff and the board have a responsibility to fully research the issue, a responsibility they did not take seriously on April 13.
It is expected that a potential candidate may turn down an offer for a multitude of reasons. Where was the board’s contingency plan should the chosen candidate decide not to accept the position?
What occurred was a true comedy of errors, with each new revelation pointing to new mishaps.
But no one is laughing, especially District 4 residents, who deserve a fully vetted board member who is qualified and not appointed for his or her connections to reform-minded politicians.
This is not the first time we have not been able to vote for our board representative. In 2013, then DPS President Mary Seawell appointed Landri Taylor to the position after Nate Easley resigned. Any appointed board member then runs as an incumbent and has an advantage in the election process, just as Holmes would have had, should her appointment have been smooth.
By the time Rowe appoints the new District 4 board member, this story may already be in print. We hope she makes a judicious choice, one that is governed by professionalism, honesty, and for the benefit of the students, teachers, parents and residents of District 4.
Lynn Kalinauskas is the Education Chair for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.