Denver Direct: Mayor manages city, not schools

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mayor manages city, not schools

Commentary by Dave Felice and Cathy Donohue

All the Denver mayoral candidates publicly promise, again and again, to fix or improve Denver public schools. This is a cruel deception. Even with the excessive and unusually strong powers given to the Mayor of Denver, no mayor has any powers whatsoever to control or manage the public schools.

The outlandish pledges of the candidates to improve Denver schools are a ruse to deflect attention from the real issues that the mayor does have the power to correct. Where are the promises necessary to solve the City’s governmental problems?

In Colorado, schools are governed and operated by independently-elected school boards. Fifty percent of property taxes are designated by state law to be used to operate schools. Denver is unlike New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where the mayor appoints the commissioners of public schools.

For all his arrogant political maneuvering, John Hickenlooper was less than successful as mayor in attempting to control Denver Public Schools (DPS). Hickenlooper was instrumental in seeing that now-Senator Michael Bennet was appointed as Superintendent of DPS; after Bennet faithfully served as Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff.

Today, everyone running for the office of mayor faithfully promises to “fix” our schools. Why didn’t Bennet fix our public schools while he was the superintendent?

Now, the School Board has a new superintendent, Tom Boasberg, and schools are in no perceptively better shape than when Mayor Hickenlooper vowed to improve public education.

It is time for candidates for mayor to address city government issues, not issues of another group of elected officials. Trying to manage Denver schools would be akin to having the mayor attempt to manage the Regional Transportation District (RTD), another separately elected entity with independent taxing authority.

The powerful mayor of Denver has an inordinate amount of duties. It is time the candidates tell the voters how they will improve and “fix” Denver city government; not something over which they have absolutely no control.

Certainly, the Mayor of Denver should have the best possible working relationship with the School Board, but he has no power to tell the board what to do. Only the electorate has that power. The mayor is also free to make suggestions at any time, and the School Board is free to ignore the mayor altogether.

The order of business for the mayor is to make our city a good place to build businesses, to keep the neighborhoods safe, the streets swept, to nurture parks and keep them free and open, and see that the Police Department properly keeps the peace.

All voters in Denver should demand that candidates for city offices stop making false promises. It is difficult to imagine how we got so far away from the real subjects that should be discussed by the candidates. The school improvement promises are an insult to the electorate.

The mayoral candidates all seem to think they have magical powers that do not exist.