The school board member who represents northwest Denver has endorsed an engineer and longtime parent volunteer with experience serving on district committees to replace her this fall in an election that will help determine the direction of Colorado’s largest district.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, board member Lisa Flores, who is not running for re-election, said she is backing candidate Tony Curcio in November’s school board election. 

“I had a lot of personal reasons for not running, but one of the things that made my decision easier was knowing Tony was considering running for the seat,” Flores said.

Curcio previously ran for school board in 2007, finishing second in a four-way race. For more than a decade and a half, the father of three has volunteered to help redesign struggling schools in his neighborhood and serve on districtwide committees, including one that monitors how Denver Public Schools spends revenue from a tax increase approved by voters in 2016. 

Curcio said he decided to run again because while the 93,000-student district has made a lot of progress in recent years, “we’re not there yet.” Although he agrees with the ambitious third-grade reading and high school graduation goals set by previous school boards, he said it’s time to reevaluate the tactics the district is using to get there.

“We need to have a board that truly embraces the commitment we’ve made to our kids,” he said. “It’s time to pick up the baton and keep running with those values.”

Curcio is one of three candidates vying for the northwest seat, which represents a diverse set of neighborhoods, from working-class Globeville and Elyria-Swansea to gentrifying Highland and Sloan’s Lake. He faces former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and Methodist pastor Brad Laurvick, though the field could grow before the Aug. 30 candidate deadline.

Flores said she is familiar with all three candidates but felt Curcio was best prepared to represent northwest Denver. Last month, she donated $500 to his campaign.

In a joint interview at Curcio’s kitchen table, Flores, who is the board treasurer, cited Curcio’s experience on a committee that recommended ways for the district to spend voter-approved funds, including to repair existing schools and build new ones. 

That type of budgetary and facilities management knowledge is needed to round out a board that already includes several former teachers and community organizers, she said.

“Tony has some of the operational expertise that is needed at this time to help balance the skill set that is currently on the board,” Flores said.

Flores has been part of a board that largely supported so-called education reform efforts such as closing struggling schools and replicating high-performing ones, including charter schools. Flores herself said she doesn’t identify with one political camp or another — and Curcio said he doesn’t either, though some district critics have already labeled him the “reformer” in the race.

“I don’t understand the idea of ‘reform’ as a label if the commitment as a community, at the end of the day, is making sure every kid has an opportunity for a great education,” Curcio said.

One of the biggest issues facing northwest Denver is declining student population. The number of underenrolled schools is expected to grow in the coming years, which could lead to difficult conversations about whether to close or consolidate small schools. 

Demographers have pointed to declining birth rates and rising housing prices as the reasons for the decline. But some community members have placed blame on the proliferation of independently run charter schools they say siphon students from district-run schools. 

Flores said she expects Curcio to take a “fair-minded” approach to this and other challenges.

“Sometimes adult politics get thrown into the mix and people want to make it a conversation about choice or charters,” Flores said. “It’s good to have a leader like Tony who is not jumping to conclusions and is not simply listening to the loudest voice, but someone who is very mindful and intentional in seeking out input from all segments of the community.”

In addition to the northwest Denver seat, two other seats on the seven-member board are up for grabs in November. The board members who hold them, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes, are barred by term limits from running again. They have not yet endorsed candidates for their seats.