Barbara O'Brien

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Barbara O'Brien
Barbara O'Brien.jpg
Denver Board of Education, At-large
Term ends
November 2017
Years in position 2
Elections and appointments
Last electionNovember 5, 2013
First electedNovember 5, 2013
Term limitsN/A
Prior offices
Lieutenant Governor of Colorado
Bachelor'sUniversity of California-Los Angeles
Master'sColumbia University
Ph.D.Columbia University
Date of birthApril 18, 1950
Place of birthBrawley, CA
ProfessionNon-profit executive
Campaign website
Barbara O'Brien campaign logo
Ballotpedia's school board candidate survey
Barbara O'Brien is an at-large member of the Denver Board of Education in Colorado. She defeated fellow challengers Michael Kiley and Joan Poston on November 5, 2013. O'Brien previously served as Lieutenant Governor to Colorado Governor Bill Ritter from 2007 to 2011.


O'Brien earned her Bachelor's degree in English from the University of California-Los Angeles. She also holds a Master's degree and Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. She began her career as a speechwriter for former Governor Richard Lamm and administrator at the University of Colorado. O'Brien was president of the Colorado Children's Campaign from 1990 to 2006. This organization focused on improving student health throughout the district. O'Brien is currently the president of Get Smart Schools, a non-profit that prepares school administrators hired for low-income schools. She was involved with the Colorado P-20 Education Coordinating Council and the Race to the Top Initiative during her time as Lieutenant Governor.[1]



See also: Denver Public Schools elections (2013)


O'Brien sought election to the board against fellow newcomers Michael Kiley and Joan Poston.


Denver Public Schools, Four-year term, At-large, 2013
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngBarbara O'Brien 59.3% 63,554
     Nonpartisan Michael Kiley 31.2% 33,440
     Nonpartisan Joan Poston 9.4% 10,112
Total Votes 107,106
Source: Denver County Clerk and Recorder, "Final Official Election Results," accessed December 13, 2013


O'Brien reported $198,609.00 in contributions and $197,112.27 in expenditures to the Colorado Secretary of State, which left her campaign with $1,496.73 on hand.[2]


O'Brien received the following endorsements during the 2013 campaign:[3]

Campaign themes


O'Brien explained her themes for the 2013 campaign on her website:[4]

  • Increase supports for teachers and student for meeting reading/math standards for P-5 programs
  • Use the example of Long Beach Unified Public School District in partnering with teacher prep programs to ensure that new teachers have the tools they need to boost Denver’s student achievement
  • Fund after school and summer school programs to expose students to enriched learning opportunities and help them meet P-12 education benchmarks
  • Give every parent in every part of the city the option of a strong neighborhood school and a high quality option that meets the needs of their child
  • Strengthen DPS’s arts, music, and sports programs from early childhood through high school

Note: The above quote is from the candidate's website, which may include some typographical or spelling errors.

What was at stake?

Incumbents Mary Seawell, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan did not seek re-election to the at-large, District 2 and District 3 seats, respectively. A three-way race for the at-large seat featured former Lieutenant Governor O'Brien, Michael Kiley and Joan Poston. The District 2 race featured newcomers Rosario C. de Baca and Rosemary Rodriguez. Mike Johnson and Meg Schomp competed to replace Kaplan in District 3. Landri Taylor ran for re-election in District 4 against challenger Roger Kilgore.

Stances on Amendment 66

Colorado voters cast ballots on Amendment 66, a constitutional amendment that increases income taxes to support public education. The following table lists the publicly stated position of each Board of Education candidate on the amendment.

Stances on Amendment 66[5]
Candidate Stated position
Barbara O'Brien Support
Michael Kiley Support
Joan Poston Oppose
Rosario C. de Baca Support
Rosemary Rodriguez Support
Mike Johnson Support
Meg Schomp Support
Landri Taylor Support
Roger Kilgore Support

Conflict of interest concerns

Candidates for the at-large, District 3 and District 4 seats accused their opponents of conflicts of interest. At-large candidate Michael Kiley pointed out that the district has a $350,000 contract with Get Smart Schools, a non-profit organization headed by O'Brien. O'Brien countered that Kiley's employer, Kronos, provides software to the district. District 3 candidate Meg Schomp believed opponent Mike Johnson could not meet the board's ethical standards due to his work as a school finance consultant. Johnson pointed out that Schomp's husband is an attorney who has represented the district in past legal actions.[6]

District 4 candidate Roger Kilgore asked his opponent, incumbent Landri Taylor, to resign due to a conflict-of-interest allegation. Kilgore noted that Taylor is the CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, which has a $142,962 contract with the district for after-school programs. Taylor criticized Kilgore's request and argued that the agreement occurred after Taylor was a board member. He also suggested that he would recuse himself if the board voted on issues related to agreements with the Urban League.[7]

School reform in Denver

The 2013 election has developed into a referendum on the reforms set in motion by Superintendent Tom Boasberg since his appointment in 2009. Boasberg has increased the district's emphasis on charter schools and closed poor-performing facilities. Opponents of Boasberg's reforms cite a persistent achievement gap between affluent and low-income student populations.[8]

The direction of the seven-member board could change significantly based on the results of this election. Three current members of the board are not seeking re-election. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) has endorsed at-large candidate Michael Kiley, District 2 candidate Rosario C. de Baca, District 3 candidate Meg Schomp and Roger Kilgore in District 4. These candidates want to slow down or halt development of charter schools in the district. Democrats for Education Reform, a non-profit organization supporting Boasberg's reforms, has endorsed at-large candidate O'Brien, District 2 candidate Rosemary Rodriguez, Mike Johnson in District 3 and District 4 incumbent Landri Taylor.[9] With clear divisions between these two slates of candidates, Denver voters are able to express their views on district policies at the ballot box.

About the district

See also: Denver Public Schools, Colorado
Denver Public Schools is located in Denver County, CO
Denver Public Schools serves students in Denver, the county seat of Denver County, Colorado. According to the 2010 US Census, Denver is home to 600,158 residents.[10]


Denver outperformed the rest of Colorado in higher education achievement while lagging behind state rates for median income and poverty in 2010. The average household income in Denver was $47,499 compared to $57,685 for the state of Colorado. The poverty rate in Denver was 18.8% compared to 12.5% for the entire state. The U.S. Census also found that 41.3% of Denver residents aged 25 years and older earned a bachelor's degree compared to 36.3% in Colorado.[10]

Racial Demographics, 2010[10]
Race Denver (%) Colorado (%)
White 68.9 81.3
Black or African American 10.2 4
American Indian and Alaska Native 1.4 1.1
Asian 3.4 2.8
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 0.1 0.1
Two or More Races 4.1 3.4
Hispanic or Latino 31.8 20.7

Party Affiliation, 2013[11]
Party Registered Voters  % of Total
Democratic 164,196 50.5
Unaffiliated 103,119 31.7
Republican 53,385 16.4
Libertarian 2,880 0.9
Green 1,187 0.4
American Constitution 630 0.2

Note: The United States Census Bureau considers "Hispanic or Latino" to be a place of origin rather than a race. Citizens may report both their race and their place of origin, and as a result, the percentages in each column of the racial demographics table may exceed 100 percent.[12][13]

Recent news

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See also

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Political offices
Preceded by
Jane Norton (R)
Lieutenant Governor of Colorado
Succeeded by
Joseph Garcia (D)