In the spring of 2008, the Denver public school system needed to plug a $400 million hole in its pension fund. Bankers at JPMorgan Chase offered what seemed to be a perfect solution.
The bankers said that the school system could raise $750 million in an exotic transaction that would eliminate the pension gap and save tens of millions of dollars annually in debt costs — money that could be plowed back into Denver’s classrooms, starved in recent years for funds.
To members of the Denver Board of Education, it sounded ideal. It was complex, involving several different financial institutions and transactions. But Michael F. Bennet, now a United States senator from Colorado who was superintendent of the school system at the time, and Thomas Boasberg, then the system’s chief operating officer, persuaded the seven-person board of the deal’s advantages, according to interviews with its members.
The Denver school board unanimously approved the JPMorgan deal and it closed in April 2008, just weeks after a major investment bank, Bear Stearns, failed. In short order, the transaction went awry because of stress in the credit markets, problems with the bond insurer and plummeting interest rates.
Since it struck the deal, the school system has paid $115 million in interest and other fees, at least $25 million more than it originally anticipated.As ColoradoPols notes, the electoral impact of this story will be muted somewhat since so many ballots have already been mailed in. Still, this has to hurt, as it paints precisely the picture of Bennet that Romanoff has been trying to paint, only in a much more objective and believable manner.