School districts exist to educate students, but such a large public-facing organization much also be equipped to handle myriad issues that affect kids, their families and the district’s employees. In her role as senior legal counsel and executive director of the office of general counsel at Denver Public Schools, Michelle Berge tackles many of those issues including legal questions involving immigration, workplace harassment and discrimination, and teacher compensation.
“It’s such a fascinating office,” said Berge, who joined DPS as deputy counsel in 2013 and took over as head of the office earlier this year. “You think about most in-house counsel, you wear a lot of hats; here, you get a lot of the standard stuff, as well as touching on pretty exciting social issues and feel like you’re making a difference.”
DPS is among the fastest-growing urban school districts in the country, with more than 200 schools and 90,000 students. Last year, Berge acted as the district’s lead negotiator in contract discussions with the teacher’s union, a particularly challenging role in a state that spends significantly less per pupil than the national average. The negotiations over the district’s master agreement with its teachers — finalized in September 2017 — lasted for more than 100 hours and included a 20-hour session on the final day that stretched until 4:30 a.m.