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DPS gifted and talented program 'highly skewed' toward white students

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/09/2015 - 20:16

Well over one-quarter of all white students in Denver Public Schools were classified as gifted and talented last school year, more than twice the percentage of gifted and talented Hispanic students and three times the percentage of black students who carried that label.

District officials acknowledge that the numbers are inappropriately and “highly skewed” in favor of white students, reflecting testing and cultural biases.

DPS in recent years has classified students as gifted if they scored in the 90th percentile on nationally normed ability assessments. Students are considered highly gifted if they hit the 97th or 98th percentile.

And highly gifted classification is even more disproportionately white than the broader gifted and talented category. Last year, 10.9 percent of white students were classified as highly gifted, while just 0.9 percent of Hispanic students and 1.1 percent of black students gained that status.

The over-classification of white students as highly gifted can contribute to segregation inside classrooms of seemingly integrated schools, because students classified as highly gifted are often placed in special highly gifted-only classes.

Denver has the highest percentage of students of all races classified as gifted and talented among the 20 largest school districts in the state.

For many years, DPS has set the bar for gifted and talented classification at the 90th percentile on the assessments in an effort to draw a more diverse pool of students into gifted and talented programs.

This year, however, DPS must comply with new Colorado Department of Education regulations that set the bar higher. As a result of a 2014 revision in state law, students in all districts and charter schools must score in the 95th percentile on state achievement tests or aptitude tests to be classified as gifted and talented.

The state wants students with gifted and talented status to move from one district to another without having to retest. This so-called “portability” requirement is why DPS must come in line with the rest of the state.

Even using the lower bar of 90 percent, DPS had among the biggest disparities in the state between the percentage of white students with gifted status and students of color with that designation.

Inequitable pipelines

New state regulations as well as DPS directives are attempting to level the playing field and identify more children of color as gifted. But everyone involved acknowledges there is a long way to go before gifted and talented identification becomes equitable.

“We need to make our gifted and highly gifted programs reflect the diversity of the district,” said Josh Drake, DPS’ executive director for exceptional students. “The question we need to figure out is how to get from here to there.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he is committed to making that happen.

“Our gifted and talented program is way too highly skewed towards our white students as opposed to our students of color,” Boasberg said. “That’s true here, that’s true in cities across the country.”

Boasberg said biases and inequities explain some of the disparities: “It’s a result both of some systemic biases … and it’s a result of the privileges that students of different races grew up with and bring with them when they first, for example, have the opportunity to be assessed for those programs at age 5.”

The pipeline that begins at age 5 is the district’s longstanding Advanced Kindergarten program. While Advanced Kindergarten is not a gifted and talented program, it is where sorting of various kinds can begin. Students are tested at parent initiative, giving an advantage to families who understand the system and how to use it to their best advantage.

Preschoolers who demonstrate a mastery of kindergarten-level work while still in preschool qualify for Advanced Kindergarten. Advanced Kindergarten numbers are least as skewed as the gifted and talented statistics.

In fall 2014, 437 Denver preschoolers were tested for Advanced Kindergarten. Just under 75 percent of them were white, 9 percent were Hispanic and 4 percent black. But of those who qualified for Advanced Kindergarten, 79 percent were white, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black.

Further exacerbating the disparities, students who qualify for Advanced Kindergarten at DPS’ most popular highly gifted and talented magnet program, Polaris at Ebert, automatically gain a seat at Polaris through fifth grade. This means that some students who are not highly gifted get into the highly gifted magnet school, and these students are disproportionately white.

And there’s yet another factor that skews the numbers even more at Polaris. Siblings of Polaris students get admission preference into the popular program, regardless of whether they test as highly gifted.

Non-highly gifted students aren’t necessarily served well by attending a school like Polaris, Drake said.

“It’s not always the best choice for a kid who starts in Advanced Kindergarten (if they’re not identified as highly gifted),” he said. “We want all kids to get the best programming to meet their needs, and that’s not necessarily where we are today."

The Advanced Kindergarten pipeline combined with the sibling preference has resulted in a staggering socioeconomic and racial imbalance at Polaris. Just 3 percent of Polaris’ students qualify for free and reduced lunch, a measure for poverty. And just 8 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, while 81 percent are white.

By comparison, the districtwide free and reduced lunch rate is just under 70 percent. The district student population is 22 percent white, 14 percent black, and 57 percent Latino. Of all DPS students designated as gifted and talented last year, 44 percent were Latino, 39 percent were white and 8 percent were black.

Over the last decade, the percentage of white students classified as gifted and talented among all students has remained steady, district data shows. The Latino share has climbed, from 39 percent in 2004. The percentage of black students with the designation has fallen — 15 percent were gifted and talented in 2004.

DPS also offers Advanced Kindergarten classrooms in seven other elementary schools scattered across the city. Overall, five of the Advanced Kindergarten schools have significantly lower levels of low-income students than the district as a whole, while three have poverty levels higher than the district’s overall rate.

Undermining the model

The history of the Polaris program is especially instructive because the program today bears little resemblance to the original vision for it. Polaris was conceived as what founding principal Diana Howard terms “diverse, inner-city gifted program.”

“We worked tirelessly to make it more equitable,” Howard said. “It is very sad what the district has let happen there.”

In 2001, the program’s second year of operation, the student body was 51 percent white, 29 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic. Students described as “high-achieving” gained admission as well as those who tested as highly gifted. Teacher recommendations, observations and other non-test-based criteria were used to admit students.

Over time, however, DPS changed the criteria for admission, and the sibling preference and Advanced Kindergarten pipelines overwhelmed the diversity efforts.

Polaris’ diversity also fell victim to the rapid growth of the Stapleton neighborhood. Polaris was made the highly gifted magnet program for the city’s northeast quadrant, and as Stapleton’s mostly white, affluent population grew, so did demand from Stapleton parents for the Polaris program.

“Stapleton was conceived as a diverse community but the housing prices were too high for that to become a reality,” Howard said.

Changes in the works

Moves at the state and district level are designed to reduce the racial disparities. The state law revised in 2014 requires testing of all students for gifted and talented status by third grade, using multiple measures such as intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, talent in the arts, creative or productive thinking and leadership abilities.

In DPS, at least until recently, testing for highly gifted programs in Denver was initiated by parents in most cases. This meant only parents savvy enough to know about the program — and with the wherewithal to transport their children to a testing center — had their kids tested. Last year, DPS started proactively testing students for gifted and highly gifted status across the district.

During the 2014-15 school year, district staff conducted a "universal sweep" for gifted students in grades 2 through 4, employing a non-verbal test that is supposed to mitigate linguistic and cultural biases, said Rebecca McKinney, director of DPS’ gifted and talented department. This year, staff will conduct another sweep, this time of students in kindergarten and second and sixth grades.

“We hope to find some kiddos who might have slipped through the cracks before, especially among underserved populations like African-American boys and second-language learners,” she said.

DPS is also creating what McKinney called a “talent pool” that will identify the top 10 percent of students “relative to their peers.” Those students will receive special, gifted and talented-like services. So, for example, the top 10 percent of Hispanic girls, black boys, and second language learners will be placed in the talent pool.

Teachers will use a variety of measures to identify gifted and talented students, as well as those eligible for the talent pool, McKinney. That can include “portfolios, interviews; there a myriad of ways to go,” she said.

McKinney’s department also conducted a series of focus groups in October, composed of parents and teachers. The goal was to get a sense of “what’s working and what’s not working,” Drake said. “There may be some low-hanging fruit for next year, but a lot of this will take time.”

Drake also said that DPS will need to tackle the disparities in Advanced Kindergarten, beginning with the application process. But he said the district wants to figure out how to deal with the program as a whole, rather than making piecemeal changes.

Eliminating the biases that make gifted and talented programs skewed toward the white and affluent is something everyone wants but no one, here or elsewhere, has figured out completely, Drake said.

“If someone had the answers, we’d be happy to copy and paste,” he said. “It’s definitely a journey."

This story is part of Rocky Mountain PBS’ ongoing project coverage, Race in Colorado. Standing in the Gap examines race in public education in the state. To learn more, visit this website and watch the four-part documentary series on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rejection of conservative reformers not necessarily a rejection of reform

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/09/2015 - 09:25
Election aftermath

Voters who rejected conservative school board members last week weren’t necessarily rejecting education reform, experts say. Denver Post

Most Jeffco voters made a decision on whether to recall the three conservative board members but fewer voted on who should replace them. Colorado Independent

Some school-related tax increases did well at the polls; others, not so much. Chalkbeat Colorado

Fighting hunger

A Denver nonprofit makes sure students and their families have food to eat during weekends. Fox31

Budget Woes

Superintendents are disappointed that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed budget would add to the state’s current shortfall in K-12 classroom spending, known as the negative factor. Daily Camera

Tuition at the University of Colorado will likely increase next year as state funding for higher education shrinks under Hickenlooper’s proposal. Daily Camera

money matters

Most of the money that poured into the Colorado Springs and Lewis-Palmer school board races came from big organizations, not individuals -- a trend seen throughout the state. Gazette

Tracking the source of those campaign donations isn’t always easy. Gazette

Thanks But No Thanks

Coca-Cola gave the University of Colorado School of Medicine $1 million to start an anti-obesity group but now the university is giving it back. AP via Denver Post

Trading Training

High school students got a taste of Wall Street at the annual JA Stock Market Challenge. 9News

green schools

In the past 10 years, a recycling and composting program in Boulder County has grown from four schools to 40 with even more on a waiting list to join. Daily Camera

Sexting Consequences

Canon City students who took or shared nude photos could face child pornography charges. Denver Post

It will take time to separate the offenders from the victims, authorities said. AP via NBC News

Teen sexting laws vary from state to state, with some states taking the view that teens who are caught shouldn’t have to register as sex offenders. Wall Street Journal

The scandal is calling attention to “vault apps” that allow smartphone users to hide sexts. New York Times

Two cents

Don’t confuse the type of education reform pushed by ousted conservatives with the type of reform practiced in Denver, says a former Denver Public Schools spokesman. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why some efforts to fix low-performing schools fail

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/06/2015 - 15:15
  • A tale of two schools — one in Miami and the other in Chicago — that received federal school improvement grants suggests that readiness mattered more than money. (Politico)
  • Conservative school board candidates in Colorado fared poorly on Election Day. Here's why that matters across the country. (Chalkbeat)
  • And here's how education policy initiatives fared in other places. (The Atlantic)
  • The scandal that brought down Chicago's schools chief could be coming to a superintendent near you. (Catalyst)
  • The controversy over a list of "Got to Go" students at a Success Academy school in New York reflects broader issues in charter schools. (Vox)
  • Ben Carson's vision for school funding reform is "more progressive than anything even Bernie Sanders has proposed." (Vox)
  • A Memphis charter school that attracted national attention because its teachers walk students home got a TV appearance and $50,000 this week. (EllenTube)
  • A new study found that living near affluent neighborhoods is especially damaging for poor boys. (The Marshall Project)
  • Two bills that are starting points for revisions to No Child Left Behind take different approaches to testing. (Politics K-12)
  • From least to most likely, an interactive primer on all of the people who might be Los Angeles's next schools chief. (L.A. Times)
  • Opponents of a successful bond measure in a Dallas suburb warned that new schools would bring poor students. (Slate)
  • Hundreds of students walked out of Berkeley High School in California to protest a racist incident there. (Berkeleyside)
  • A father who has experienced the downside of competition in his appliance business weighs in on the growing school marketplace. (WBEZ)
  • After 20 years around New York City schools, Sol Stern says the big problem facing them is progressive education. (City Journal)
  • California's new pre-kindergarten program is open only to children born in the last quarter of the year. (Hechinger Report)
Categories: Urban School News

Voters had mixed feelings about district tax-increase proposals

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/06/2015 - 13:23

Hinsdale County didn’t get its gym, but the Byers district will get its buses. Those were among the outcomes of school district tax elections this week.

The tiny Hinsdale district has proposed a $5.9 million bond issue to build a gym for the school in Lake City, where students now have to walk down the street to an old armory for P.E. Byers, a small eastern plains district, asked for a modest $150,000 tax increase to buy or lease new buses. Voters agreed.

Overall, only 16 districts were on ballots this year with a total of 19 tax proposals. Three of six bond proposals passed, and three failed. The most notable defeat came in Steamboat Springs, where a $92 million bond was rejected.

District 27J in Adams County won a $248 million bond, and a $122 million bond was approved in the Roaring Fork district.

Voters approved nine tax overrides but defeated four. Overrides are property tax increases used for operating and other expenses, not to repay bond debt.

Revenue from successful overrides in Aspen, Dolores County, Kit Carson and Manitou Springs is intended to partly offset the effects of tight state support.

Here’s the full list of Tuesday’s district tax elections:

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Big name joins fray over Indian mascot names

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/06/2015 - 09:12
What's in a name?

An initiative by Adidas to fund the removal of high school American Indian mascots is getting mixed reviews in Colorado. Denver Post

Lame ducks

Thursday night marked the last meeting of the Jeffco school board controlled by a conservative majority. 9News, Denver Post

election post-mortem

Time will tell what changes the new-look Jeffco school board brings. Chalkbeat Colorado

One race was unexpectedly close, but the result holds in Denver — seven members aligned with the district's vision of reform. Chalkbeat Colorado

wheels of justice

The Colorado Court of Appeals gave new life to a lawsuit brought by Denver teachers and the union challenging an important provision of a 2010 educator effectiveness law. AP via Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

It ain't over

Much remains to be unraveled over the seating of a Mesa County Valley school board candidate who prevailed at the ballot box. Daily Sentinel

sexting scandal

The Canon City school district held a community meeting over a student sexting scandal that is getting quite a bit of media attention, especially on TV news. CBS4, Gazette, NBC News, KAKE

Blue ribbon winner

A Fort Collins lawmaker dropped in on an award-winning middle school. Coloradoan

Not your ordinary librarian

A St. Vrain student played a key role in building a robot that bonds with shy children visiting the library. Times-Call

green thoughts

In Colorado Springs, Palmer High School students learned lessons from a greenhouse project. Gazette

Snakes in a preschool

Dozens of preschoolers in Loveland got up close and personal with some slithery, slimy reptiles in an educational effort to improve the image of snakes. Reporter-Herald

Two cents: Election version

The Gazette editorial page mourns the week’s education-related news developments. Gazette

The Colorado Independent’s Mike Littwin blames Julie Williams and her AP history crusade for setting the stage for what became conservative reformers’ very bad night. Colorado Independent

Categories: Urban School News

In Denver, a clean sweep for backers of district reforms and questions about a united front

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 20:21

This week’s Denver school board election — which featured one unexpectedly close call and two more comfortable wins — means all seven seats will be occupied by strong advocates of the district’s decade-long path of reform.

Board president Allegra “Happy” Haynes recovered from a slow campaign start and questions about her new role heading the city’s parks and recreation department to eke past northwest Denver parent Robert Speth, a political unknown credited for running an effective campaign.

In the race for an open seat in northwest and west Denver, education reform supporter Lisa Flores defeated board critic Michael Kiley by a healthy margin, 53 to 47 percent. Flores claimed more individual donors than any other candidate — and benefited from the generosity of an independent political committee — while campaigning on a platform of looking out for all her district’s kids.

Board vice president Anne Rowe easily held onto her seat against challenger Kristi Butkovich, picking up every precinct in southeast Denver’s District 1.

Throughout the campaign, the three candidates critical of the board’s direction sought to convince voters that dissenting voices were needed. All three lost their races. About 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Denver.

Now that the campaign is over, attention will turn to whether the next board will stand as a united front or diverge on contentious issues that lie ahead, including a proposed policy that would draw a bright line for when the districts should close persistently struggling schools.

A close at-large race

A late start, questions about potential conflicts of interest and a virtually unknown challenger who proved to be a formidable opponent turned what many thought would be an easy re-election for Haynes, an established Denver political figure, into a battle.

“None of us expected Happy to have an active race,” said Jeani Frickey Saito, executive director of Stand for Children Colorado, an education reform group that endorsed Haynes.

Allegra "Happy" Haynes at the ethics board hearing she requested (Eric Gorski).

That changed when Speth, a father of two who works in the telecommunications industry, entered the race in late August. In October, just one month before the election, Haynes ramped up her fundraising. In two weeks, she raised more than four times as much as she had the previous year -- and she began spending it on mailers, Facebook ads and robocalls.

“When you’ve got a candidate who’s not anticipating having to run a contested campaign, it’s going to feel a little rushed and (there’s) a sense of urgency there that wasn’t before,” Frickey Saito said. “For the process, it’s always good to have contested races and give voters a choice, and it’s good to know that when given a choice, they supported Happy’s work.”

In the end, Haynes hung on to her seat by a small margin. Haynes' strongest showing was in northeast Denver, while Speth performed well in his home turf of northwest Denver and in southeast Denver:

“We’re all glad the campaign is over,” Haynes said Wednesday. “For those of us who are continuing, it’s an opportunity to have our full focus on the challenges we have ahead of us.”

Haynes said she figured the race would be close. As to why, she said, “I can’t really speculate,” adding that her campaign “didn’t do any of this, ‘Why is this happening? Why isn’t it?’”

Asked what she was hearing from voters, Haynes said, “What we heard was people who were supporting us or people who said, ‘No, we’re not.’ We weren’t diving into people’s reasons for and against. In a campaign, you’re trying to get people to vote for you. When they do, you say, ‘Great,’ and you move on to the next. When they say they’re not, you say, ‘Thank you anyway.’”

Some political observers said Haynes’s September appointment by Mayor Michael Hancock to head the city’s parks and recreation department may have given voters pause. In October, the Denver Board of Ethics said it was fine for Haynes to hold both the $139,293-a-year job and a volunteer seat on the Denver school board.

Frickey Saito characterized the issue as “an unfortunate distraction.” Others said it was a valid concern.

“I think people didn’t feel good about Happy having both jobs,” said former city councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt.

“The fact that it was that close against a guy nobody ever really heard of and got into the race late, and it was fundraised to the max, I don’t think anybody should be doing a victory dance,” she said.

Robert Speth

Speth, the guy nobody ever really heard of, ended up running an effective campaign, observers said. Speth was endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. Union president Henry Roman said he was impressed by the newcomer’s determination, accessibility and ability to explain his positions.

“He is very dynamic,” Roman said. He recalled that the first time he invited Speth to meet with union building representatives, the reps ended up following the candidate outside to get yard signs. “I said, ‘This is a special kind of guy,’” Roman said.

Speth did not return phone calls for this story. But on Tuesday night, as he watched the election results roll in from a bar on Tennyson Street, he said his final campaign push involved knocking on doors, handing out fliers and “getting in front of many folks as we could.”

On Election Day, Speth said he took his kids to school, took down his Halloween decorations and waited.

When he left that bar at 11 p.m., he was winning. But by the time the final unofficial election results were tallied at 4 a.m., he had lost. The results will be finalized later this month.

A divided map in District 5

The results in District 5 show that support for candidate Kiley was concentrated in northwest Denver. The software company program manager, who lives in the Berkeley neighborhood with his wife and two kids, won every precinct in the Regis, West Highland and Berkeley neighborhoods. He also won several precincts in Sunnyside, Highland and Sloan’s Lake.

Flores, a former senior program officer with the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, swept the precincts in the central and eastern part of the district, winning neighborhoods including Elyria Swansea, Globeville, Five Points and Lincoln/La Alma Park. Flores lives in West Highland, where she and her husband are helping to raise her nephew.

“We were cognizant that there are over 50 schools that make up District 5,” Flores said. She said her campaign made an effort to “reach out to all communities served by District 5.”

Meanwhile, Kiley said he focused on neighborhoods outside of northwest Denver where he was lesser known. The challenge, he said, was getting those voters to relate to his experience of working to improve northwest Denver schools, such as Skinner Middle School and North High.

The gains at those schools and others like them were achieved due to “a common theme of parents working with the principal plus resources equals a better school,” he said. “When we talk about our experience,” he added, “there are schools that sound a million miles away.”

On Tuesday, Kiley won 9,295 votes and Flores won 10,675, according to the final unofficial tally.

A unified board?

Haynes, Rowe and Flores will be sworn in Nov. 19.

All three received financial support from a committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, as well as a network of local and national pro-reform donors.

Outgoing board member Arturo Jimenez, who has represented District 5 since 2007 and is term-limited, was the last union-backed board member. He often served as a dissenting voice in difficult discussions.

Michael Kiley

Union president Roman said he hopes that the new board “continues to engage in collaboration” with teachers, parents and the community. But he noted that more power also means more responsibility.

“If something is taken too far, there will eventually be a pushback,” Roman said. The successful recall election in Jeffco is an example of that, he said.

Roman was hesitant to say how far would be too far in Denver. But he said the board needs to step up its oversight of charter schools, work to reduce the teacher-turnover rate and listen to parents and teachers on issues such as co-locating schools in the same building.

“My hope is that we can have conversations to come up with common-sense, good policies,” he said.

Others were less judicious in their assessment.

“Regular people will have less and less voice,” predicted C.L. Harmer, who served as Kiley’s campaign manager.

“I think rubber stamp is a fair label,” Kiley said. He echoed Roman in saying that whatever policies the new board enacts, the members will have to take full responsibility for how the policies play out. “If it works, hats off to them,” he said. “If it continues to struggle, they own it.”

Flores said that when she met with the teachers union, she assured union leaders that no matter who they endorsed, she would be “a great representative for them.”

“I think there were some differences sometimes on specific policy stances,” Flores said, “but when we look at underlying values and how we want to respect and honor teachers, I think there’s a lot of alignment and a lot of areas where we can work together.”

Denver independent political analyst Eric Sondermann said he doesn’t think the new calculus of the board will make much of a difference when it comes to the board’s actions.

“I don’t know that it makes a huge difference to have a 7-0 majority rather than a 6-1 majority,” he said. “It will probably make people on the other side more aggrieved to not have a spokesperson. But to have a spokesperson, you need to win an election. Ultimately, I think there are a strong majority of Denver residents who have endorsed the general direction of the district.”

Lisa Flores

Flores rejected the suggestion that her victory means the board is 7-0.

“I hope that we can move past the point where people are talking about a three-four board, a six-one board, a seven-oh board,” she said Wednesday. “I’ve been saying from the beginning, I am not running for or against DPS. I am running for the students of DPS. I am a strong woman who is not afraid to have her voice heard and I will be an independent member of this board.”

Jen Walmer, director of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, which supported Flores, Haynes and Rowe, attributes the closeness of the at-large race to the fact that there were two candidates, instead of five like in 2011 when Haynes first ran for a seat.

“We always have to remember that when two people are running, the choice becomes more stark,” she said. Walmer said both candidates ran “real campaigns.” But ultimately, she said, “voters in Denver looked at Happy’s track record and came out in her favor.”

Outgoing board member Jimenez sees the results differently.

“It’s great to see the city spoke in protest against the establishment with all of the votes for Robert Speth,” he said Tuesday night when early results showed Speth with a slight lead.

Haynes said her tight race won’t change the way she approaches her work on the board.

“We have a lot to do and we need to get refocused on where we have to go,” she said. “And that’s what I will continue to do: look at all of the issues, try to find solutions to things we think aren’t working well and to move forward.”

Editor's note: Chalkbeat receives financial support from the Gates Family Foundation.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated which campaign raised the most money according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Kiley narrowly brought in more money than Flores. 

Categories: Urban School News

How things might change in Jeffco Public Schools after the recall

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 18:05

Jefferson County residents pushing to recall three of five school board members said they wanted a “Clean Slate” for the district.

Now that they've gotten one, they will have to wait a little while to find out how life in the county’s classrooms might change.

One near certainty: teachers in the district will get the long-term contract they've long demanded. But the future for free full-day kindergarten, raises for teachers and charter school funding is less clear.

And to pull off everything on the wish list of recall supporters, the district will need to successfully pass a local tax increase, which hasn’t always been an easy ask in Jefferson County.

Here’s a look at some of those issues.

Jeffco is unlikely to get a new schools chief — for now.

One of the most polarizing decisions the outgoing school board majority made was hiring Douglas County schools administrator Dan McMinimee as superintendent. Critics said McMinimee wasn’t ready to lead a district as large as Jeffco and worried he would try to replicate policy changes from the Douglas County School District. They also worried his salary was bloated.

But his resume was a match for nearly every characteristic the community wanted in a superintendent. And he earned goodwill from parents, including those who would later go on to organize the board recall, when he said he would meet with and work with anyone in the community.

That goodwill faltered when McMinimee appeared not to push back against school board president Ken Witt on key votes such as how to fund new school construction.

The school board members elected Tuesday said on the campaign trail they’re prepared to give McMinimee a chance, and several reiterated that Tuesday. If the board opted to fire McMinimee before his contract expires in 18 months, the district would be forced to pay him $220,000.

“His success is Jeffco’s success,” said board member-elect Amanda Stevens.

Teachers will get a long-term contract. But they shouldn’t count on a major raise anytime soon.

The board majority just recalled sought to limit the teachers union's reach, pressing for changes such as seniority rights and more decisions made at the school level between principals and teachers.

The union agreed to the contract, which it viewed as better than nothing.  The ultimate agreement, which the union called "a bad deal," went into effect in September and lasts only until May 31.

The five newly elected school board members all got the union's endorsement and financial support after pledging to collaborate — suggesting that the union could soon get the long-term agreement, and more appealing terms, that it wants.

What other provisions that got cut in the last agreement might end up back in the teachers contract? That’s less clear. But we’re likely to see discussions about smaller class sizes and more teacher training and planning time, all of which the union would like.

What many teachers want most is a substantial raise, which they haven’t received for years. But teachers who are hoping this school board can come up with tens of millions of dollars to close a pay gap created by the Great Recession shouldn’t hold their breath.

The school district isn’t receiving any more money from the state. And with competing priorities such as funding full-day kindergarten, Jeffco Public Schools’ budget is already tight.

Some new school board members said they’re interested in exploring the possibility of teacher merit pay, which would open the door for some teachers to earn more.

Full-day kindergarten could come with a flexible price tag.

Speaking of full-day kindergarten, a key tension between the recently ousted school board majority and the community was how to fund full-day kindergarten.

The state provides funding only for half-day kindergarten and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. But many in Jeffco want to see full-day kindergarten for all students.

The outgoing school board majority wasn’t sold on full-day kindergarten, but it did allocate funding for students from families so poor that they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Individual schools were left to determine whether they should charge a fee to their more affluent families.

That isn’t good enough, the board’s critics said. They want free full-day kindergarten for all. And that presents a challenge.

“There would need to be additional dollars to [fund full-day kindergarten] district wide,” said Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s chief effectiveness officer.

The good news for those who want tuition-free full-day kindergarten is that the district won’t need to find that much more money. Schools technically receive full-day funding for all kindergarten students, although they receive slightly less funding than last year for all of their other students.

The most likely next step toward tuition-free kindergarten is a sliding scale for tuition. It could happen as early as next school year.

“We’re anticipating that conversation,” Elliott said.

What “equal” funding for charter schools means could change

During the school board majority’s two years in office, the board equalized local funding for the district’s charter schools.

Before 2013, charter schools received about $250 per student from local tax revenue. District-run students received about $1,400 from that same funding stream. The school board majority, using new state dollars, equalized that funding during its two-year tenure.

Some charter school parents worried the new school board would roll back that funding.

On the campaign trail, the five candidates who won election this week pledged to maintain that funding. But Ron Mitchell, who will replace Witt, said there needs to be a conversation about what “equal funding” really means.

“I can support equitable funding,” he said in an interview after announcing his candidacy. He wants to take into account other funding streams that charters can tap.

But there aren’t that many, said Stacy Rader, spokeswoman for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Charter schools, like district-run schools, can apply for competitive grants and fundraise, Rader said.

The only additional funding charters can rely on from the state is for facilities, and it’s not that much, Rader said. According to the Colorado Department of Education, Jeffco charter schools will receive a combined $1.8 million this school year.

“There’s this impression that charter schools have this great pool of money to tap into,” Rader said. “That’s just not true.”

Recall supporters and the new board will ask for a tax increase after “trust is restored.”

To pay for tuition-free full-day kindergarten, reduce class sizes, close the pay gap for teachers and address expected growth, Jeffco will need to ask its residents for a local tax increase.

“You can either cut the pie differently, or find a way to make the pie bigger,” Elliott said.

Jeffco residents, most of whom don’t have children in schools, have a mixed record when weighing tax increases for schools. Voters rejected an increase in 2008 but approved one in 2012.

You can count on some of the same individuals behind the recall and the board to make a passionate plea to voters next fall. But only after “trust is restored,” said Shawna Fritzler, who lobbied for the 2012 tax increase.

“The public needs that accountability piece,” she said. “We made promises to the voters and then they were broken by the board majority. I won't kill myself again unless I know I have a way to guarantee that the promises made will be kept.”

Categories: Urban School News

State appeals court reinstates lawsuit challenging provision of educator effectiveness law

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 11:51

A legal challenge to a key piece of the state's educator evaluation law got new life Thursday when the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a judge's decision and reinstated a lawsuit brought by Denver teachers and the teachers union against the Denver Public Schools.

"We reverse the district court’s judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ contract clause and due process clause claims, and we remand the case to the district court with directions to reinstate plaintiffs’ amended complaint and conduct further proceedings," the unanimous three-judge ruling said.

Observers expect the case ultimately will end up in the Colorado Supreme Court. But DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said, "We are not in position to comment on that [an appeal now] yet, in part because we are one of multiple defendants."


Boasberg's statement continued, "Forced placement of teachers into schools where they do not want to teach, or where the school is unwilling to offer them jobs, is wrong. It’s wrong for kids, it’s wrong for teachers, it’s wrong for schools.

"Today’s decision was a procedural one in that it directs the trial court to re-initiate hearing proceedings. When the court looks at the merits of the law, it is clear that they will uphold the legislature’s decision to end the harmful practice of forced placement."

The lawsuit was filed in January 2014 by five former DPS teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. The suit claimed district officials misused a provision of the 2010 law that set up Colorado’s teacher evaluation system.

Known as mutual consent, the challenged provision requires both principal and teacher agreement for placement of a teacher in a school.

Denver District Judge Michael Martinez dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims – and the case – in June 2014. The plaintiffs went to the Court of Appeals in December 2014 despite calls by education reform groups that the case not be appealed.

The lawsuit claimed that the mutual-consent provisions of the law and DPS’ actions were unconstitutional because they violated the state constitution’s ban on “impairment of contracts” and state laws on the firing of teachers. The suit also alleged that the district violated teachers’ due-process rights.

Plaintiffs argued that non-probationary teachers have “a constitutionally protected property interest in … continued employment” that cannot lawfully be terminated without providing the procedural due process guaranteed by” the state constitution.

The suit sought a court ban on use of the mutual-consent provision for various kinds of non-probationay teachers, plus reinstatement and back pay for teachers who lost their jobs.

The appeals court ruling dealt with those two key issues.

On the first matter, the appeals court said the district judge and the parties didn’t examine all aspects of that issue. “Those questions must be addressed and resolved by the trial court in the appropriate procedural posture. We express no opinion on the outcome of these issues or on whether the teachers’ contract clause claim ultimately is valid.”

Regarding the second issue, the ruling said that as a matter of law “non-probationary teachers have a due process right to a hearing in which the teacher may attempt to show that the purported reason for which he or she was placed on unpaid leave was not the actual reason or that the placement was effected in an arbitrary or unreasonable fashion.” The trial court was directed to also consider that issue.

The mutual consent provision was part of Senate Bill 10-191, the state’s landmark 2010 educator evaluation law. Prior to passage of that measure, a district could unilaterally place a teacher in a school, regardless of the wishes of the principal or other teachers. Ending that practice has been a key goal for education reform groups.

The major elements of SB 10-191 require annual evaluations of principals and teachers, basing 50 percent of evaluations on student academic growth and the provision that teachers who have two consecutive ineffective or partially effective ratings lose their non-probationary status (commonly called tenure).

The lawsuit focused on the mutual consent portions of the law and didn’t challenge other requirements of the evaluation system.

Reacting to the ruling, Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman said, “The Masters lawsuit was filed as a result of a district’s misuse of the law to unfairly and systematically remove highly experienced and effective teachers from our classrooms. … Today’s court ruling enforces the promises made that the new law would not work to deprive teachers of their vested contractual and due process rights without a hearing.”

But Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, said, “If today’s decision stands, principals will be stripped of the basic right to hire who they want on their instructional team.” His organization is a business-based advocacy group that filed a friend of the court brief in the case. “Colorado Succeeds looks forward to backing an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

Colorado Succeeds is part of the Great Teachers and Leaders Coalition, which has been the leading critic of the lawsuit. That group is made up of civic, business and non-profit organizations from across the education reform spectrum.

The five individual plaintiffs are Cynthia Masters, Michele Montoya, Mildred Kolquist, Lawrence Garcia and Paul Scena. The DCTA has been supported in the legal effort by the statewide union, the Colorado Education Association.

Members of the State Board of Education also are defendants in the case, a formality common in suits that involve challenges to state education law.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New board members ponder next moves

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/05/2015 - 09:38
Election 2015 • Looking ahead

Newly elected Jeffco and Dougco board members start to think about what they’ll do once they’re in office. In Jeffco that includes deciding the future of Superintendent Dan McMinimee. Denver Post, 9News, CPR

Lawyer Brad Miller’s contracts might be in jeopardy after board changes in the Jeffco and Thompson districts. Colorado Independent

Election 2015 • Aftermath

Were the election results a repudiation of the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity? Colorado Independent

Mesa County Valley School District 51 officials have been given an “F” from voters for a bungled and botched school board election. Colorado Independent

Conservative school reformers had a bad night in Colorado. Washington Post

A combination of factors added up to explain why conservative reformers lost in Tuesday’s elections. Chalkbeat Colorado

Get summaries of what happened in four key districts where conservatives were turned out or turned back. Chalkbeat Colorado

Newly elected Colorado Springs School District 11 school board member Theresa Null is putting this out there: She'll pay any youth group $1 apiece for collecting and returning her used campaign signs. Gazette

Election 2015 • Late returns

A marijuana tax approved by Pueblo County voters is expected to raise about $3.5 million a year by 2020, funding scholarships for local students who attend one of two public colleges in the county. AP via Gazette

Jim Stephens and Robert Reichardt took the two open seats on the five-member Littleton school board. Littleton Independent

Incumbents held their seats in Aspen board elections. Aspen Daily News

Keeping kids safe

Safety experts on Wednesday advised Colorado law enforcement personnel and educators to rethink how they plan for violent situations in schools. Denver Post

The superintendent of Harrison District 2 has sent a letter to parents explaining changes that will be made following a large fight that broke out at Sierra High School. KRDO, Gazette


A Canon City school district investigation into students sending nude pictures has resulted in the forfeiture of a football game and police involvement. Gazette, KOAA

Categories: Urban School News

Why Colorado conservative education reformers lost Tuesday

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 21:35

After a string of electoral successes, conservative school reform candidates in Colorado were dealt harsh blows this week in elections swung by issues that were both intensely local and part of broader battles over power, money and change in American education.

In Jefferson County, a hotel ballroom exploded with chants and tears as three conservatives elected as a slate in 2013 were recalled in a rout.

In Douglas County, six years of dominance by a boundary-pushing board finally showed cracks as three opponents broke through, forming a solid minority promising a more open and diverse board.

In the Loveland-based Thompson district, animus over a teacher contract dispute propelled union-backed candidates into power.

Elsewhere, a conservative attempt to take over a moderate board in Colorado Springs was repelled and one of two conservative reform candidates won seats in Aurora, sending a mixed message.

All the elections had their own quirks, players and storylines. But common themes bound them together, too, highlighted by reinvigorated teachers unions willing to invest money and energy combined with motivated and networked parents fed up with agendas they saw as dangerous overreaches.

“You can’t deny it was a setback for conservative reform at the school board level in Colorado,” said Ben DeGrow, a senior policy analyst with the libertarian Independence Institute, which fought the Jeffco recall and provided policy guidance in other districts. “The unions had their day. There’s no doubt about it.”

Where conservative reformers lost | Get the details about what happened in four districts — Jeffco, Dougco, Thompson and Colorado Springs 11 — at the center of Tuesday's shift in school board politics here.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the results reflect voter confidence in teachers and frustration with the status quo. Critics of the old boards in the Douglas, Jefferson and Thompson districts complained about divisiveness and a lack of openness.

“The public wants a high degree of trust and collaboration in their school districts,” Dallman said, “and I believe the outcome is a direct reflection that the public didn’t believe those two things existed.”

Dallman downplayed speculation that union involvement in some districts this year was sparked by fears that conservative boards would do away with local bargaining units. The Douglas board ousted its local non-CEA union, and the Thompson board has refused to approve a contract with its CEA affiliate.

“Our main priority was our students,” Dallman said. “For us this was never about Republicans versus Democrats, conservatives versus liberals, unions against reformers.”

Spending and messaging

Angst among teachers goes well beyond contract negotiations and bargaining units, however. In Colorado and elsewhere, teachers are feeling pressure from a drumbeat of reforms that include new standardized tests and tying their evaluations and pay to student performance.

“The (Colorado) vote may be a reflection of the deepening anger that teachers feel across the nation about high stakes testing regimes that treat educators more like factory workers than professionals,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a liberal think tank in Washington.

Ken Witt, the Jeffco board president who was ousted in the recall, attributed the conservative losses to the coordinated efforts of union forces worried about losing control. Witt said he believes voters are likely to support education reform efforts he and his colleagues back, but messaging was a problem.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Recall supporter Cecelia Lange waved signs at 52nd and Wadsworth Tuesday morning.

“If you lose an election, then you didn’t reach enough people,” he said. “Reform lost a lot of elections (Tuesday) night. That means we’re not communicating well.”

Not surprisingly, that was not a sentiment held by architects of the Jefferson County recall. Lynea Hansen, a political consultant to recall organizers, framed Tuesday’s results as losses not for conservatives but for what she describes as corporate reform.

“Many conservatives voted for change last night, as well as unaffiliateds and Democrats,” Hansen said. “What I think we really saw were communities seeing the importance of school board elections, many for the first time, and taking an interest in making sure our public schools stay just that — public.”

As in all high-stakes local school board races these days, money poured in from all corners.

Campaign committees affiliated with CEA, plus local union committees, were heavily involved in funding candidates in the Jeffco, Thompson, Denver and Colorado Springs 11 districts. Dallman of the CEA said those spending decisions were driven by requests and recommendations from local union units.

At the same time, a loose network of conservative nonprofits including Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute raised and redistributed money through various political committees to rebuff the Jeffco recall and back candidates along the Front Range who support policies such as merit pay for teachers and charter school expansion.

The education reform community is not monolithic. But generally, conservative reformers support policies that give parents more choice between schools including district-run, charter and private schools; establish merit pay for teachers and weaken teachers unions.

'That's the whole point of being in a union'

In Aurora, the school board race featured new narratives and players in district education politics.

The campaigns for three seats in the academically struggling district featured two incumbents, two conservatives and involvement from reform groups on the right and left. When ballots were counted, the results were mixed — one of the conservative reformers prevailed and the two incumbents held on.

To ward off a perceived threat from two conservative candidates, the Aurora Education Association coordinated more directly with candidates it endorsed and spent more money on the 2015 election than it had in recent memory, said Amy Nichols, the union’s president.

“We’ve never had, in recent memory, a race this big for us,” she said. “We saw what happened in Douglas County, in Jeffco, in Thompson. And we just didn’t want those distractions here.”

The Aurora teachers union gave $1,500 to each of the three candidates it backed and later made a donation to an independent expenditure committee. Nichols said she didn’t immediately know how much was given to that committee, which won’t file its next finance report with the state until January.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Aurora school board candidates, from left, Monica Colbert, Billie Day, and Mike Donald took questions from parents at a candidate forum Thursday.

Nichols challenged those who spotlighted unions’ stepped up spending and involvement.

“That’s the whole point of being a union,” she said. “Bottom line. I find it ironic. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black. You want to organize with your money … But you don’t want others to have the same opportunity?”

Former Republican state senator Josh Penry — a political consultant for Ready Colorado, a nonprofit that backed the two conservative board candidates — saw positives in the Aurora race compared to other more heated affairs in Jeffco or Dougco. He framed the debate over whether “sensible change” was needed.

Penry also pointed to heightened teachers union involvement as a key factor in Tuesday’s results.

“The unions to their political credit spent heavily and aggressively, more so than they have in the last several cycles,” Penry said. “That definitely tipped the scales in a number of places.’

The storyline was different in Denver, where Democratic-flavored education reform efforts were bolstered by Tuesday’s results. Although board president Happy Haynes faced an unexpectedly stern test, she held on and the balance of power on the board shifted from 6-1 to 7-0 favoring the district’s decade-old reforms.

A statement from Jen Walmer, head of Democrats for Education Reform in Colorado, illustrates how the term “reform” can mean vastly different things. After lauding the DPS result, Walmer went on to applaud “the defeat of ideologically driven school boards that voters rejected in favor of practical improvements.”

“As reformers dedicated to measurable high performance, accountability, transparency and choice for families in the best interest of their students, we must always protect and carry the mantle of true reform,” said Walmer, a former DPS chief of staff. “It is clear that some are using reform language to cloak their true desire to dismantle public education. A dialogue that is anti-teacher and not in the best interest of kids falls flat when held against true leaders working on behalf of students and equity."

What kind of statement?

Opinions vary over how much to read into Tuesday’s results, and which conclusions to draw.

School board races tend to be low-information, low-turnout elections, so it’s generally unwise to use them as a barometer of public opinion on education policy, said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. But this week’s much-watched school board races are more likely to reflect broader sentiment, he said.

Of the success of the Jeffco recall, Welner said: “I don’t see that as signaling an overall shift in the state, but a moderating influence in a place that kind of jolted to the right very recently.”

Also uncertain is whether the results will slow the march of reform in suburban areas.

More affluent, higher performing suburban districts are in once sense ideal for experimenting because students there have more safety nets, so the risk is smaller and potential payoff larger, said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“But if you are dealing with suburban communities where families are deeply involved and schools are seen as pretty good, trying to do ambitious reforms can be a high-wire act,” Hess said. “It can be easy for critics to raise concerns.”

In the Thompson school district, this week’s election shifted control from a reform-driven majority to one supported by the teachers union by a super-majority of five seats to two.

Denise Montagu, an incumbent endorsed by the local union who previously was in the board minority, said conservative school reform candidates lost in Thompson and elsewhere because voters believed they were sold a bill of goods.

“I think the community wanted to give reform a try,” Montagu said. “‘Reform, doesn’t that sound beautiful?’ But when they learned that reform meant attorneys, disenfranchising our teachers and clearly not putting the students first … that’s not what they signed up for.”

​Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Melanie Asmar contributed information to this report.

Categories: Urban School News

Ideological tides shift in four key districts

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 21:11

The tale of Tuesday’s changes in school board politics was told in four key districts — Jefferson County, Douglas County, Thompson and Colorado Springs District 11.

Here’s a quick look at board member turnover and more about those districts:

Jefferson County

Board control: Conservatives are totally out of power.

Winners and losers: Incumbent conservatives Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk were recalled by wide margins. A slate composed of Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell took those seats. Two other slate members, Ali Lassell and Amanda Stevens, were elected to two open seats not involved in the recall. (See story)

Money: The challengers, who received significant financial support from teachers union committees, outraised the incumbents. Some observers estimate total spending in the races at $1 million, spent by a long list of candidate committees, issue committees and independent groups.

Voter interest: 45.5 percent turnout. About 59,000 Democrats, 66,000 Republicans and 56,000 unaffiliated voters cast ballots.

Douglas County

Board control: Holdover conservative members have a 4-3 majority. Board vice president Doug Benevento said Tuesday, “The new board has obvious differences but we all care for our kids and our schools. In the coming days and months, I hope we can unite and move forward around that common sentiment.”

Winners and losers: The insurgent slate of Wendy Vogel, Anne-Marie Lemieux and David Ray easily defeated incumbents Craig Richardson, board president Kevin Larsen and Richard Robbins.

Money: The successful challengers also raised significantly more money than the incumbents. But the finance picture in the races is murky because some outside committees don’t have to file disclosures until January, and others don’t have to report at all.

Voter interest: 39.7 percent voter turnout. More than 19,000 Democrats, 47,851 Republicans and 23,000 unaffiliated voters participated.


Board control: Conservatives lose it. The most immediate impact may be a softening of tensions between the board and the local teachers union.

Winners and losers: Incumbents Pam Howard and Denise Montagu, in the minority on the old board, were re-elected. Former board member Jeff Swanty and newcomer Dave Levy won seats vacated by two conservative incumbents, Donna Rice and Bob Kerrigan, who didn’t run for reelection.

Money: Substantial amounts of funding poured into the campaigns, included a total of more than $61,000 raised by candidates, at least $50,000 in union funds, $195,000 in advertising by the outside group Thompson Students First and additional five-figure spending by other outside groups, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Voter interest: 34.6 percent turnout in Larimer County, of which the district is a part. About 24,000 Democrats, 30,603 Republicans and 24,000 unaffiliateds voted.

Colorado Springs District 11

Board control: Status quo.

Winners and losers: Incumbents Elaine Naleski and Nora Brown and ally Martin Herrera held off a challenge from conservatives Jeff Kemp, Karla Heard-Price and Dan Ajamian. Theresa Null, wife of term-limited board member Bob Null, also was elected.

Money: Brown, Naleski and Herrera raised $10-$11,000 each, including union contributions. There was considerable outside spending, including $58,000 in advertising provide by the outside group D-11 Taxpayers for Accountability in Education, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Voter interest: 41.6 percent turnout in El Paso County. Republican turnout exceeded Democrats and unaffiliateds combined in the county as a whole, which contains 15 school districts.

Elsewhere around the state

Individual conservative candidates were unsuccessful in the Adams 12-Five Star and Mesa 51 districts. There were two conservative candidates in Aurora, Monica Colbert and Grant Barrett. Colbert was elected. Both candidates were backed by the low-profile nonprofit Ready Colorado.

In Steamboat Springs, candidates backed by the local teachers union, Michelle Dover and Margaret Huron, won election, along with incumbent Joey Andrew. Two other incumbents didn’t seek reelection. Huron and Dover campaigned on a platform to “keep controversial school reform out of Steamboat,” according to Steamboat Today.

Categories: Urban School News

Two incumbents, one newcomer win Aurora board seats

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 10:37

Incumbents Dan Jorgensen and Cathy Wildman, as well as conservative candidate Monica Colbert, won seats on the Aurora school board Tuesday.

The winners beat out four other candidates for the at-large seats on the seven-member board. Jorgensen got 10,497 votes, Wildman got 10,405 and Colbert got 9,628.

The Aurora teachers union backed Jorgensen and Wildman, as well as candidate Billie Day, who finished fourth with 8,508 votes. Jorgensen also had the support of the Colorado branch of Democrats for Education Reform — and seeing that group agree with the union on a candidate is rare to say the least.

Colbert, who works at a foundation, won support from Ready Colorado, a Littleton-based nonprofit tied to conservative charter-school activist Margo Branscomb.

Besides Day, the defeated candidates were conservative Grant Barrett, community activist Linda Cerva and business owner Michael Donald.

Though the Aurora race didn't get as much attention as other races, the outcome could prove important to the direction of the struggling suburban school district.

The addition of a conservative-leaning board member, coming in the wake of a recent scathing report on the district's performance, could push Superintendent Rico Munn to be bolder than he’s been in his first three years on the job. The report from a coalition of 17 nonprofits charged that Munn and other district administrators have failed to deliver on the promise of improving district schools.

Get the latest results in top education races

It’s a tenuous time for the 42,000-student district, which has struggled with overcrowded schools, wide achievement gaps and high teacher turnover. In addition, the state has deemed 18 schools failing and the district could face the loss of accreditation.

The next board will likely consider several key proposals over the coming year, including a bond issue for new schools on the 2016 ballot. They’ll also be asked to sign off on the details of Munn’s plan to create an Innovation Zone in the Original Aurora neighborhood. Such schools — common in Denver but not Aurora — free the schools from certain state laws and give them more flexibility.

Besides Day

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rough Election Day for Colorado’s conservative education reformers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/04/2015 - 09:59
Election 2015 • Reformers stumble across the state

Three conservative school board members were recalled in a hotly contested election in suburban Denver. Jefferson County voters also elected a five-member slate backed by a collection of parents, high-profile Democrats and the teachers unions. Denver Post, 9News, KDVR, AP, Lakewood Sentinel, Chalkbeat Colorado

A slate of three insurgents critical of the Douglas County school district will replace three incumbents who led reform efforts. Douglas County News Press, Chalkbeat Colorado

A group of incumbents and new arrivals will make a new majority on the Thompson school board in Loveland. Reporter-Herald

Colorado Springs voters rejected a slate of reform candidates, opting for two other candidates well-financed by the teachers union. Gazette

ELECTION 2015 • Denver Edition

Denver school board president Happy Haynes, according to final unofficial results, edged her opponent to keep her at-large seat. Denver Post, 9News, Chalkbeat Colorado

A tax increase that would have created college scholarships for Denver students was defeated. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015 • Aurora edition

In the race for three seats on the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education, two incumbents lead the field of seven candidates. Aurora Sentinel, Chalkbeat Colorado

Election 2015 • Everywhere else edition

Two former district employees were elected to the Pueblo City Schools. Pueblo Chieftain

Mesa County school board candidates Paul Pitton and Doug Levinson won in landslides. But legal questions linger because Pitton lives outside the area he is supposed to represent. Grand Junction Sentinel

Seth “Isaiah” Thomas, Jamey Lockley, Brian M. Batz and Laura P. Mitchell win election to the Adams 12 school board. Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel

Larry Dean Valente, Ken Ciancio and Max Math will be elected to the three open seats on the Adams 50 school board. Westminster Window

Fort Lupton Re-8 School District had a number of school board seats up for election, with three contested races, one uncontested, one write-in and a district with no candidates at all. Here’s who won. Greeley Tribune

Lawyer Kathy Gebhardt and incumbent Shelly Benford won in the two contested Boulder Valley school board races. Daily Camera

Voters in the Lewis-Palmer school district returned three incumbents to the board. Gazette

Cathy Kipp and Rob Petterson cruised to victory Tuesday night in the two contested races for the Poudre School District Board of Education. Fort Collins Coloradoan

Election 2015 • Dollars and sense

Colorado voters agreed to allow the state to keep $66 million of marijuana tax money despite an accounting error that could have forced the state to refund the money to taxpayers and pot growers. AP

Adams County voters OKed a tax increase for new construction in the Brighton school district. Chalkbeat Colorado

Voters came out in favor of Roaring Fork School District’s $122 million bond issue. Post-Independent

safe schools

A student was removed from a southern Colorado high school after officials discovered the pupil was in a classroom with a weapon. Denver Post


An earlier version of Rise & Shine incorrectly identified the winners of the Pueblo City Schools board race.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver sales tax hike for college scholarships defeated

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 18:04

Denver voters Tuesday rejected a measure that would have raised taxes to subsidize college scholarships.

Final unofficial results showed voters rejected Measure 2A by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The proposal was born out of concerns by some education and civic leaders that more needs to done to make college more affordable, particularly for lower-income and first-generation students.

That concern was heightened by the fact that state budget constraints make it virtually impossible for state government to increase its commitment to financial aid, which now totals about $125 million a year.

The Denver proposal took a different approach to financial aid than the traditional direct grants to students that are paid to colleges to offset students’ bill. The Denver College Affordability Fund was structured to funnel most of its money to non-profits like the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which provide scholarships to students.

The fund was set up to reimburse those non-profits for part of the scholarships they give, provided that the students stay in college and are successfully advancing. Nonprofits also would receive funding to support the counseling and support programs they provide to help students stay in college.

Get the latest results in top education races

Higher education leaders increasingly believe that such support services are key to keeping students in college and advancing towards a degree.

“Literally billions of dollars are spent on kids who never graduate,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, referring to federal Pell Grant, a major source of financial aid nationwide. Garcia also is director of the state Department of Higher Education and a leading advocate for broadening access to higher education.

Garcia also has been involved in a state program called the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI), which is structured in a fashion similar to the Denver proposal.

The lieutenant governor says such programs don’t exist elsewhere in the county and acknowledges they are experiments that may or may not have an impact.

Part of the experiment is encouraging other local communities to start similar programs. Garcia was asked about the problem of a Denver student having access to support while a similar student just across the city limits in Lakewood or Aurora doesn’t.

“What we want to see if Lakewood come up a program,” Garcia said. The goal is “to spark more community-based initiatives.”

Advocates also hope that providing even modest amounts of government funding to scholarship programs will inspire businesses and foundations to devote more funding to financial aid.

The Denver program would provide only a modest contribution to the state’s overall financial aid picture.

Colorado students receive about $2.1 billion in financial aid a year, according to the state higher education department. About half of that is loans, and about half of grants are provided by colleges and universities.

Asked about the size of unmet need, Garcia said the department has tried to estimate that but hasn’t been able to come up with a solid figure. Several years ago, the department looked into expanding the state’s aid program but concluded “there just wasn’t a pot of money anywhere big enough," he said.

The campaign for 2A has been low-key and not focused on the intricacies of the plan. Some city council members and city Democratic leaders have opposed it, arguing that college financial aid isn’t a municipal responsibility.

Funded by $150,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and money from other donors, a last-minute TV ad campaign launched last week to shore up support for the plan.

Details of 2A
  • Imposes a .08 percent increase in sales and use taxes to fund the Denver College Affordability Fund, to be administered by a seven-member appointed board.
  • Raises an estimated $10.6 million annually.
  • Revenue would be used for grants to non-profits for scholarships and support services. Some funds also would help students with loan repayment.
  • Program would sunset in 10 years
  • Eligible students would have to be three-year Denver residents attending non-profit or state colleges and be no older than 25. Recipients would have to maintain satisfactory
  • Eligibility determined on a sliding scale of family income.

More information on campaign website

Categories: Urban School News

Voters approve bond issue for overcrowded District 27J

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 17:20

A proposed bond issue for Brighton-based District 27J passed easily Tuesday, just a year after voters narrowly rejected a similar plan.

The $248 million bond issue will pay for construction of four new schools and renovation of five existing buildings.

A $148 million district bond plan was defeated by 90 votes in 2014, a year that saw defeat of tax proposals in all five of the county's largest school districts. This year's larger proposal passed with 62 percent of the vote and more than 125,000 voters supporting it.

Chris Wahre, an officer of IAM27J, said, "We're very excited. I'm a little bit surprised, but I'm happy to see our efforts paid off and that our community's voice has been heard." IAM27J is the committee that mounted the campaign to pass the bond issue.

Elsewhere around the state, voters approved a $122 million bond plan in the Roaring Fork district. But a hotly debated $92 million construction proposal in Steamboat Springs was overwhelmingly defeated, along with a companion measure that would have raised taxes to pay for new staff. A handful of other districts proposed small bonds or tax overrides to fund operating expenses.

In tiny Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains, voters strongly rejected a $5.9 million bond issue to build a gym - and make other improvements - at the school in Lake City. Hinsdale reportedly is the only one of Colorado's 178 school districts that doesn't have a gym.

Voters statewide by a wide margin passed Proposition BB, which would allow the state to actually spend $66 million collected in marijuana taxes. Even though voters approved taxes on recreational marijuana in 2013, this year’s election is required because of one of the many quirks in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights constitutional amendment. Some $40 million a year of the revenue is earmarked for school construction grants.

Proposition BB was the only statewide measure.

Get the latest results in top education races

None of the state’s other 20 largest school districts sought tax increases this year, but 27J leaders felt they couldn’t wait because of rapid growth.

The district grew from 9,256 students in 2004 to 17,103 in the 2014-15 school year. That 84 percent increase far exceeds the 18.3 percent growth for all metro-area districts over the decade.

Growth has required uncomfortable adjustments, including modified split schedules at the district’s two comprehensive high schools, Brighton and Prairie View. The district also used modular classrooms at most schools.

District leaders warned that without the bond the high schools will need fully split schedules, with the school day stretching from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Lack of new buildings might also force year-around schedules at some elementary schools.

Get more details in this Chalkbeat Colorado article.

Categories: Urban School News

Dougco board incumbents go down to defeat

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 14:28

The three challengers for seats on the Douglas County school board easily ousted conservative incumbents in Tuesday's election.

Majority control of the conservative-dominated wasn’t at stake in Tuesday’s election, but election of the three challengers will significantly change the board dynamics. And the outcome ended the conservatives' run of success in three previous board elections.

The challengers won convincingly, each tallying 58 to 59 percent of the vote.

Board president Kevin Larsen, who lost to Anne-Marie Lemieux in District C, said, "I hope they come in and are able to assimilate with the remaining members on the board and build on what we've done to improve the district. ... I wish them well."

The size of the challengers' margins was "a bit stunning to us. We knew it could go either way, but it definitely was a stronger percentage than we anticipated," Larsen said.

The conservative majority first elected in 2009 has shaken up the district by championing policies such as a voucher program, a pay-for-performance salary system, breaking the district teachers union and new budgeting practices.

While the board has had some different faces now than it did in 2009, all seven members were in the conservative camp up to now.

In addition to Larsen and Lemieux, the candidates this year were incumbent Craig Richardson and Wendy Vogel in District A and incumbent Richard Robbins and David Ray in District F.

The three incumbents promoted rising achievement, high school graduation rates, declining college remediation and the district’s top-level state rating as reasons to re-elect them.

But the three challengers argued that the board has gone too far in its initiatives, badly implemented some of them, ruined teacher morale and ignored the views of many parents and teachers.

Larsen said he thought the challengers made points with voters by campaigning on low teacher morale and the need for greater diversity of views on the board. "I think their message was effective enough to give them a victory."

Get the latest results in top education races

Two hot issues in the campaign were whether the district needs to carry out a comprehensive survey of parent and teacher attitude about the district and the board’s refusal to propose a bond issue to pay for an estimated $250 million in building needs.

Past Dougco campaigns have seen high spending with significant contributions by wealthy individuals from outside the district.

The challengers raised significantly more money that the incumbents in this campaign, but what’s expected to have been significant spending by independent campaign committees hasn’t yet been reported – or doesn’t have to be reported.

The 2009 Dougco election, with its strongly partisan and ideological tone, marked a change in Colorado school board politics. The push to elect conservative candidates spread to other districts, including Jefferson County, Thompson and others. But that wave seems to have receded in many districts this election.

In addition to shaking things up within the district, Dougco board members and top administrators have been critical of state academic content standards and tests and have touted their own system as superior to what the state requires of districts.

Dougco residents vote on all candidates, but the winners are elected by district.

Read what the candidates had to say on the issues in Chalkbeat Colorado’s Election Center, and learn more about the tone of the campaign in this story about a candidate forum.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board members who pushed controversial changes ousted in recall

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 13:53

LAKEWOOD — After two years of political acrimony in the Colorado’s second largest school district, three conservative school board members were easily swept out of office Tuesday in a recall election that cost more than a million dollars and attracted national attention.

Replacing them are three candidates backed by a constituency of well-connected parents, high-profile county Democrats and the teachers union. They will serve the rest of the recall targets’ four-year terms.

Two other school board candidates supported by organizers of the recall also were elected, completely resetting the Jefferson County school board.

“It appears to me public education in Jefferson County is not for sale,” said school board member-elect Ali Lasell.

The conclusion of the tug-of-war for Jeffco Public Schools not only sets Jeffco Public Schools in a new, if not familiar, direction but also inflicts a high-profile blow to conservative education reform activists who support merit pay for teachers and expanding charter schools and voucher programs.

“Change is hard and sometimes the first agents of change suffer from a slow response,” said ousted school board president Ken Witt.

At odds in the recall were some of the nation’s thorniest education debates: how teachers are evaluated and paid, the role of charter schools and how to fund them, and how to pay for early childhood education.

The recall was a big gamble for the school board’s critics, considering that such efforts are expensive and rarely successful.

Ultimately, recall organizers were able to convince about 28,000 more Jeffco residence to cast a vote in this year’s election than in 2013. Those additional voters overwhelming voted to recall the school board majority in a race many political observers expected to be close.

For example, 82,868 voters in 2013 voted to put Julie Williams in office. In 2015, 104,845 voters voted to recall her, according to returns posted by 10:30 p.m.

Williams declined to comment on the results.

Organizers behind the recall, surprised by the two-to-one margin of victory, credited their vast network of parents, teachers and other civic leaders who volunteered thousands of hours to carry recall petitions, walk neighborhoods, host dinner parties and post relentlessly on social media.

“We might have been outspent by the other side,” said recall organizer Michael Blanton, "but we weren’t outworked.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson reacts to an outcry of support after announcing she'll leave the district in February. Stevenson said her decision came after a deteriorating relationship with the new majority on the district's board of education.

Genesis of a controversy
The three school board members recalled Tuesday — Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams — were elected by wide margins in 2013.

The three conservatives rode a wave of backlash against a controversial data management program being piloted in Jeffco schools that was backed by tech giant and education reform activist Bill Gates and a billion dollar statewide tax increase also on the ballot.

Further, the three candidates claimed Jeffco schools, which had a generally well-regarded reputation, could and should do better to boost student achievement, which was stagnant.

While critics claim the board majority was elected during a low turnout off-year election, 2013 boasted the highest ever turnout in Jefferson County in an odd election year: 43 percent. Turnout this year was 45 percent.

The day after the 2013 election, Superintendent Cindy Stevenson announced she’d leave her post at the end of the school year after leading the district for 12 years, later citing a breakdown in trust.

Later that spring after a national search, the school board, on a 3-2 vote, named Douglas County schools administrator Dan McMinimee as Jeffco’s new superintendent. His ties to Douglas County, where similar reforms were underway, and his salary would become recall campaign fodder.

Parent network sprung up early
The foundation for the recall effort’s ground game was built on websites and social networks created by a core group of parents that previously had the ear of superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

Soon after the school board majority was elected, parents and activists began videotaping school board meetings and uploaded clips to YouTube. Blogs tracking the school board majority’s every move sprung up. Facebook groups connected parents with civic leaders and teachers.

Once the recall was officially launched in late June, those YouTube filmmakers, bloggers and Facebook friends became ground troops that went door-to-door every weekend to wrangle votes.

“We couldn’t have done the recall without the network we’ve developed with parents groups and civic organizations,” Tina Gurdikan, one of the recall’s parent organizers.

PHOTO: Gabriel Christus/Evergreen NewspapersWheat Ridge High School teacher Arik Helm speaks during a March 14 bargaining session.

Teacher pay was flagship reform
Perhaps the school board majority’s most contentious move involved how teachers are paid.

In September 2014, the majority approved a plan to link teachers’ raises to their annual evaluations. The plan, which did not include input from the teachers union, was based on a graph Witt drew by hand.

It called for the minimum salary to be raised to $38,000; teachers rated effective to earn a raise and those rated highly-effective to receive even more compensation. Teachers who were rated less than effective would receive no raise, unless their minimum salary was less than $38,000.

Previously, the minimum salary was $31,000 and teachers were given raises based on years of service and their education level.

The school board majority’s relationship with the teachers union only further deteriorated in 2015 when the board majority — as well as the board’s minority members — approved a higher salary scale for teachers who would join the district in 2015.

Jeffco veterans, who voluntarily took pay cuts and pay freezes during the previous five years, felt snubbed.

That vote — along with refusing to allocate $15 million in one-time money for raises — almost derailed contract negotiations with the union.

Ultimately, a new contract was signed and more than $21 million went to pay for teacher raises. But as critics pointed out, that averaged out to about a 1 percent raise per teacher, far less than the increase in cost-of-living.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Standley Lake High School students rallied near their school Sept. 19, 2014, to raise awareness over a proposed curriculum panel that would report to the school district's Board of Education. The rally was the same day as an apparent teacher "sick out."

A contentious history lesson
The nation’s attention first turned to the turmoil in Jefferson County when thousands of high school students began protesting a 2014 proposal to create a new curriculum review committee taking aim at a recently-revised advanced U.S. History class.

Conservatives across the nation had complained that a revised Advanced Placement U.S. History class was too critical about the nation’s history and did not emphasize important political figures like Thomas Jefferson.

Teachers, parents and students saw school board member saw an overreach in Williams’ proposal, which asked for curriculum that promoted American Exceptionalism and discouraged social strife.

After two weeks of student walkouts, national headlines and a trending hashtag — #jeffcoschoolboardhistory — on Twitter, the school board majority passed a dramatically scaled-back resolution that placed parents and students on an existing curriculum review panel. They also made that panel responsible to the school board so those meetings would be public.

It was that debate over the U.S. history course that weighed heavily on Westminster voter Brian Little. He voted for the recall.

“I didn’t like that history thing they did last year,” he said Tuesday, referring to school board member Julie Williams’ proposal.

On the other side of the Advanced Placement U.S. History debate and recall was Don Fitzner. He said he believed the teachers union used students as pawns to drive a wedge in the community.

“The teachers union is out to railroad these guys,” he said. “They want to teach a version of history that blames America for everything that is wrong in the world.”

Big money on both sides flooded campaign
The combined costs for the recall and the campaign for two open seats is expected to swell beyond a million dollars and stands to be the most expensive school board election in state history. Much of that money will never be fully disclosed because of limited disclosure requirements.

The political committees Jeffco United for Action, which launched the recall, and Jeffco United Forward, were financed mostly by small donors throughout Jefferson County, including $13,000 collected by selling yard signs at $10 a pop.

Low-profile Democratic donors with deep pockets and the county’s teachers union also gave liberally to support the slate of candidates backed by recall organizers.

Meanwhile, three social welfare nonprofits came to the defense of the school board majority: Jeffco Students First Action, the Denver-based Independence Institute and Americans For Prosperity, which is backed by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers.

Because the three organizations are nonprofits, they are free to raise an unlimited amount of money and so long as they don’t directly advocate for candidates, are free to keep their expenditures private.

Healing, but first a little gloating
While the recall effort garnered national attention, the issues and rhetoric were extremely personal.

In one instance, Witt’s youngest daughter was harassed at her high school. In another, a supporter of the board majority suggested members of teachers union should “executed.”

Jabs were exchanged on Twitter and the micro-social networking site Nextdoor. Accusations were flung back and forth on news websites.

All five newly elected school board members Tuesday night pledged to work with all members of the Jeffco Public Schools community , while also reveling in their easy victory.

“We didn’t just win this — we slammed them,” said Ron Mitchell, who will succeed Witt. “What an incredible thing: We the people pushed back against big money, pushed back against an agenda that was not good for our schools.”

School board member-elect Amanda Stevens took a different tone.

“We look forward to reconciliation and paths forward as a united Jeffco,” she told the audience.

Superintendent McMinimee, in a statement said he looked forward to working with the new school board to bridge the divide in the school community.

“We hope that our Jeffco community can heal its rifts and reunite to focus on ensuring that every Jeffco student is well-equipped and prepared to excel in his or her college life or career,” he said.

Chalkbeat reporter Ann Schimke contributed to this report.

This article was updated to include updated voter turnout numbers. 

Categories: Urban School News

Happy Haynes edges challenger Robert Speth in DPS at-large race

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 13:14

Denver school board president Allegra "Happy" Haynes narrowly prevailed over upstart challenger Robert Speth in unofficial final results released Wednesday morning for the contested at-large DPS board seat.

Haynes tallied 53,729 votes and Speth had 52,918, according to Denver elections returns. The incumbent had trailed in earlier returns.

While close, Haynes's margin appeared to put the result out of the range of a recount. In a two-person race, a recount is triggered if the difference between the two candidates is effectively a quarter of one percent, according to the secretary of state's office.

A loss to the virtually unknown Speth would have been a stunning turn for Haynes, a Denver political fixture. Speth framed himself as an outsider, a check against what he describes as a "rubber stamp" board backing the district's decade-old reforms.

If Haynes' result holds — and at this point it should be a formality, with results becoming official in the coming weeks —it would mean a school board united behind the reforms of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Two other candidates prevailed Tuesday night over Boasberg critics. Lisa Flores won by healthy margin in northwest Denver's District 5, and incumbent Anne Rowe easily held onto southeast Denver's District 1 seat.

Haynes declined comment Tuesday night to a Chalkbeat reporter about early returns that showed her behind, then left an election party that also featured supporters of three Denver city ballot measures. Speth was cautious in his remarks Tuesday night.

In the race for a seat to represent northwest and west Denver, Flores defeated opponent Michael Kiley, 53 percent to 47 percent.

In the southeast race, Rowe won 62 percent of the vote to challenger Kristi Butkovich's 38 percent.

Three seats were up for grabs on the seven-member school board, which almost always supports the district’s vision of a mix of charter and traditional schools, paying teachers based on performance and closing underperforming schools.

Six candidates ran for the three seats. Three of the candidates, including the two incumbents, largely agree with that vision and three don’t. But even if the naysayers had all prevailed, they wouldn't have held enough board seats to block the district’s reform-minded policies.

The most contentious race unfolded in northwest and west Denver, where Flores and Kiley sought to represent District 5 and replace Arturo Jimenez, who is term-limited. Jimenez is often the lone dissenting voice on the board.

Flores, a former senior program officer with the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, was favored by reform groups that agree with DPS’s philosophy. Kiley, a program manager for a software company, was supported by the teachers union. He unsuccessfully ran for a board seat in 2013.

Get the latest results in top education races

The two candidates differed on several key issues, including the use of “enrollment zones,” which are expanded school boundaries meant to increase participation in school choice and diversify schools. Flores is cautiously supportive while Kiley opposes them because, he says, students don’t always end up at their first-choice school.

“We know from Denver’s experiment with forced busing that parents with resources will choose the schools they prefer or leave the district,” he wrote in response to a question on a Chalkbeat questionnaire sent to all DPS candidates. (Read all of the responses here.)

Kiley and Flores also disagreed on charter schools. Kiley believes they should complement neighborhood schools, not replace them, and that charters shouldn’t have boundaries. Flores is more agnostic when it comes to school type.

“I believe that we need to focus less on the model of school governance and much more about knowing that it is successfully educating our children,” she wrote in response to a different question on the questionnaire.

As of Oct. 25, campaign finance reports showed that Flores raised a total of $110,219 thanks in part to more than 400 individual donors, which is more than contributed to any other candidate. Notable donors included Kent Thiry, CEO of Denver-based DaVita Healthcare Partners ($5,000); Michelle Yee of San Francisco, whose husband co-founded LinkedIn ($4,000); Colorado congressman Jared Polis ($2,000); and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg ($2,000), who also wrote the bestselling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Kiley has gotten the bulk of his support -- $84,000 of the $111,469 he’d raised by Oct. 25 -- from teachers unions, which prefer his vision of strong “neighborhood schools” that offer comprehensive music, arts and sports programs in addition to academics.

In the past few weeks, cash has also flowed into the at-large race between Haynes and Speth. Haynes is a former Denver city councilwoman who’s worked for two mayors and champions many of the district’s policies. Speth is a father of two who works in the telecommunications industry. He’s been critical of DPS’s direction.

“The city of Denver should and CAN do better,” Speth wrote in response to Chalkbeat’s questionnaire. “The decisions that are being made in education today are wrong.”

Haynes, meanwhile, largely supports the reform work of DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, calling him “extraordinarily effective.”

Haynes and Speth disagree on other topics too, including how test scores should be used to rate schools. Haynes applauds DPS’s rating system for taking several factors into account when rating a school, including parent engagement and progress made on closing achievement gaps between, for example, low-income and non-low-income students. Speth argues the system still relies too heavily on students’ academic growth.

Speth was a late entrant to the race; he didn’t kick off his campaign until early September. Shortly after he did, Haynes’s fundraising skyrocketed. In two weeks in October, she more than quadrupled the amount of money she’d raised in the previous year, bringing her fundraising total to $90,629. Thiry ($5,000), Yee ($4,000) and Polis ($1,000) also contributed to her campaign.

Speth has raised less money: $60,196 as of Oct. 25, including $40,000 from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund, a union-affiliated small donor committee.

Editor's note: Chalkbeat receives financial support from the Gates Family Foundation. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco recall in national spotlight

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 09:31
Election 2015

The Jeffco recall and school board elections may be the most closely watched local races in this nation this year. CBS Denver, EdWeek, Washington Post, AP via HuffPost

Catch up on the top storylines for education in today’s elections. Chalkbeat Colorado

Raising the bar

More minority students are taking Advanced Placement classes in Colorado. 9News

Help wanted

Several school districts are trying to fill vacant bus driver positions. 9News

In need of substitutes, the Boulder Valley district has opened its substitute pool to people without bachelor’s degrees. Other districts also are having troubles filling their pools. Daily Camera

School safety

Security measures have been stepped up at two Colorado Springs high schools in the wake of recent incidents. Gazette

Helping hand

Colorado State University Pueblo is using a $200,000 grant to help rural districts find teachers. KRDO

State budget

The K-12 negative factor would grow under the governor’s proposed budget. Chalkbeat Colorado

Colleges and universities would set their own tuition rates as part of the 2016-17 budget plan. Chalkbeat Colorado


A Greeley West High School senior is working up a unique senior prank. Greeley Tribune

Two cents

A Fort Collins judge went too far in a recent ruling about an illegal campaign contribution, writes the Post’s editorial board. Denver Post

A former Denver school board member writes that equity remains elusive 20 years after school busing ended. Denver Post

It’s time to treat teachers like professionals, writes former Senate President Peter Groff. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Five things to watch on Election Day

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/03/2015 - 08:00

There is no such thing as an off-year election when it comes to education.

Fall ballots in odd-numbered years are absent of presidential and congressional candidates but chock full of school board races. This year is no different, and if anything it is exceptional thanks to a certain battle playing out in the Denver suburbs you may have read something about.

School-related money measures are fewer this cycle, but there are developments to monitor on that front, too.

Weeks of campaigning come to an end Tuesday night when ballots in the all-mail election are counted. With the hours counting down, here is our take on the five major education storylines that bear watching:

1. Jeffco — of course

Two years of political unrest in the state’s second largest school district come to a head Tuesday night. The outcome could carry significance beyond setting the course for Jefferson County Public Schools over the next two years.

The hotly contested recall election of three conservative school board members coupled with the regular election of two open seats puts the entire Jeffco school board in play. Come Wednesday, Jeffco could have five new board members.

At the same time, Jeffco voters besieged by protests on busy boulevards, campaign literature in their mailboxes and commercials on television will embolden one of two predominant voices in the national education policy debate: teachers unions or conservative education reformers.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Dozens of young Jefferson County residents ran through the barn and climbed on rails during a campaign rally July 8.

At odds between the two forces — locally and nationally — are how teachers are evaluated and paid, the role of charter schools and paying for early childhood education.

As of Monday morning, voters in the political swing county had cast more than 113,000 votes. That’s about two-thirds of the 2013 vote total that resulted in the school board majority coming to power. Recall supporters were energized early with a strong showing from Democrats in ballot returns. Since then, Republicans have taken the lead.

But the school board race is nonpartisan. And given Jeffco’s large bloc of independent voters, turnout by political parties tells only part of the story.

While the recall has been a study in contrasts in the education reform debate, it has also provided Jefferson County voters with two different styles of campaigns.

Jeffco United, the organization behind the recall, has put most of its money behind mailers and organizing volunteers to knock on doors every weekend since September.

By comparison, the organizations opposing the recall, such as the Independence Institute, banked its strategy on television and online advertising.

Which side reached and convinced more voters? We will know in a few short hours.

2. Shifting battlegrounds in Denver?

For much of campaign season, the most closely watched Denver school board race has been in the northwest part of the city, where Lisa Flores and Michael Kiley are vying to represent District 5.

The race is a classic Denver showdown between a union-backed candidate, Kiley, and Flores, whose views align with the district’s philosophy of school reform.

The seat is wide open; incumbent Arturo Jimenez -- who is often the lone dissenting voice on the board -- is term-limited. Groups and donors on both sides of the debate have poured money into the race. As of Oct. 25, the candidates had raised a combined $220,000.

But more recently, attention has turned toward the at-large race, which features many of the same political dynamics.

In late summer, board president Allegra "Happy" Haynes had seemingly little to worry about. As candidates running to represent the northwest and southeast parts of the city staked out positions, Haynes didn't even have an opponent.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Denver school board President Happy Haynes and her challenger Robert Speth in a televised debate.

Robert Speth, a northwest Denver father of two who is critical of DPS’s direction, announced his candidacy in late August.

The most recent campaign finance reports show Speth with strong backing from the teachers union, and Haynes' campaign awakening. In two weeks in October, Haynes more than quadrupled the amount of money she’d raised in the previous year and spent big on mailers, Facebook ads and robocalls.

Haynes is a former city councilwoman who worked for Gov. John Hickenlooper when he was mayor of Denver. She was recently appointed by current Mayor Michael Hancock to head the city’s parks and recreation department — an issue Speth has highlighted in media interviews and debates (but not campaign literature).

Speth's campaign recently invested in a mailer asking voters, “Are you a Democrat? Then please vote like a Democrat!” and noting that he was “endorsed by the people,” including the teachers unions.

Last week, Democrats for Education Reform sent a press release rebuffing implications that Haynes’s values don’t line up with the party. The statement listed 24 prominent Democrats who’ve endorsed her, including Hickenlooper, Hancock and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Hickenlooper also sent an email in recent days reiterating his support for Haynes.

A third Denver school board race hasn’t drawn as much money or attention. In southeast Denver, newcomer Kristi Butkovich is running against incumbent Anne Rowe to represent District 1.

Because just three seats on the seven-member board are up for grabs, the election won’t fundamentally shift the board’s pro-reform direction. But it will determine whether there continues to be at least one dissenting voice on the dais.

3. Let's not forget Aurora

While local and national media attention has been focused on the suburbs west of Denver, the struggling Aurora Public Schools to the east has an interesting election in its own right.

Seven candidates, including two incumbents, are battling it out for three seats. While the at-large seats won’t constitute a new majority on the seven-member board, some observers believe if two conservative candidates win, it could be enough to shake up the district.

The two conservatives, Grant Barrett and Monica Colbert, said in interviews with Chalkbeat they’re not interested in dividing the Aurora schools community in ways on display in Jefferson and Douglas counties. However, both said the district is in need of changes, which could include more charter schools and discussions about merit pay for teachers.

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn

Colbert and Barrett won the support of the nonprofit Ready Colorado. The Littleton-based nonprofit, which has no apparent online presence, is run by conservative charter-school activist Margo Branscomb, according to documents with the secretary of state’s office. Ready Colorado has sent glossy mailers throughout Aurora supporting the two.

To rebuff Barrett and Colbert, an interesting alliance has formed between the Aurora teachers union and the Denver branch of Democrats for Education Reform. Both organizations endorsed incumbent Dan Jorgensen.

Other candidates backed by the teachers union include Billie Day and incumbent Cathy Wildman.

On the campaign trail, it’s been difficult to size up where most of the candidates differ on issues. All pledged their general support for Superintendent Rico Munn, the district’s new strategic plan, and the nascent plans for reforms at Aurora Central High School and a cluster of schools in the Original Aurora neighborhood that serve mostly low-income students.

This low-information election is likely going to come down to name recognition. That should give incumbents Jorgensen and Wildman, who along with Barrett won the endorsement of the Aurora Sentinel, the edge.

Regardless of the results, the Aurora school board will be faced with many tough decisions in the near future such as how to address the district’s overcrowding and improve a third of its schools before the state steps in.

4. Round 4 in Douglas County

The conservative majority in power on the Douglas County school board took office amid controversy in 2009, and the contentiousness has continued through every election since then, including this year’s contest.

As is the case in Denver, control of the board isn’t on the line this year because only three of seven seats are on the ballot. But the election is being closely watched to see if the board majority continues its winning ways.

The cast of characters on the board has changed somewhat since the 2009 election, but the philosophy has remained the same. Key policy initiatives have included creation of a pay for performance system, ouster of the teachers union and creation of a voucher system that includes religious schools.

Two of Dougco parent Meredith Massar's daughters join friends in a protest outside the Douglas County Public Schools administration building.

Those steps have been both praised and fought by different segments of the Dougco community, and the voucher program has been blocked in court and now is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Board opponents regularly criticize it for a perceived lack of openness. That complaint has shown itself on the campaign trail this year over whether the district should conduct a comprehensive survey of community attitudes about the schools. Another issue this year is the board’s lack of interest in seeking a bond issue to pay for $250 million in estimated building needs.

Previous Dougco contests have been high spending affairs, but this year challengers have raised significantly more money that incumbents. But an unknown amount of outside money has been spent to promote the incumbents.

It remains to be seen how interested the public is in this races. Dougco turnout was 107,334, 49.3 percent, when four of the seven school board seats were on the ballot in 2013. This year 58,901 ballots had been turned in as off Monday morning.

The candidates are incumbent Craig Richardson and Wendy Vogel in District A, incumbent Kevin Larsen and Anne-Marie Lemieux in District C and incumbent Richard Robbins and David Ray in District F.

5. Brighton bonds, Denver scholarships and other money matters

Financial issues don’t have a high profile in this year’s district elections. Only one of the state’s 20 largest districts, 27J in Brighton, is asking voters for a property tax increase, while Denver voters face a proposal to raises sales taxes to fund college scholarships.

Despite losing a smaller bond issue plan by 90 votes last year, the 27J board decided to try again this year with a $248 million plan to build four new schools and renovate and expand five others.

The rapidly growing district felt it couldn’t wait and wanted to avoid indefinite continuation of split schedules at its two high schools and the possible use of year-round schedules at elementary schools.

The other large bond proposals on the ballot are $122 million plan in the Roaring Fork district and a hotly debated $92 million proposal in Steamboat Springs.

In Denver, city leaders are asking for a sales tax increase of 8 cents on a $100 purchase to raise $10.6 million a year for college scholarships.

The program wouldn’t operate like a traditional financial aid plan. In most cases the funds wouldn’t go to students but rather to organizations like the Denver Scholarship Foundation to help fund their scholarships and the support and counseling services they provide to students.

There’s opposition to the plan among a few city council members and within the city’s Democratic Party organization. Thanks to $150,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and money from other donors, a last-minute TV ad campaign launched last week to shore up support for the plan.

The only issue facing all voters statewide is Proposition BB, which would allow the state to actually spend $66 million collected in marijuana taxes. Even though voters approved taxes on recreational marijuana in 2013, this year’s election is required because of one of the many quirks in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights constitutional amendment.

Categories: Urban School News

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