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In the News: Teacher tenure laws ruled unconstitutional

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 08:28

A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights, handing teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states. (The New York Times)

DYETT SUPPORTS BLAST ALDERMAN: Activists who are fighting to save Walter H. Dyett High School from closing at the end of the 2014-2015 school year on Monday blasted Chicago Ald. Will Burns (4th), whose ward includes Dyett, for not supporting their proposal to keep the school open beyond 2015 and transition it into a "global leadership and green technology" open-enrollment, neighborhood high school. (Progress Illinois)

ON CPS' PAPER TRAIL: A week after Curie High School won the city basketball championship, a Chicago Public Schools investigation revealed that seven Curie basketball players had been ineligible for the entire season because the correct paperwork hadn’t been filed. Now, a Sun-Times investigation has found that CPS officials can’t say for sure whether basketball players at every school — including the top teams — were eligible. (Sun-Times)

STRIKE THREAT: The Hinsdale High School Teachers Association, the bargaining representative of the district's 377 teachers, voted to strike if a new contract agreement is not met by June 30. (My Suburban Life)

TEACHERS' VIEWS ON NCLB: A study by professors from Indiana University and the University of Texas at Dallas finds that since No Child Left Behind, teachers report feeling more autonomous, more supported by school administrators and have higher levels of job satisfaction. At the same time, teachers are working longer hours and may feel less cooperation with fellow educators. (Huffington Post)

GATES FOUNDATION EASES UP: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced its support for a two-year moratorium on tying results from assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards to teacher evaluations or student promotions to the next grade level. (Education Week)

PUSH TO DIVERSIFY NYC ELITE HIGH SCHOOLS: New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña backed a bill on Monday that would require the city’s specialized high schools to use more than a single test score as their student admissions criteria, an effort grounded in the administration’s desire to increase diversity within the eight schools and reduce the emphasis on testing. (Chalkbeat New York)

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado childcare costs can eat up majority of family income

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 18:29

The price of childcare could drain away almost half the income of a single mother in Colorado, according to a new report released Tuesday. For married couples, it’s closer to a tenth of the household income.

The report, which was produced by preschool quality assessor Qualistar along with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Children’s Campaigns, looked both at the cost of childcare (how much money is spent to provide the service) and the price (how much a consumer pays for the service). In Colorado, childcare costs outstrip college costs for state universities.

And the cost of providing childcare outstripped how much families paid, despite the high prices. That’s due to a number of factors, including high staffing requirements and food costs due the multiple meals most centers provide.

Both the price of childcare and how much of the typical family’s income it required varied by county. Gunnison County, in western Colorado, topped out as the least affordable for single mothers, with the average cost of childcare taking up over 85 percent of the typical single mother’s salary. For married couples, the least affordable county was Routt, in northwestern Colorado.

While many of the least affordable counties were small and dispersed rural areas, Denver ranked as one of the most costly for both single mothers and families.

The full list of the most and least expensive counties for childcare:

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See the full report here.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver officials suggest STRIVE to co-locate at Kepner campus

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 17:44

Southwest Denver families looking for more answers about the future of the Kepner Middle School campus now have an answer  — the building is likely to be home to two new schools, including a STRIVE charter school.

Denver school officials yesterday recommended that the STRIVE charter school network be able to open a new program — alongside a district run program — as part of a phase-in, phase-out intervention at the Kepner campus in southwest Denver in 2015.

The district announced the intervention at Kepner earlier this year and, as part of its annual call for new schools, vetted applications from several programs, including the DSST charter network.

Teachers and staff currently at Kepner and the education advocacy organization City Year pitched the district to be a part of the Kepner turnaround process, too. However neither the teacher group, nor City Year, completed all the necessary steps to be considered.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief innovation officer, told the board that the decision to recommend STRIVE over DSST, which was approved to open a new school in the southwest neighborhood last year, was a difficult one.

While both programs have a strong record of working with English language learners, it was STRIVE’s capacity to work with more students who speak another language at home, its proven history to co-locate, and a long wait list at its other campuses that tipped the advantage in their favor, Whithead-Bust said.

As part of the final agreement, which will be submitted for board approval, STRIVE will agree to share an attendance boundary with the district run program, hire bilingual teachers who will provide core curriculum in Spanish, and serve as a zone school for English language learners.

Zone schools are campuses that students who are learning English as a second language can attend if the school in their attendance boundary does not offer the English acquisition program that parents choose for their child. Transportation to designated zone schools is provided to students if they meet district eligibility requirements

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, appeared to be cautiously optimistic at the district’s recommendation.

He fired off several questions asking how the district would ensure students who are learning English would have equity in access to either the charter school or the district run program. He also raised concerns on whether those students might be counseled-out of the charter school.

Susana Cordova, chief academic officer for Denver Public Schools, assured Jimenez the district’s charter schools have a low level of students transitioning out of those programs.

If the school board approves the recommendation at its June 12 meeting, DPS would move to hire a principal to develop a district run program that would begin in the fall of 2015.

Late last month, the district announced DPS veteran Elza Guajardo would lead the district’s phase-out efforts.

Categories: Urban School News

Gates Foundation exec: Give students, teachers time on tests

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 17:26

A senior executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is dialing back its position on how standardized testing should be used in high stakes decisions for teachers and students.

“The Gates Foundation agrees with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years,” Vicki Phillips wrote in a letter posted on the foundation’s website Tuesday.

In the letter titled “Let’s Give Students and Teachers Time,” Phillips wrote, “A rushed effort to apply the assessments could punish teachers as they’re trying new things, and any hiccups in the assessments could be seen as flaws in the standards.”

Phillips is director of College Ready, a foundation initiative that seeks to increase the number of U.S. students ready for college or work by the time they leave high school.

The Gates Foundation has been at the epicenter of the debate over the Common Core Standards and over coming multistate tests, such as the PARCC assessments Colorado will use next spring. (For exhaustive details on that, see this recent Washington Post story, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution.”)

The letter hasn’t seemed to have drawn much attention yet, although American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten put out a news release applauding Phillips’ comments, repeating the view that “we have to de-link the high-stakes consequences of the tests from the standards’ implementation for now.”

Phillips’ letter specifically referenced Colorado, saying, “A number of states, including Kentucky, Maryland, Colorado and Louisiana have provided additional time for teachers to create their own lessons and curriculum, get new professional support, and become familiar with the assessments before they’re used as a measure of teacher performance. Each of these states is taking a different approach, but they all are listening to teachers, and they are all taking steps to align their approach with what teachers need to make the standards succeed.”

Colorado has taken a number of steps that partially delay the impacts of new standards and tests. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core for language arts and math, went into effect for all school districts in the school year that just ended.
  • The online PARCC tests are scheduled to be given next spring in all Colorado schools.
  • Because results of those tests won’t be available until late in 2015, the legislature passed a law this spring that allows school and district accreditation ratings issued next fall to apply for the next two school years. Those ratings will be based partly on student academic growth as measured by this spring’s TCAP tests.
  • For the 2014-15 school year, districts will have flexibility in how much – if any – to weight student growth in educator evaluations. Districts will have to gather growth data for all teachers but can choose to weight it anywhere between 0 and 50 percent. The remainder of teacher evaluations will be based on observations of professional practice.

The Common Core and new tests have sparked anxiety both in schools and at the Capitol. Lawmakers defeated proposals to delay both the standards and testing, but they did create a task force to study testing, an effort that kicks off next month (details here).

Categories: Urban School News

Talking With Principals, Part 1: Speaking out from the trenches

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 16:16

Last week, Catalyst Chicago held a roundtable discussion with a handful of CPS principals to gauge their thoughts on issues that the public usually doesn’t hear them talk about, but that have a significant impact on how well they can do their jobs as school leaders. Catalyst talked with four principals about new, state-mandated evaluations; managing budgets; principal training; and principals’ ability to speak their minds without fear of reprimand from the administration.

The idea for the conversation emerged after Blaine Elementary School’s principal, Troy LaRaviere, wrote about a top-down culture of suppression in CPS in a much-circulated op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times. Other principals quickly followed suit, including Peterson Elementary School’s Adam Parrott-Sheffer, who wrote his own op-ed for Catalyst about how CPS turns good ideas into bad ones by not listening to those on the ground. 

So we invited LaRaviere, Parrott-Sheffer and a dozen other principals to a panel discussion at our offices on June 5. Several expressed interest, but only four – including three vocal critics of CPS policy -- participated: LaRaviere, Parrott-Sheffer, who both lead high-ranking schools in the North Side; Deidrus Brown from the soon-to-be turned around Gresham Elementary School on the South Side; and Chad Adams, a first-year principal at Sullivan High School, a North Side School on academic probation.

Unlike most CPS principals, all four of the participants were very familiar with the media spotlight. Brown has declared an all-out war against CPS for the action against her school, and Adams was featured in This American Life’s much-lauded Harper High School radio documentary

Because of the length of the discussion – about 90 minutes – we divided the transcript into four parts and edited it for clarity. Today, we begin the series with a general conversation about the mood among principals and where they go from here. On Wednesday, we’ll continue with a discussion about principal training and the controversial program, SUPES Academy. Thursday’s discussion will focus on principal and teacher evaluations. We will wrap up on Friday with a conversation about budget matters.

Catalyst Chicago: How are principals feeling these days?

Deidrus Brown: There’s a lot of melancholy, because of the [hope] that principals would be somewhat autonomous in making decisions as to what’s best for their students, teachers, parents and community. And that is really not the case. You’re told to do something and you have to do it that way. I am not a puppet. I didn’t go to school and get four college degrees to be a puppet. I want to be valued, or at least be heard. I want to sit at the table and discuss what is best for the students and the staff. That’s where my frustration comes from. Decisions are being made by individuals who do not really know about the school.

Adam Parrott-Sheffer: I just laugh, and I remember when [former CEO] Jean-Claude [Brizard] first started and his big thing was this idea of “bounded autonomy.” We get a lot of the bounded. I’m not really sure I know what the pieces are that are autonomous. You go back to the first day of school and they were passing out checklists to district chiefs -- $150,000-plus a year employees – who were supposed to go to schools to check on things like, ‘Are your bathrooms clean enough?’ It read more like the checklist for running a Hardee’s than it did for running a school.

Catalyst: What has been the reaction to the op-eds? Do you, as principals, feel like you now have permission to speak publicly, as CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have both publicly said they welcome principals’ input? 

Troy LaRaviere: Teachers and principals have told me that they were so grateful for that article, which has allowed for a conversation that would never have been possible in the environment that existed before it was released. Barbara Byrd-Bennett called me and asked if I’d had any negative experience with her office. And I told her this wasn’t about her. The things that are coming out of CPS aren’t coming out of her office. Frankly, they don’t even come from the mayor’s office. This is a national and international movement to privatize education and to create the excuse for it by destabilizing neighborhood schools, and our mayor is just one of many public officials across the nation who has bought into this effort.

Chad Adams: I guess I’ve never felt a fear to speak out, or maybe it’s just my personality. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I have a little bit of a different perspective than these [colleagues]. I’m a new principal. I’m a first-year principal. So I only know what I know from what’s happened now. My question would be: what organization that is as big as CPS wouldn’t have some sort of parameters in place for talking to the press? Do you think Microsoft wouldn’t have some sort of protocols to follow? What about United Way?

LaRaviere: This is the City of Chicago, run by an elected official and his appointed Board of Education. [CPS is] a public institution that spends public tax dollars. The United Way does not spend public tax dollars. Microsoft does not spend public tax dollars. We do not elect Bill Gates. We elect Rahm Emanuel. He appoints Barbara Byrd-Bennett and as residents of the City of Chicago, we absolutely must hold them accountable, and any question to me that hints at some idea that we should not then begins to hint at the idea that we should stop calling ourselves a democracy.  Principals should go up to their 8th-grade classrooms, where they’re teaching the Constitution, and tell them that it’s not real. For clarity, if you say you’re speaking for the Board of Education or CPS, then of course you should check in. You can’t assume you’re speaking for CPS. I’m not speaking for the board. I’m speaking as a resident who knows what board policy is and who is a principal.

Parrott-Sheffer: We have local school councils, so technically I’m appointed by an LSC which is also an elected body. It’s more complicated than “what protocols are in place.” Those protocols need to reflect the fact that at some level I’m also appointed by an elected body and I report to the body in a public forum. And I think you lose credibility when you’re only able to engage in the positive news, the fluff pieces, the let’s-feel-good pieces. If we really want these schools to be good, and we really believe that, there are some difficult conversations we need to have as a city, and we need to have many voices that are a part of that.

Catalyst: What has been your relationship with the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association (CPAA)? Have they been a voice for you?

Brown: I’ve received no support from them [since the announcement of the turnaround]. No phone calls. I’ve been a paying member of CPAA ever since I was a principal, a decade, so I would have thought someone would reach out. I’ve gotten lots of support from the Chicago Teachers Union.

Catalyst: We’ve heard there’s talk about trying to change the CPAA. What’s in the works?

LaRaviere: There is an effort of principals organizing themselves behind the scenes. After the op-ed was published, a few principals stepped out and began an effort to meet and create an institution that would be a collective voice for principals. That work is ongoing, and that’s about all I can say about that at this point. The work is not being led by me. I have been recruited into it. Hopefully the public will hear from it soon, maybe a month or so.

But if we want to be effective at changing policies that affect our schools, we have to change legislation. We have to get out and talk to the public so they can talk to their legislators. The defunding of schools was a decision made at the mayoral level, the aldermanic level, the state level. We can’t have a conversation with Barbara Byrd-Bennett and affect the defunding of public education. As principals, we have to step out into the public sphere and have a public conversation.

Adams: The best way I can personally, as a leader, affect legislation is by making my public school a viable option. To show [people] that a neighborhood school can work at the high school level. There are not many of them that have succeeded. Public officials see charter schools and think that’s where it’s at. I know my alderman is pro-charter. But I’ve brought him in and said, ‘Look at what I’m doing.’ I think that’s affecting his mindset a little bit toward public education. So if I can do that and see that he can change his mindset, I can hopefully do that for the community members, for other legislators and senators.

I invite people into our schools. I want them to see that even if the school has had some downs, if you get a good leader in the school, a public education in a neighborhood school can be a flourishing place for kids to learn. But if you keep draining them of resources, it is going to be harder and harder. I feel like sometimes I barely have enough to survive.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: NEA seeks to boost membership

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 09:50

With its membership down by more than 230,000 members over the past three years, the National Education Association is imploring local affiliates to better engage current and potential members, and has launched a Center for Organizing to provide tools and training. (Education Week)

SCHOOL SAFETY PROGRESS: While large-scale and dramatic acts of school violence have drawn a public focus to safety concerns in U.S. schools, violent deaths at school remain statistically rare, a report released by the U.S. Departments of education and justice Tuesday says. (Education Week)

CHARTER SPENDING GAP: Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to an analysis of state documents. That is a nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers in District-run schools due to severe funding shortfalls. Payments to charters, which are fixed under law, make up nearly a third of its $2.4 billion budget. (The Notebook)

ANOTHER COMMON CORE OPPONENT: Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wants Louisiana out of the Common Core and the tests that go with it. He has made similar statements in recent weeks. (The Advocate)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Top Pueblo administrators to depart

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 08:56

Party of five

Few parents attended a meeting to meet Kepner Middle School's new principal. She'll be phasing out the school's current model over the next several years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Three stars for execution

The state is backing away from a July launch date for a new quality ranking system for preschool providers. The process has moved in fits and starts, with some confusion about what the next steps are. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Pocket money

More Colorado teens have summer jobs, for the first time in several years. ( 9News )

Good deeds pay off

St. Vrain's school board is expected to approve a raise of over seven percent for its superintendent, who refused raises during state budget cuts. ( Times-Call )

Secondhand speech

The former principal of St. Vrain's Mead High School, who resigned two weeks ago, plagiarized a large portion of the graduation speech he gave this year. ( Times-Call )

Do the School shuffle

Two top Pueblo administrators will be leaving their positions. ( Chieftain )

And Steamboat Springs' school board president is resigning as well, to spend more time with her family. ( Steamboat Today )

And East Grand Schools just announced the new principal for the local high school. ( Sky-Hi Daily News )

College money

President Barack Obama expanded a refinancing program that could give people some relief from student loans. ( AP via Gazette )

But some say the program is difficult to take advantage of, meaning few who could use it do. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Community rallies once again to save Dyett High

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 16:17

The on-going, seemingly never-ending fight to keep Dyett High School from shutting down next year took a more pointed turn on Monday as activists and parents accused officials of planning to hand the building over to an alternative school.

Ald. Will Burns (4th Ward) would not directly answer whether there were plans to have the alternative school--or as CPS now terms it, “options” school--operated by Little Black Pearl Arts Center move into the building that sits in Washington Park. But Burns said his priority was to have an “open enrollment, neighborhood” school in the Dyett building. 

Dyett was targeted in 2012 for a phase-out and has since lost students and programs. Next year, the school is slated to serve only a final class of seniors.  Fewer than 40 students are likely to remain.

Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School have been pressing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Burns to change course on Dyett. They want them to hold public hearing and support the coalition’s plan to turn Dyett into a school focused on global leadership and green technology and providing wrap-around supports for every student. Dyett would accept approximately 150 9th-grade students beginning in August 2014, adding a class of 150 until having a full roster of approximately 600 students in the 2017-18 school year.

The group has collected 700 petition signatures.

“In the absence of a vision from the district, we created a comprehensive plan that we will think will revitalize Dyett,” said Jitu Brown, National Director for Journey for Justice Alliance and education organizer for the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization. “What district wouldn’t support a community activated to improve its school?”

Thus far, the plan has not been endorsed by any officials, though the group has recently had meetings with School Board President David Vitale and Burns.

“Right now, I’m trying to work with community organizations to figure out ways to keep Dyett open,” said Burns.

However, Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School members said Burns was “aloof and unconcerned” at a meeting last week, and “did not ask any questions” following a 15-minute presentation of their proposal to improve the school.

Burns said he will not sign off on their plan because he does not think it is representative of the Bronzeville community, and is instead working with the board to determine the fate of Dyett.


Categories: Urban School News

Launch delayed for new early childhood rating system

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:36

The state has backed away from its planned July start date for a new mandatory quality rating system for early childhood education and officials now say they are aiming for a November launch.

“We very much hope we won’t come across any unforeseen time challenges,” said Karen Enboden,  manager of the new system for the Colorado Department of Human Services.

The new system, funded with part of a $44 million federal Race to the Top grant, fits with a national trend to improve child care  and better inform parents about the quality of local providers.

While the state recently selected the technology vendor that will build the new system—the Boulder-based Vertiba—there are still a number of unanswered questions about the new system, including its permanent name. Currently, it is being called the Next Generation Quality Rating and Improvement System, but Enboden said a new name and logo will probably be unveiled in July.

It’s also unclear at the moment which contractor will be selected to administer the three highest ratings under the new five-level system. An earlier bid process for the contractor was cancelled by the state in the spring, and responses to a second RFP aren’t due till June 13. The well-regarded non-profit Qualistar runs the state’s current rating system and administrators there plan to submit a proposal to be the ratings contractor under the new system.

Heather Tritten, Qualistar’s interim president and CEO, said, “We’re hoping we’re the only ones.”

Under Qualistar’s current system, which is voluntary and fee-based, providers can earn up to four stars. Currently, fewer than 10 percent of the state’s licensed providers have Qualistar ratings.

Under the new free system, which will ultimately impact around 4,800 licensed providers, there will be five levels of quality instead of four. The lowest level will require simply that providers be licensed.

Providers can advance to level two if they complete a self-assessment, create an improvement plan, and have staff members complete online trainings and enroll in the state’s online professional development registry. Levels three, four and five will require a site visit similar to the ones Qualistar raters conduct now, though components and scoring methodology will be a little different.

The new system, which will be fully implemented by December 2016, is expected to roll out in several phases. The first phase, expected to unfold when the system goes live in late fall, will award ratings to about 600 providers that either have a soon-to-be expired Qualistar rating or qualify for what’s called an “Alternate Pathway,” which allows them to be grandfathered into level three or four ratings provided their staff participate in the new professional development registry. In early 2015, a parent portal will be created so the new ratings are accessible to the public.

While the Next Generation system has been in the works since 2010, awareness among providers varies.

“There are some providers that are really in tune with this…There are providers who have no idea this is coming,” Tritten said.

Categories: Urban School News

New Kepner Middle School principal says she needs parents’ feedback, support

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:05

A small group of Kepner Middle School parents gave their new principal a quiet reception at a meeting Thursday night.

Elza Guajardo who had prepared to address a large crowd instead pulled up a chair in the school’s library Thursday evening and said pointedly, in Spanish, “your kids are my kids.”

Guajardo, a Denver Public Schools veteran, was named the southwest middle school’s principal May 29. And she already has a lot of ideas, but said she needs the support and feedback of parents.

“Transitions are difficult,” she said. “I want to do my best job for this school.”

The three parents who attended Thursday’s meeting with Guajardo urged the new leader to beef up security especially outside the school and to reach out to parents, who are visibly absent from the school’s community.

She replaces Stephen Linkous, who is moving to Houston to lead another middle school, and will be responsible for phasing out the district run program during the next three years.

DPS officials announced a phase-in, phase-out of programs at the struggling campus earlier this year, which Linkous was to oversee.

Guajardo’s name quickly made it on a short list of candidates, district officials said.

Guajardo comes to the school from the district’s English Language Acquisition team. Previously, she phased out the district run program at Lake Middle School between 2010 and 2012. She also served as Lake’s assistant principal prior to that.

“We wanted someone who had experienced, who has shown success as a leader — especially in a school with similar demographics and challenges,” said Antonio Esquibel, executive director of the West Denver Network, in an earlier interview. “We also [need a leader with] some soft skills, who is positive, motivating, connects with teachers, students the community.”

While Guajardo is in place as the district run program’s leader, a decision on which programs will co-locate at the school has yet to be determined. Three programs have been given the OK to open new schools in southwest Denver in the fall of 2015: charter school networks DSST, STRIVE and the new Southwest Denver Community School, a new charter developed in concert with education advocacy organization City Year.

Also joining the Kepner administration team is assistant principal Chris Denmark. He most recently served as an assistant principal at Rose Hill Middle School in the Adams 14 school district. Previously he worked in Cherry Creek.

He told parents his mission will be to improve the school’s culture, which has been a frequent complaint of parents citing rampant bullying and a lack of adult supervision.

“The goal and focus for us is to support our principal and the vision she has set for the school,” Denmark said. “That includes a correct and proper environment. We take it seriously — that when you drop off your kids at our door, you know they’re in the safest environment possible.”

Kepner assistant principal Mark Harmon, a favorite of teachers and parents, is staying. Harmon pitched a school program for Kepner during the district’s open call for schools, but his team dropped their bid.

Denver’s southwest neighborhood has recently become the focus of education reform organizations. Parents, organized by the Stand for Children and Padres Unidos organizations, demanded DPS move swiftly to enact sweeping reform efforts similar to what the district did in the Mile High City’s far northeast region.

Earlier, Guajardo met with staff and parents who serve on advisory group overseeing the school’s transition.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver library relaxing ID requirements for undocumented kids

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 09:53

Vow to appeal

A Denver District Court judge dismissed Friday a lawsuit claiming Denver Pubic Schools abused a provision of the state's teacher evaluation law to fire teachers. The state's largest teachers union vowed to appeal. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

reading is fundamental

The Denver Public Library is easing its identification requirements allowing students who are undocumented the ability to check out books. Part of the aim is to increase summer reading activities for English language learners. ( 9News )

vote of disapproval

Teachers at Aspen High School have issued a vote of no confidence in its school leaders, sources close to the process tell the Aspen Times. It's not immediately clear what steps the district might take. ( Aspen Times )

Memory Lane

Proponents and opponents of changes to the storied IB program at Denver's George Washington High School make valid points according to schools who have traveled a similar path. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Make It So

Southwest Denver parents and students, organized by two education advocacy organizations, demanded better schools Thursday at DPS headquarters. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

good at it

Dillon Valley Elementary is one of six U.S. schools to receive an honor from the Spanish Embassy for its dual language program. The key to the program is professional development and consistency, school leaders said. ( Summit Daily )

the early bird catches the worm

Lawmakers should find a way to make access to science and math classes early and important for Colorado students, opines Wendy Ward Hoffer in a Denver Post op-ed. ( Denver Post )

STEM camp

St. Vrain Valley School District students at a two week engineering summer camp are dreaming up — and creating — ways to improve the places they hang out. ( Times-Call )


A former Steamboat Springs-area teacher accused of sexually molesting a 12-year-old boy has been found guilty. ( 7News )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: How Bill Gates fueled Common Core revolution

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 09:24

The Washington Post looks at what it took to bring Common Core to the fore of U.S. education policy: a meeting in 2008 between two education advocates and Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation ended up spending millions to build political support across the country and persuading governments to make systemic and costly changes.

SUICIDE INVESTIGATION: Chicago Public Schools has launched an investigation into allegations that the suicide of a 12-year-old girl came after she was bullied by classmates and a teacher at her North Side elementary school. (DNAinfo)

UNO'S POWERFUL FRIENDS NOW SILENT: With charter operator UNO and its former leader Juan Rangel under fire from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as a result of a contracting scandal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other powerful politicians who helped the group become a potent force in politics and education don't have much to say. (Sun-Times)

CPR TRAINING FOR STUDENTS: Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill requiring Illinois high school students to get trained on how to operate mobile defibrillators and to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. (Tribune)

TACKLING THE SUMMER SLIDE: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes that much of what students learn during the school year slips away during the long summer break, and a solution is needed for what educators call the summer slide. (State Impact)

Categories: Urban School News

Peace march closes out the school year

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 00:35

As the school year draws to an end and with violence
traditionally getting worse during summer, more than 1,000 students took to the
streets last week. They chanted: "Hands up. Guns down. Stand up

The Peace March was organized by two Perspectives Charter
Schools students, Razia Hutchinson and Janeya Cunningham.

Hutchinson, a junior at the Rodney D. Joslin campus, was
reacting to the response by her peers to the shooting deaths of 17-year-old
Tyrone Lawson in January 2013 and 14-year-old Endia Martin this April.
"What do you expect?" was her classmates' response. She became
concerned that they were so used to violence that they stood by passively,
leading to more unnecessary student deaths.

In response, she and Cunningham planned the march. Fellow
Perspectives students filmed the march and hope to add it to a documentary
they're filming about how to combat violence in their neighborhoods with peace
practices. The students have started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project,
but are still about $13,000 short as the deadline approaches.

The march began at Perspectives' Rodney D. Joslin campus and
ended with a "Peace Jam" at Perspectives/IIT Math & Science
Academy campus at 3663 S Wabash Ave. Tony Schofield from WGCI radio emceed the
event, which included short speeches by the Rev. James Meeks and Ald. Pat
Dowell and a performance by rapper FM Supreme.

Photos by Jonathan Gibby 

Categories: Urban School News

Denver judge tosses teachers’ mutual consent lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 23:14

A Denver District Court judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit alleging Denver Public Schools violated portions of the state’s teacher effectiveness law.

The union, in an early morning statement, vowed to appeal the decision.

The lawsuit, filed by five former Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, claimed Denver Public Schools officials misused a provision of the 2010 law that set up Colorado’s teacher evaluation system. The DCTA was supported in the legal effort by the statewide union, the Colorado Education Association.

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

Plaintiffs claimed the statute allowed DPS to fire teachers without due process. And that’s what DPS did in at least five instances, the suit alleged.

Judge Michael A. Martinez, in his 14-page order of dismissal, disagreed and threw out the lawsuit at the request of DPS.

“This Court has previously found that the contested provisions of S.B. 191 do not facially violate the Due Process Clause,” Martinez wrote in his opinion. “Nothing about the circumstances under which Defendants implemented alters this analysis or conclusion.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the ruling will allow the school district to move forward with its mission of having a quality teacher in every classroom.

“Forced placement of teachers into schools where they do not want to go or where the school does not want to have them is wrong — wrong for students, wrong for teachers, and wrong for schools,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement. “Our most important objective as a school system is to have the best teacher in every classroom for every child. We welcome the court’s rejection of CEA’s claim that the Colorado legislature is somehow prohibited by the U.S. and state constitutions from ending forced placement.”

CEA President Kerrie Dallman framed the court’s decision differently, saying in an early morning statement: DPS schools are losing valuable resources in its veteran teachers.

“CEA members are highly disappointed by the Denver District Court ruling that Denver Public School’s release of hundreds of veteran teachers did not violate the Colorado Constitution nor subvert the intent of Senate Bill 191,” Dallman said. “Denver students have clearly suffered by the inappropriate release of veteran teachers with good to excellent teaching evaluations. CEA will appeal the ruling and remains dedicated to ensuring qualified teachers remain in the classroom to provide our public school students with the best possible education.”

Education reform groups celebrated the decision.

“This was always about giving educators the right to decide who gets the privilege of teaching next to them,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, in a statement issued by the Great Teachers and Leaders Law Coalition. “I look forward to working with educators across the state to fully implement this important legislation.”

Johnston was a prime sponsor of the bill the teacher evaluation system created by Senate Bill 10-191. Prior to passage of that law, 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.

Scott Laband, president of the business group Colorado Succeeds, said the court’s decision means better classrooms for students.

“As business leaders, our members understand the monumental importance of being able to evaluate and choose their employees,” he said in a statement. “That’s why the state should continue empowering school leaders to make decisions that are in the best interests of their students instead of stifling their ability to manage teachers in their building.”

The judge’s decision represents a double defeat for the union in its battle against the mutual consent provision. Earlier this spring a bill that would have amended that part of the law died in the legislature.

District court decision DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1184332-sb191lawsuitdissmissed' });
Categories: Urban School News

Southwest Denver parents rally, want better schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:57

Denver parents and students rallied for better schools outside the city’s school district’s headquarters June 5.

The protest, the latest move in a campaign by education reform organizations to draw attention to the city’s southwest schools, follows an April report addressing poor student achievement in the area’s 42 schools.

Members from organizations Stand for Children and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, and other community members held copies of the report up, yelling, “Ya basta,” Spanish for “enough is enough,” during the rally. Children wore homemade graduation caps to represent their desire to attend college.

The numbers in the report, published in part by A+ Denver, paint a grim picture for the predominately Latino community. Of every 10 students in southwest Denver, only about four will be middle school ready by fifth grade. By the time students reach 12th grade, only about 15 percent are college ready. Padres Unidos members blame the district’s lack of concern for poor Hispanic residents, which make up approximately 84 percent of southwest Denver.

Eva Gonzalez, a parent leader for Padres Unidos translated by fellow member Monica Acosta, said, “Does anyone think the board would let this happen if it were white, middle-class families?”

Nayeli Avila, a Padres Unidos youth leader, shared her story with the crowd. Avila, the product of a DPS school in southwest Denver, said when she took college entrance exams she found out she was only at a fourth-grade reading level.

“I was embarrassed,” Avila said. “Would they let this happen in Cherry Creek?”

Both organizations collected more than 1,400 signatures demanding better schools in southwest Denver. They called for DPS to create a task force specifically focused on the issues and concerns of parents, students and teachers.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg acknowledged the parent’s claims and is working toward improving all schools.

Members of Stand for Children and Padres Unidos plan to attend the board’s next meeting to push for the task force.

“[The members of Padres y Jovenes Unidos] are working with the southwest Denver community, mobilizing residents so that our platform can be implemented in the plan in collaboration with other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “We are calling on DPS to take action to end the discrimination in our schools.”

After the rally, some parents stayed to attend DPS’ special comment session on new school proposals. The board is considering proposals for new schools for the 2015-16 school year, including programs in the southwest region at Kepner Middle School.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver IB changes — and pushback — mirror other cities’

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:30

Heading into summer, a sense of uncertainty and unease pervades the esteemed International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School.

Big changes are coming a year from now, when the school’s administration plans to open what has until now been a selective admissions program to more students, arguing that IB classes can remain academically challenging while also serving a more racially and socio-economically diverse population. Some current IB parents and students, however, have pushed back hard against the plans. They complain that school and district leaders have done an abysmal job communicating with them about the changes, leading them to fear the worst.

High schools around the country have traveled a similar path toward making IB enrollment more inclusive over the past two decades. Their experiences suggest that both sides in the GW tussle make some valid points. Principals who have opened up their IB programs report that rigor remains intact and exam pass rates at the end of senior year remain high, and independent research studies back their observations. They also say part of their success came from communicating clearly with parents and students early and consistently.

Chalkbeat has gathered what information is available about the direction of likely changes at George Washington. We have also looked at how similar changes implemented at IB high schools around the country have played out, and whether parents’ fears in those schools were well founded.

How IB at George Washington works

Denver added the prestigious International Baccalaureate program to George Washington in 1985 amid a broad push to create programs that would retain white families who were leaving the district during court-ordered busing for desegregation. Since then, the school’s IB program has educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges.

The four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations and interviews. Students who are admitted take all of their academic courses exclusively with other IB students for four years. Ninth- and 10th-grade students take “pre-IB” courses to prepare them for the rigors of the IB Diploma Program, which spans grades 11 and 12 and whose curriculum is set by an international organization.

Just over 400 of GW’s 1,424 students were enrolled in the program during the 2013-14 school year. Compared to the overall GW population, the IB program student body is disproportionately white and affluent. In IB, 65 percent of students are white and 13 percent are from families so poor that they qualify for subsidized school lunches. In the non-IB part of GW, 15 percent of students are white and 63 percent qualify for subsidized lunches.

IB students do participate in elective classes, sports and other extracurricular activities with the rest of the student body, and non-IB students may take IB courses in music, visual arts, theater, and business and management.

But, according to Suzanne Geimer, GW’s IB coordinator, few non-IB students take advantage of these offerings. “[They] generally find the writing demand and the standards of production daunting,” Geimer said in an email.

Principal Micheal Johnson told Chalkbeat in May that his decision to overhaul the IB program at GW was aimed at increasing equity within the school.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on the opportunity gaps we have in our school,” he said.

Planned changes reflect a broad trend

Johnson plans to do away with the pre-IB program a year from now and replace it with an honors program that is open to all GW students the school deems ready for rigorous academic classes. While the changes would not affect current students, there would no longer be a selective admissions process for IB, and future GW students interested in pursuing an IB diploma would take ninth- and 10th-grade honors classes with students working towards Advanced Placement classes or other offerings at GW.

No changes are planned to the Diploma Program, which spans 11th and 12th grades. Many IB schools across the country allow students to take a single IB course, or a few courses, without pursuing the diploma, but Johnson has said he plans to keep the GW model intact, with only students pursuing the diploma taking the classes. He also plans to have only teachers trained in IB’s unique philosophy and practices teach the courses, although he said that over time he’d like all teachers at the school to get the training.

And Johnson plans to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement program, using its participation in a Colorado Education Initiative program to offer enhanced teacher training, student exam fees, classroom equipment and supplies, awards for those who excel, and Saturday study sessions for students. Up to now, the school’s AP program has been limited and weak, with just 24 percent of exams receiving passing scores.

Johnson’s plans are in keeping with a broad trend toward exposing more students to challenging courses. Across the country, school districts are looking for ways to get black and Latino students and students from poor families to enroll in AP courses.

New York City is adding AP courses to 55 high schools with many of those students. And Chicago has opened 15 high school IB programs — the most of any district — in recent years, largely in low-income neighborhoods.

A 2012 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that Chicago’s IB programs “seemed to be taking academically weaker, less advantaged students coming into high school and producing graduates with academic achievement comparable to graduates of selective enrollment schools.”

Kyle Westbrook, who runs IB programs in Chicago, said the key to a successful IB program is that schools design their curriculum to prepare students for the unique International Baccalaureate exams While schools with an authorized, grades 6-10 IB Middle Years Program — which GW does not have — can plan backwards most seamlessly, “that doesn’t suggest a student in an honors cohort or successful in a regular cohort and looking to expand their options can’t be successful in a diploma program,” he said.

An icy reception from IB parents, but a quieter receptiveness

The proposed changes at GW have inflamed some parents of IB students who say the program’s selective admissions process is crucial to ensuring high standards.

“LEAVE IB ALONE. It is the reason we attend George,” IB parent Steve Weil wrote in an email to Johnson last month. “If you want to lose our support and our students, then dismantling a stellar program with stellar results is certainly one way to do that.”

Weil — and the many IB parents who spoke at the tense May meeting — also challenged Johnson’s communication about the planned changes, which would not affect any current students but would change the school for younger siblings and other future students. Johnson has pledged to convene a “think tank group” of parents, students and teachers to put meat on the bones of the revamped honors program plan beginning in the fall, but IB families say they aren’t optimistic about having an influence based on communication up to now.

“There has been zero transparency thus far and zero communication in the sense that it goes two ways,” Weil wrote. “We have heard you, but you have not heard us.”

Not everyone is distressed by the planned changes. At the May meeting, a group of IB and non-IB students cloistered themselves from the larger meeting of angry, shouting parents and came up with a plan that called for a more open honors program that would offer opportunities to more students without decreasing rigor. Graduating senior Lauren McGovern, a non-IB student who will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point this fall, said the changes would offer “optional integration,” because no student would be required to take the more rigorous course of study.

“You can’t force someone to go into a certain type of learning,” McGovern said. “But since you have a pre-IB program that isn’t an official IB program, they’re basically just the higher-level classes a freshman can take. And so why can’t the traditional (non-IB) students who want it have that opportunity?”

Wahtihdah Duffy, another graduating non-IB senior, said opening up the honors program to non-IB students would make the school’s culture healthier. As it stands now, she said, the school consists of “two gigantic cliques”: IB students, who she said were encouraged to think of themselves as elite, and students in the rest of the school. But there are high-performing students like her, she said, who deserve access to challenging classes.

“It’s just not right when you have to fight tooth and nail to get the best education. It’s kind of distressing,” Duffy said.

From beyond Denver, experiences that suggest a way forward

Administrators of IB programs elsewhere say opening up the programs to more students does not amount to dismantling them. Instead, they said increasing access boosts outcomes for students — but they said the roadbumps in Denver are to be expected, and can be countered only by open communication.

When South Side High School on Long Island placed all its students in IB English courses for 11th grade, the administration contacted the parents of every student who would be affected by the switch.

“We told them they would have support classes if they need it,” said Carol Burris, the school’s principal.

Principals of schools that have opened access to IB classes also said it was important to have a plan for ensuring that teachers are prepared to handle IB’s unique requirements.

“[IB] is not an Eastern mystical religion,” said James McSwain, principal of Lamar High School in Houston. “It is a combination of really good teaching science that we knew but don’t often use.”

Changing perceptions of IB as a “school within a school” for an elite group of students will be hard, McSwain warned. “It is very common to use IB programs in American schools as an exclusive gifted and talented program,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, McSwain spearheaded an effort to expand access to Lamar’s IB program — and encountered the same kind of community resistance that Johnson is meeting now.

“It was difficult,” he said. “There were a number of people that really didn’t believe that these kids could do that and that if you let those kids into these classes, it was going to dumb down the kids [already in the program].”

That didn’t happen, he said, even as enrollment in the IB program shifted so that more than half of students are black or Latino and about half come from low-income families. “I think we’ve pretty well blown that [fear] out of the water,” McSwain said. “The standards don’t change.”

Chalkbeat interviewed principals and IB coordinators at several schools, including Burris and McSwain, to understand their approach to opening access. Below are profiles of three schools and the approach they took to expanding access to IB.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: GOP governor candidates say junk the Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:16

Jeffco board battles

The Jeffco Public Schools Board school board tossed out a tentative deal with its teachers union during Thursday night’s board meeting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The district's operating fund is growing by more than $15 million dollars in its new budget. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Board spars over Superintendent Dan McMinimee's salary, revises it and then approves it on split vote. ( Denver Post, The Denver Channel )

Common Core - In and out

All four Republican gubernatorial candidates say Colorado should junk the Common Core Standards. ( KKTV )

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that takes the state out of the Common Core. ( )

Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature has decided the state should stay the course with the national standards. ( StateImpact )

Taking Dougco's pulse

A county-sponsored survey of residents' views on quality-of-life issues has found positive opinions about the schools have slipped. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

Getting kids interested

The Diplomas Count 2014 report focuses on student motivation and finds that an age-old problem is getting new attention. ( EdWeek )

School daze

The Steamboat Springs school board is trying to choose from four possible calendars for the 2015-16 year. ( Steamboat Pilot )

Salary setting time

Boulder Valley School District teachers are expected to receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase next school year, bumping the starting salary up to $41,901. ( Boulder Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: New teacher union dissidents try to turn the tide

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 08:44

The Boston Globe looks the "new face of teachers unions" as opposition candidates in local unions across the country prevail over union insiders, pointing to the union revitalization model championed by reformers that has been on display in Chicago since the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, took over the leadership of the 26,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. (The Boston Globe)

TURNAROUND COULD LEAD TO LAWSUIT: The president of the South Side branch of the NAACP said her group might file a civil rights lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for its decision to make Walter Gresham Elementary School a ''turnaround.'' (DNAinfo)

NO GRAUDATION PARTICIPATION: Facing backlash from parents, Ogden International School decided that eighth-grade students accused of bullying a classmate because he was Jewish will not be allowed to walk across the stage at their graduation Saturday, a Chicago Board of Education member said. (DNAinfo)

WHAT TEACHERS THINK: Adam Heenan, a social studies teacher at Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago, kicks off the new Sun-Times Summer School teacher essay series in which Chicago-area teachers weigh in on the big challenges facing education.  His topic? The new Common Core learning standards, which he believes are threatening his ability to prioritize what is relevant to the content and valuable to his students. (Sun-Times)


ANOTHER ASSESSMENT: Indiana will have to impose a new statewide standardized test on K-12 students next year if it wants to maintain control over $200 million a year in federal education funding. (State Impact)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board says no to proposed agreement with teachers union

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 01:29

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board school board tossed out a tentative deal with its teachers union during Thursday night’s board meeting.

Board president Ken Witt said he could not endorse the deal because the agreement provided raises to an estimated 56 teachers who were rated “partly effective” on the district’s evaluation rubric.

The district will move to fact finding on the entire agreement. Fact finding is when both parties present facts to a third party that then makes recommendations on an agreement. The process will cost time, money and is non-binding, district staff advised the board.

The district’s budget that must be approved by June 30 will move forward.

“We will compensate our teachers,” board member John Newkirk said during board debate. “There will be the funds there to do this. But we need the language there that we asked for.”

The vote to reject the agreement was approved on a 3-2 vote, with the board majority rejecting the agreement. The vote came toward the end of a long school board meeting packed with some of the most controversial topics facing the suburban school district including the district’s budget and the new superintendent’s contract.

The board’s minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman urged the board to approve the agreement to put the issue behind the district, which has been rife with skepticism and fear.

“We are not healing our community,” Dahlkemper said.

And teachers union representatives were disappointed in the outcome, as well.

“… [I]t does a disservice to the 85,000 Jefferson County public school kids and the hardworking educators of the district,” said JCEA President John Ford.

The tentative agreement between the Jefferson County Education Association and the district was signed last month. However, while the union sent the agreement to be ratified by its members, the district released a statement saying it wasn’t a done deal.

That’s because the board’s majority doesn’t want non-probationary teachers who are rated as partially effective to be eligible for a step increase, or a raise based on years in the classroom.

According to the district’s media release, the district’s negotiating team requested changes in the agreement a few hours after leaving the mediation session and before it was taken to the JCEA board.

The tentative agreement as outlined by the union included:

  • An average of 2.5 percent increase for teachers who were not rated “ineffective;”
  • Increased starting pay for new teachers;
  • Health care kept constant for all employees in 2014-2015;
  • Class size kept constant from this year’s levels; and
  • A plan to work on a new compensation system for the 2015 – 2019 contract.

Earlier in the evening, the board was expected to enter an executive session to discuss the tentative agreement. However, due to board divisions, the five-member board could not muster enough votes needed, four, to go behind close doors.

In a separate vote the board did approve its tentative agreement with the district’s clerical union.





Categories: Urban School News

(Nearly) everything you need to know about Jeffco’s 2014 budget — and a little bit more

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 18:01

What’s in and what’s out of the state’s second largest school district’s budget is likely to draw ire tonight when the suburban school board meets.

On the agenda is a presentation from district staff on the draft budget. The public will also have a chance to weigh-in on Jeffco’s coffers.

The bottom line: Due to an improving economy, Jeffco is getting more money from the state — about $29 million, which equates to $360 per student. And if the Board of Education were to approve the spending plan without changes, the district would even have $11 million left over to replenish the savings it depleted during the Great Recession.

And that’s after the district hands out raises to teachers and staff, purchases a new math curriculum, develops a new student-data website, and invests nearly $1 million in gifted and talented programs.

A budget like that, after years of draconian cuts, might be universally welcomed. But nothing in Jefferson County has been that easy since November’s election put a new conservative majority in place. Since the new board members were sworn in, meetings have been rife with tension.

That dynamic is unlikely to change tonight, despite the sunny budget situation. Debate is likely to be especially fierce over the budget proposal’s increased funding for charter schools and lack of new dollars for kindergarten.

Before you head out to the board meeting, Chalkbeat shares what you need to know about the budget below. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. with an executive session to discuss the teachers union collective bargaining agreement.

Impact on classrooms

The largest single increase in the general fund is compensation. The district has earmarked nearly $12 million to pay for raises to teachers and clerical staff, such as secretaries and janitors. Still, the budget proposes new spending on several projects and programs, including

  • $1.8 million for a new math curriculum;
  • $600,000 for a new student-data hub to be developed and run by the school district;
  • $900,000 to expand the district’s gifted and talented program;
  • $2 million for a new literacy program;
  • $700,000 to the district’s online education program; and
  • $4.5 million for mobile devices and the infrastructure to support them.

Overall, the general fund is expected to see a nearly 2 percent rise in revenue, or $15 million. School construction and repairs would accelerate under the proposed budget, which increases funding for capital projects by 76 percent, or $20 million.

How the budget was made

To prepare the budget, district staff reviewed enrollment projections at both its neighborhood and option schools, as well as charter schools. They worked closely with the state to determine changes in projected revenue. And they looked at inflation to gauge any potential increase in costs to goods and services.

After gauging about how much funding would be available for the next school year, district staff heard from the board of education, which recently updated its achievement goals and priorities. The district’s accountability committee formed a subcommittee to make recommendations. Additionally, more than 13,000 community members participated in an online survey. And individuals were allowed to share feedback at town halls throughout the 773 square miles that make up Jefferson County.

Budget basics
  • The budget, or how the district spends its tax revenues, follows the state’s fiscal year cycle, from July 1 to June 30. That means the board must approve a budget by June 30.
  • This year, the board is expected to sign off on the budget at its June 19 meeting. It is also expected to hear public comment on the budget proposal then.
  • However, because the budget is largely based on tax revenue from the state, which can go up and down throughout the year, the district has until Jan. 31 to update its budget as needed.
  • The budget is broken into seven different pots of revenue and expenses. The largest and most common is known as the “general fund.” The general fund is made up of both local and state tax revenues, including dollars collected from the district’s three successful mill and bond questions. That money pays teachers and funds the central administration building, student services, and security, among other line items.
  • Charter schools have their own fund. That bucket of revenue includes tax revenues divided up by pupil and any grants or donations the schools receive.
Budget battles

So, with an increase in revenue, raises for staff, and funding for new programs, why are so many people likely to be so angry about the budget? In addition to the fact that there is already widespread concern about whether the new board majority represents the will of the county’s majority, the budget also contains two probable sticking points.

The first is funding for charter schools. Earlier this year, the board’s conservative majority said they wanted to equalize local per pupil funding for students who attend the district’s charter schools.

Under state statute, students who attend charter schools must receive their share of per pupil dollars that the district receives from the state. And that’s what happens in Jeffco. But Jeffco charter school operators are not getting an equal share of money from voter-approved tax revenues, known as mill overrides.

If all things were equal, Jeffco’s 15 charter schools would receive about $7 million more each year.

Supporters of the 2012 mill question, which passed, say the board’s majority — which had not yet been elected and had no role in the development of the mill question or campaign — is violating the public’s trust and thwarting the will of the voters by giving $3.7 million from the district’s general fund to the district’s charter schools.

They said they worked diligently to persuade the community to support the tax increase. That included spelling out in great detail how the money would be used — and giving more money to charter schools was not part of the campaign.

District staff, in an interview with Chalkbeat, acknowledged charter schools have historically been underfunded. And a key assumption in the district’s budget is that charter school enrollment is going up, while it’s declining at neighborhood schools. It’s also important to note, they said, that both state and local revenues funnel into the same pot. So, while the math used to determine how much more the district should fund its charter schools is based on mill revenues, its impossible to say mill money is being directed to charter schools.

Because of increased revenues from the state, handing over $3.7 million to the district charter schools is an easy request, district staff said. They added that neighborhood schools would not suffer as a result.

The board’s decision not to expand the district’s free full-day kindergarten program is also likely to draw fire.

Jeffco currently provides free half-day kindergarten to all students. At 40 elementary schools where more than 36.8 percent of students are so poor that they qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, the second half of the day is also free to families. At the district’s other 52 elementary schools, parents who want their kindergartners enrolled all day must pay $300 a month.

Expanding the free program got high marks on the Jeffco community budget survey. And a majority of members on the district’s accountability committee, which also provided guidance on the budget, ranked the expansion as a high priority. (A minority report from the committee disagreed.)

Expanding the program to another 17 schools that have many students living in poverty would cost the district $600,000 — a modest proposal to some. But the board’s majority opposes the expansion, saying that there is no local proof that Jeffco’s kindergarten program works.

District staff said there have been talks about developing an alternative proposal that would provide free-full day kindergarten on an individual basis to Jeffco students living in poverty — regardless of which school they attend, as board majority member John Newkirk suggested last month. But that proposal hasn’t made it to the board or into the budget.

The budget also notes that Jeffco must forfeit an estimated $1.3 million in state early childhood education fund because the board has not put into place a school readiness assessment. If the board were to reverse that decision before June 14, the district could apply for the money and add up to 900 additional kindergarten seats.

Categories: Urban School News

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