3A and 3B: A Matter of Trust in Leadership

If you’re still on the fence about 3A and 3B, the Jeffco Schools’ mill and bond initiative, don’t underestimate the importance of leadership and trust for the current school board in your decision-making.

One year ago, the previous school board majority was ousted by huge margins in favor of a “Clean Slate.” Readers of Jeffco School Board Watch will remember vividly that our formation was closely tied to the shenanigans of the previous board majority. Simply put, they were untrustworthy. Yes, the three of them lived in Jeffco, but it was clear that they were answering to ideologues, and often outside interests, rather than to what the majority of the community was saying.

Fast forward to today: hasn’t it been refreshing that the new school board has been in the news…so little? The five “new” board members–Ron Mitchell, Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, and Susan Harmon–do in fact represent their communities, govern responsibly and cautiously-yet-boldly, and have restored a great measure of professionalism and trust to traditions of Jeffco Schools.

During the course of the year, they have done yeoman’s work quietly but thoughtfully rebuilding foundations of trust in the community. Complaints have been few. The bottom line is that they are doing their job with a level of seriousness and community engagement that we have come to expect of our district leaders.

Having shorn up the relationship with our hard-working teachers, parents, and taxpayers, now they are asking for the community to reinvest in the schools again. They recognize that Jeffco’s aging buildings are in real need of repair and updating if we are to remain a first class district. They realize that many of our best teachers have left, and are still tempted to leave, because of wage stagnation, especially relative to other neighboring districts.

Most of all, they see that Jeffco kids suffer the brunt of the state’s underfunding, not just through deteriorating facilities and underpaid teachers, but also through many other cuts and restrictions to enriching parts of their education, such as music and athletics programs, technology investments, and more.

The numbers and stories behind Jeffco 3A 3B ask make sense in and of themselves, but undergirding those reasons is that we trust this board and their leadership. They have worked hard, made the case to us, and we urge everyone to vote “Yes” on 3A and 3B, not to reward the board of education, but because the case they’ve made to the community has been sensible, clear, and inspiring.

JeffCo Proud!

Didn’t They Learn Last Year? Koch Brothers, Leave Jeffco Alone!

The Koch Brothers, supposed champions of “local control,” are once again trying to influence Jeffco elections–in this case, the mill and bond.

For what reason? If the graphic here looks familiar, it’s because it is. We used it last year as the Koch Brothers poured money in from the outside in a wildly unsuccessful attempt to save the inept and controversy-ridden school board posts of Witt, Williams, and Newkirk. Well, the Koch’s network has so much money in it, they don’t know where to spend it, so they’re back and taking aim at Jeffco…again!

Koch

No one will forget the fact that the Koch Brothers and their political machine, AFP, directed hundreds of thousands in expenditures in Jeffco to prop up a school board majority that they probably never even met. The results had to be one of their worst investments ever: a 2-to-1 humiliation with voters rejecting their ideological intervention.

We thought that they’d think twice about meddling in a place as fiercely independent as Jeffco again. Looks like we were wrong.

Check this out: a full-on press by the Kochs to do what? Prevent the funding of our schools on a local level, even though the state and TABOR prevent adequate state funding of schools.

The Kochs and their allies profess to prioritize “local control” but then they’re working against communities funding their schools when the state can’t. What’s really going on?

With respect to the superficial allegations made by the Kochs, here are a few observations from a local e-newsletter we received this morning:

“First, PERA – that’s mandated at the state level, not the local level. Concerns about PERA need to be addressed at the Capital – not taken out on local school districts.

“What is the basis for allegations that funding isn’t going to the classroom?

“I’ve heard the statement made that ‘Jeffco is too top heavy – money is wasted on district-level staff.'”

The latest data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that for the 2015-16 school year, Jeffco had 4787 teachers and 412 administrators. Of the 412 administrators 307 were principals or assistant principals in Jeffco’s 153 schools. That leaves just 105 administrators at the Ed Center.

In comparison, DPS, which is very close in size to Jeffco, has 813 administrators.

“The district is very transparent with where the bond funds will go and where the mill levy funds will go. Please do your own research to understand how 3A & 3B deserve your YES vote! Jeffco graduate, grandparent, community leader and education advocate, Marta Murray, reminds us that the Sunshine Review recognized Jeffco for financial transparency.

“Now – more than ever before – we need your help! Yes, we need you to vote YES on 3A and 3B. But we also need you on social media, on the phone and walking door-to-door to share information on the benefits of a YES vote – and the ramifications of a NO vote!

“The Board of Education would have to direct staff how to decrease the budget. Some possible impacts:

  • School closures and consolidations
  • Split schedules
  • Year round schools
  • Changing boundaries and transportation radius
  • Limited ability to meet basic deferred maintenance
  • Continuing to lose great staff
  • Larger class sizes
  • Higher fees for parents
  • Lack of resources for student learning
  • Cutting programs and opportunities for students”

Here are the ways to help:

Here’s how you can help:

  1. DONATE!
  2. WALK!
  3. TALK!

Walking & Talking

With the AFP announcement of their impending social media strike against school districts across the state, it’s imperative that we have everyone on deck in this final stretch! Please sign up to walk – not only in your neighborhood, but in others across the district. Please also sign up to phone bank!

Can’t Walk on Saturdays? Days or times for Phone Banking Don’t Work for Your Schedule?! Write Nate or Chris – they can provide turf to walk and people to call on your schedule!

Boots on the Boulevard #Yeson3A3B Style!

Dust off your boots and get back out on the boulevard! Please join us this coming Friday from 3:30-6p for Boots on the Boulevard 4.0!! Make your own signs supporting 3A and 3B or bring your yard sign!

This action is IN ADDITION to walking, knocking, and talking to voters which is the most effective way to get our community to vote #Yeson3A3B

Below are the intersections for this action. Go to the one that is most convenient for you. See you on the Blvd. this FRIDAY.

Chatfield & Wads
Bowles & Wads
Yale & Wads
Alameda & Wads
Colfax & Wads
38th & Wads
52th & Wads
72nd & Wads
88th & Wads
Church ranch/100th & Wad

#WeAreJeffco

THANK YOU!!

 

“One can only do so much”!

Preview: January 28, 2016 School Board Study Session

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, January 28th, beginning at 5:30pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Before we get into the meeting agenda, we want to make sure you’re aware of the upcoming community budget forums – the board wants to hear from you! Please plan to attend a forum:

Monday, Feb. 1

  • 7:30 – 9:00 a.m., Deane Elementary gym (park at Ray Ross Park across the street), District 4
  • 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., Pomona High School library, District 1

Saturday, Feb. 6

  • 9:30 – 11:00 a.m., Arvada West High School auditorium, District 3

Wednesday, Feb. 10

  • 7:30 – 9:00 a.m., Evergreen Firehouse auditorium, 1802 Bergen Parkway, Evergreen,
    District 2
  • 3:30 – 5:00 p.m., Deer Creek Middle School cafeteria, District 5

Now, on to the agenda. First, the board will hear from the Technology and Data Privacy Advisory Committee. Read the committee’s bylaws and learn more about their work here. The committee seeks direction from the board to set its priorities for the rest of this school year and next. We expect the board to ask about the status of the district-wide dashboard, and any impacts to or concerns regarding data privacy.

Next, the District Accountability Committee presents. As of this post, no attachments have been posted so we’re not sure what to expect here, especially given the new make-up of the DAC. We should hear recommendations from the DAC pertaining to the budget and the district Unified Improvement Plan. With the district still processing data from last year’s PARCC and CMAS assessments, and those results unable to align with prior TCAP data, all schools have a new baseline. We hope the board will push district experts to dive deeply into the numbers to identify and address issues as swiftly as possible.

Three charter school contracts are be up for renewal next month: Addenbrooke Classical Academy, New America School, and Compass Montessori-Golden and Wheat Ridge. The board will be briefed on the charter school contract renewal process.

On January 8th, staff informed the board that enrollment in Jeffco’s Virtual Academy for the K-5 program is significantly below projections. Jeffco staff do not recommend continuing the program. However, Two Roads Charter School wants to amend its contract in order to continue offering the program to Jeffco families. Currently, the standard Jeffco Schools Charter contract prohibits charter schools from offering an online program. Expect the board to ask about legal concerns, intellectual property concerns and concerns over any precedent that might be set by modifying the Two Roads contract. We also wonder if Two Roads has enough enrollment interest to justify this shift.

Next up – an update on district-wide facilities to provide direction on the development of a draft Facility Master Plan and urgent facility needs. District staff will review the purpose of a district-wide Facility Master Plan, identify the process of identifying new needs and assessing existing/deferred needs, efficiencies that can be implemented, and the impact of enrollment.

Lastly, the board will receive information on upcoming negotiations with district employee associations (the JCEA – teachers, and CSEA – janitors, bus drivers, secretaries, etc.). Negotiations begin February 6th at the Ed Center and will be public and live streamed. We’re hopeful that the district and its associations can mend fences and work together in the best interest of Jeffco’s students. Jeffco MUST be attracting, hiring and retaining the best and brightest, especially with regard to “hard-to-fill” positions and “hard-to-staff” schools.

The next board meeting will be on February 4th. Please continue to pay attention to what’s going on in our district. Our board wants to hear from you. What are your concerns? What are your priorities? Feel free to email any and all Board members your thoughts, concerns and priorities:

Email all five Board members: board@jeffco.k12.co.us

Email Board President Ron Mitchell (District 5): romitche@jeffco.k12.co.us

Email Board First VP Ali Lasell (District 3): alasell@jeffco.k12.co.us

Email Board 2nd VP Susan Harmon (District 2): suharmon@jeffco.k12.co.us

Email Board Secretary Amanda Stevens (District 4): ajsteven@jeffco.k12.co.us

Email Board Treasurer Brad Rupert (District 1): crupert@jeffco.k12.co.us

–Jeffco Proud!

Preview of School Board Meeting Preview for January 14, 2016

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream. Prior to the 5 pm meeting, students from Arvada High School’s orchestra kick off the evening with a 5 pm performance.

During the first hour of the meeting, the board will hear from the district Human Resources leadership team on employee compensation strategies, workforce issues and recent decisions. In looking at the team’s presentation, we are struck by the “We Are Jeffco” slide (slide 4) where it specifically calls attention to Jeffco’s 5,690 “effective educators.” We’re wondering why it isn’t just labeled “educators” or broken down into highly effective, partially effective, effective, etc.

Also, it’s interesting to see that total salary and benefits for Jeffco staff lags inflation by 7%! Slide 14 of the presentation is just heartbreaking — where classroom teacher turnover dropped in Boulder, Cherry Creek, DougCo and Littleton, there was a frightening spike in turnover in Jeffco. We’ve got to turn that trend around! District leadership asks a great question: “are we able to attract and retain quality staff?” Jeffco uses EPI (Educators Professional Inventory) for all licensed classroom positions. This teacher selection tool predicts an applicant’s potential impact on student achievement.

In addition, there’s a presentation about Jeffco’s Strategic Compensation pilot, but too little time for a full discussion. The pilot looked at whether additional compensation for educators makes a difference in student achievement and evaluated which supports for teachers and principals have the greatest impact on student achievement. The findings show students do better when they have better (higher rated) teachers.

Things that affect teacher quality include strong leaders/shared leadership, collaboration, professional learning communities, and rigorous evaluations with growth-focused feedback and associated professional development. The presentation doesn’t address the role of compensation.

We hope the board asks for more information about this piece. We think the key is offering a competitive wage and an innovative, collaborative, supportive work environment. The strategic compensation pilot has been extended for a year with six elementary schools and two middle schools serving as learning model schools.

Next up: honors and recognitions. Kudos to students from D’Evelyn, West Jeff Middle, Arvada West High, and staff from Jeffco’s North Area Athletic Complex.

We’re also thrilled a former practice has been reinstated: board members sharing information on board work and/or activities they participated in since the prior regular board meeting. We know the new board members have been very active since taking office and look forward to hearing their updates. (One caveat: please stick to the summary versions if the meeting has a long agenda.)

Correspondence since the last meeting includes many letters regarding Bradford Elementary’s change from K-6 to K-8. In addition, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee urges the board to address growth (Phase II of Sierra Elementary, K-8 at 58th Avenue and Hwy 93), plus overcrowding and aging facilities across the district.

To address the board about an agenda item, sign up here. One highlight on the consent agenda: Jeffco only lost one more teacher compared to resignations for the same period last year. We hope the tides are turning. Also, we appear to have a new Chief Communications Officer – Diana Wilson – officially starting Jan. 19. She holds an MBA from CU Denver and has worked for the past two years for the Westminster Fire Department. We very much look forward to seeing Jeffco Schools move forward with a fully-functioning communications department again.

The board will also discuss the process to complete Superintendent McMinimee’s summative evaluation for the 2014/2015 school year and goals for this school year (15/16), which will be based on the district goals (ends) set by the board. The board has discussed revisions to district goals, but have not arrived at a revised set of goals. When will this occur?

The first item in the discussion agenda is a resolution pertaining to the $15M underspend (largely from unfilled positions) that was going to be used by the prior board to fund the construction of the new school at Candelas. This resolution would authorize the return of that $15M from the Capital Reserve Fund to the General Fund, and this resolution acknowledges that the transfer will not result in an on-going deficit. But there doesn’t seem to be any further discussion or vote regarding what will be done with the $15M. Will it be allocated as recommended by staff, with $5M as a one-time compensation to staff and the remaining $10M to be held in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/17? Or are there other budget issues that weren’t addressed, including the request from Jeffco’s security department last fall, that might also benefit from these funds?

Next, there’s recommendation to construct a K-8 school instead of a K-6 school at the Candelas site. This was previously part of the discussion, but WNW chose to ignore it and approve only a K-6 for reasons we never fully understood. We’re happy to see a return to the district’s recommendation for a K-8 structure that will better address projected enrollment and make the most of Jeffco’s construction dollars on this project.

There’s also a recommendation to use of Certificates of Participation (COPs), or other means of financing, in order to move forward with the much-needed construction of Phase II of Sierra Elementary School, which will provide seating capacity for an additional 250 students.

Finally, the Board will discuss rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). Mr. McMinimee has previously recommended this action and we expect a vote to rejoin.

The final major agenda items are review of policies pertaining to asset protection (EL-7); the school calendar (EL-14); and governance process, ends, executive limitations, and board/staff linkage. Only two minutes are allotted for this last item so we don’t expect to hear the board discuss revisions to Ends (district goals), but we do expect to hear more about Ends in the near future.

Jeffco Proud!

Board Study Session (12/17/15) Preview: Starting to Tackle Big Issues

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, December 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Update

Detailed Facilities Analysis. The first two hours will focus on the state of Jeffco’s facilities, with a presentation from Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell and Executive Director of Facilities Tim Reed. Over the next five years, Jeffco will have nearly $800 million in facilities needs based on building condition and/or educational adequacy. In addition, enrollment in parts of the district is expected to increase significantly.

This letter from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee to the Board notes that “at least 7,200 more students are expected to enroll in the Candelas, Leyden Rock, West Woods and Solterra neighborhoods within 10 years.” The committee noted, “if you approve plans now, 1,050 additional seats can be ready for the fall of 2017 to serve the growing wave of new families. If you do not approve moving ahead, triage [use of lease arrangements for modular classrooms] and inefficient use of scarce funds will become the norm, further exacerbating the situation.” Look for Bell and Reed to propose several ideas (slide 48 of the presentation) for accommodating this growth. While the former Board acknowledged the need to look at asking the voters for a bond package to address facilities needs, the needs are pressing and cannot wait for an election.

Our hope is that the Board will consider a combination of Certificates of Participation (COPs) to address immediate needs coupled with asking the voters for a bond to address more long-term facilities needs. Although debt-funding isn’t typically preferred, COPs provide a reasonable alternative given a situation that has been left to go on for too long.

CMAS Results: Information and Looking Ahead. Next up, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Syna Morgan and Executive Director of Instructional Data and Educational Research & Design Dr. Carol Eaton will spend about an hour discussing CMAS results. The new test has five performance levels (rather than four, as in the previous tests): exceeded, met, approached, partially met, and did not yet meet. Met and Exceeded Expectations are considered “college and career ready” performance.

There remains some confusion about the difference between the “approached” and “partially met” levels. They’ll share data from Jeffco students by grade, and break out additional results for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) students, etc.

Overall, Jeffco performed better than the state in all subjects and in all grade levels, except in 8th grade math. The notable exception is a trend across the district of lower grade-level math performance beginning in 8th grade. Some reasoning for that may be that high performing students are not taking grade level math, but are instead taking higher level math courses and doing really well, especially in the 8th and 9th grades.

However, there is also a marked decrease in overall math performance beginning in 10th grade and continuing into 11th grade. This could be due to over-testing, and because students realize by high school that there are no rewards or consequences for test performance, coupled with their shifting focus to the ACT and SAT. They may just not be taking the tests seriously. We hope the Board will note this trend and ask District staff to look especially into this dip in 8th grade (and beyond) math performance and report back with root causes and thoughts moving forward to address this trend.

We also see that our Hispanic students, those on IEPs, those with FRL, and ELLs really struggle, and we hope the Board will look to and direct experienced staff to continue to investigate root causes and opportunities for improvement. Drs. Morgan and Eaton will also discuss results from the fall district assessments using the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) system, which replaced Acuity, and DIBELS, which is used in the primary grades.

Financing a New School in Arvada. Beginning at 8:30pm, the Board will revisit the $15 million underspend that the previous Board directed be used to build a school in the north end of the district. You’ll recall that district staff recommended that the school really needed to be a $25 million K-8 facility, but the previous Board chose instead to approve only enough for a too-small K-6.

Look for the new Board to consider a supplemental budget to amend some previous budgeting decisions. Both senior Staff and the conservative Financial Oversight Committee and the Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommend moving the $15 million back into the general fund, using COPs to fund the new school, and considering a one-time $5M pay increase (not to be added to base ongoing salary) for employees, and holding $10M in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/2017.

We wholeheartedly agree that operational funds should not be used to fund capital construction and that $15M should go back into the General Fund. We think putting some of the money aside into reserves is wise, and considering some kind of bonus for employees is admirable as the district needs to get employee pay back on track to be competitive with surrounding districts.

However, we are hearing across the district of the impacts to smaller schools by student-based budgeting (SBB). We would like to see the Board ask district staff first to seek input from schools as to their needs and pressure points that require immediate relief and support, address those items as much as possible, set aside a portion of the $15M to cover payments on COPs for initial years as much as possible, consider whether some of the funding should be used for the security budget increase requested earlier this fall, and then look at a bonus for staff and a contribution to reserves. The former Board did include a contribution into reserves in their budget, and district staff should be consulted to determine what additional contribution, if any, is recommended.

Community Engagement in the Budget Process. Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson will share community engagement plans for the upcoming budget development process. Due to low turnout in previous years, Ms. Askelson is not recommending community budget forums this round, but is recommending a survey that each school accountability committee (SAC) will be asked to complete and a district-wide survey marketed to all stakeholders. Both surveys would be hosted by an independent third party.

Because this board was elected on a platform of increasing community engagement, we hope that the board will reject the proposal to discontinue budget forums. The budget forums are a great opportunity for the community to engage. Those of us at JCSBW have participated in these budget forums and always see parents and community members at the forums that don’t attend board meetings, so these forums definitely reach the district’s constituents.

A better approach might be to ask that a question or questions pertaining to the usefulness and/or desire for budget forums be incorporated into the community survey so the Board has a clear understanding of the direction to go with regard to future budget forums. Perhaps TeleTown Halls could be implemented as a new way to reach district citizens.

Bradford K-8 Concerns. One thing we didn’t see was an agenda item to address concerns that have arisen over the decision to make Bradford a K-8 school, which the Board voted to approve at last week’s Board meeting. (We will write a separate post about that issue sometime in the next week or two.) We hope the Board will address the community’s concerns, and will commit to engaging the entire Chatfield articulation area when fleshing out the plan for the articulation area as a whole.

Judicious Use of Executive Sessions: When and Why? Lastly, we thought we’d weigh in on the concern expressed by some over the Board members meeting in Executive Session at the end of last week’s Board meeting after receiving a general overview of the Open Records and Open Meetings laws. We agree with many on all sides of the recent school board issues that executive sessions should be rare and judiciously used, and the reasoning behind executive session was explained. The overview was conducted in the public meeting (as we thought might be the case when we last posted), and specific questions for the attorneys was reserved for executive session. Keep in mind that some of the questions board members may have asked are, in fact, confidential. One of the examples of this would include questions about the Claire Davis law, which holds school districts responsible for acts of violence if a court determines that every security issue had not been taken. The answer to those questions would involve confidential information about Jeffco Schools security procedures, and can only be answered in executive session so as not to compromise our students.

We will continue watching any use of executive session over the long haul. And we’ll remind everyone that it is unusual for all five board members to be new to the board. Board members explained that they had personal and privileged matters to discuss with the attorneys that could not be shared with the public. For example, Brad Rupert is an attorney with clients, and had some questions about conflicts of interest.

Could board members have met individually with the lawyers outside of the board meeting? Yes, but meeting together was a more cost-effective and efficient use of everyone’s time and the district’s funds, and meeting individually would still be behind closed doors anyhow. We stand by the Board’s decision to discuss these matters in private with legal counsel. We don’t expect this Board to misuse their ability to meet in executive session, and view this concern to be unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

Again, this meeting is a study session, with no votes planned, and should wrap up by 10pm on Thursday.

Jeffco Proud!