5.2.16 Jeffco Schools Facilities Master Plan Summary

lakwoodAt the end of April, staff presented an updated facilities master plan to the school board at a study session. First, we want to emphasize that the board has not voted on the plan, nor is it planning to finalize any of the recommendations soon.

What is happening is this: staff are now hosting a series of meetings around the district to explain the reasoning behind the plan, answer questions about details of the plan, and collect feedback from parents. The communications department staff is collecting the feedback and making it available to school board members, staff, and even to the public through links to community meeting feedback and survey feedback received before April 28 on the Districtwide Facilities Master Plan page on the Jeffco Schools website. Comments will continue be posted as they are received throughout the feedback process.

Jeffco Schools has also posted other important links with more information about the plan:

There are also multiple community meetings taking place between now and mid-June:

  • May 4, Conifer High School, 8–10 am
  • May 4, Green Mountain High School, 5-7 pm
  • May 31, Ralston Valley High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 1, Pomona High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 4, Stevens Elementary, 8-10 am
  • June 4, Arvada West High School, 11 am – 1 pm
  • June 6, Golden High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 8, Bear Creek High School, 8-10 am
  • June 8, Wheat Ridge High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 9, Stein at O’Connell, 6-8 pm

If you can’t make any of the meetings (or even if you can, but want to provide additional feedback), you can provide feedback via an online survey that is also posted on the Facilities Master Plan page.

So, you may find yourself asking, why are they doing this now?

There are several reasons:

First, the master plan hasn’t been comprehensively updated since 2011.

Second, you’ll likely remember the debate over how to best fund construction of a new school or schools in northwest Arvada: through a bond issue or through Certificates of Participation (COPs), or by pulling money out of classrooms to fund new construction. This was an issue during the recall election last November. The new board members voted to use COPs to build the K-8 at Candelas and to fund phase II of the Sierra Elementary construction. However, all of them were very clear that they prefer to use bonds to finance capital construction.

With that in mind, the board asked staff to update the master plan and to consider what a potential bond package might look like that also takes into account capital needs throughout the district. The facilities master plan is the result.

Third, we’ve been waiting a long time for the economy to get better and state funding to increase, right? Except that the economy has improved and everyone’s property taxes went up and a new marijuana tax was approved and Jeffco Schools still isn’t going to see much (if any) additional state funding. The “negative factor,” allows the state to keep those additional property and marijuana taxes and allocate it to other parts of the state budget — and in fact, our legislators are not giving those additional revenues to the schools.

Nothing about the current funding patterns seems like it will change anytime soon, so we in Jeffco need to tackle our current capital needs ourselves.

One of the big goals of this plan, besides addressing high-growth areas, school overcrowding, and schools with major maintenance needs like new roofs or HVAC systems, is to reduce the amount Jeffco spends on maintenance overall so that those dollars can be used in the classroom. Updated HVAC and electrical systems some schools will produce thousands of dollars in utility cost savings in the long run. It also means that in some cases, the plan suggests school consolidations or closures, along with the replacement of certain school buildings.

“Why are they closing schools and asking money to build new ones?” is a question we’ve heard frequently. The short answer is that on average, our schools are 45 years old and many have major capital needs. If, however, the school can consolidate two of those aging schools into one new and larger school, they’ll save money in the long run. The equation they use is something similar to the one that all of us use when deciding whether to repair or replace an aging car: at some point it becomes cheaper in the long run to buy a new or newer car than to continue sinking thousands of dollar into a 20-year-old car that’s in the shop every few months. A newer car means few if any repair costs and usually better fuel mileage (or in the case of schools, utility savings) as well.

That said, most of the proposals hinge on a successful bond campaign. Without one, it’s not possible to build a new school or addition necessary to consolidate two other schools. And they want the Jeffco community to have a plan that everyone is reasonably happy with, which is the reason they’re asking for so much community feedback. They want to know which parts of the facilities master plan need to be changed before moving forward.

A few more notes on cost: The plan also suggests a couple of minimal cost options. The first one boils down to what Jeffco is already doing: building a K-8 at Candelas, finishing phase II construction at Sierra Elementary, finishing the Rose Stein construction as planned, and continuing with the district’s deferred maintenance plan overall.

A second minimal cost option is to reconfigure schools in four articulation areas as K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools. It makes use of available space at the middle school level and creates space in elementary schools that may be lacking it. Note that the proposal is not a district-wide proposal to move to a K-5, 6-8 configuration, but rather one based on student numbers in each articulation area. Even in a proposal that is based on bond money, some elementary schools would be left in a K-6, 7-8 pattern in order to not overcrowd the middle school.

Our friends at Support Jeffco Kids posted a summary that includes summary information about each of the articulation areas, and we encourage you read that post or to take time to look at the links we’ve included above.

District staff plan to take the feedback to the board to consider at the board’s June 16 meeting. They are expected to provide further direction regarding the plan to staff at that time. Staff will then incorporate the direction into a new version of the plan, and we’d expect a vote on the revised version at a future meeting. There will also need to be a vote if the school board decided to put a bond issue on the ballot.

As you can see, everything is in the very early stages of planning. Look at the information or attend a forum and then let the board members know what you think through one of the above channels or by simply writing them at board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

JeffCo Proud!

 

 

4.6.16 The AFP is at it again & quick 4/7 BOE meeting preview

This will be a brief update, as all of our writers are currently swamped with other things. We know we owe you a summary of the last couple of meetings and we will have that for you as soon as humanely possible.

However, we wanted to bring your attention to some news uncovered by our friends at Jeffco Citizens for Responsible Education. They noticed that a number of emails regarding the use of Certificates of Participation (COPs) had been sent to the board. The vast majority of those in opposition were one of two form letters. Jeffco CRE followed that trail a bit further, right to the door of Americans for Prosperity, who conveniently set up a webpage so that people could submit a form letter to the board through their website.

Screenshot 2016-04-03 15.33.08

We agree with Jeffco CRE when they write “Colorado is a local control state for a reason.  Outside special interest groups should stop sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.” Indeed.

In addition, there’s a board meeting this Thursday, April 7.

Highlights

Can’t attend? Stream the meeting live at this link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

JeffCo Proud!

 

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 1

It’s been longer than we’d like since we’ve posted summary versions of the meetings, but we’d like to bring you up to date about what’s been happening with the Jeffco School Board in the past few months. The short version is that the vast majority of board members’ time has been spent immersing themselves in the intricate details of the district so that they’re familiar with the processes and facts of the various elements involved before they make decisions.

With that in mind, this post will be split into two main sections: first, 1) board actions, and then 2) other board work, as we summarize what they’ve been doing since their November elections.

Jeffco BOE Actions, Nov. 2015 – February 2016

Returned $15 million slotted for Candelas K-6 construction to the General Fund (1/14/16)

The decision by the previous board to pull $15 million from the general fund to construct a new school had been a major point of contention last year for a number of reasons all outlined in previous posts. This vote puts the money back into the general fund. Note that no plans have been made for those dollars yet. Board members stated they intend to hold that money and wait to see what happens with the 2016-17 budget before making any decisions on those dollars.

Approved Certificates of Participation (COPs) for Candelas K-8 and Sierra Phase II (1/14/16)

This required three votes: one to approve moving ahead with the Candelas site as a K-8 school (as previously had been recommended by the district) rather than as a smaller K-6 school with a planned addition at some point in the future; one to approve the use of COPs to finance construction at Candelas; and, one to approve the use of COPs to finance phase II of construction at Sierra Elementary. These three votes also required a great deal of discussion, both at previous study sessions and during the meeting, and featured the board’s first split vote.

The board heard a two-hour presentation during the 12/17/15 study session to learn about the facilities process and asked questions about specific issues throughout the county. Many board members had also heard the many facilities presentations that had been given since August 2014 on the issue, though all benefited from the updated information and opportunity to ask questions that previous board members had not.

The first vote to reconfigure the Candelas plan to a K-8 and use COPs to fund construction was unanimous, though it followed another intense round of discussion and questions about the benefits of a K-8 and the cost effectiveness involved. (Short answer: it’s more cost-effective for construction costs and for daily operating costs.) There was also a lot of discussion regarding how flexible COPs would be for meeting budget and construction needs. (Short answer: they can be paid off at any time. The board could, for example, take the $15 million they’d just moved back to the general fund and vote to use it to pay a large portion of the COP.)

The second vote to use COPs to finance Sierra Phase II construction was preceded by the same intense conversation and questioning. Several board members had visited Sierra to see the conditions first-hand and all were appalled. However, as board member Amanda Stevens pointed out, Sierra is not the only school with significant facilities issues. She, like the others, prefers to use a bond to finance school construction; Stevens was concerned about committing general fund dollars to paying a portion of COPs in tight financial times. In the end, the vote was 4/1 with Stevens voting against the motion. She said her vote was not at all a vote against the Sierra community (and we’ll note that it was clear the motion would pass by the time Stevens voted), but that she really wants the board to address facilities issues district-wide through a bond issue this November.

To keep this summary from being any longer, we invite you to read the news coverage here and here for more details about the discussions surrounding the three votes.

CASB Membership Renewal (2/4/16)

Jeffco had been a long-time member of the Colorado Association of School Boards, informally known as CASB, until last year when three former board members refused to renew that membership. The new board members took time to get to know CASB’s work, the training opportunities it offered, and other benefits, such as legal advice, plus the work CASB does to influence education policy on the state level, and voted unanimously to approve the board’s membership renewal.

Added Members to the District Accountability Committee (2/4/16)

Last fall, the former board approved changes to split the roles of the former Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) between two committees: a District Accountability Committee (DAC) and a new SPAC that would limit its work to strategic planning and not to the accountability work required by state statute. However, our readers will also remember that the former board directed that the new DAC be a board committee, with membership subject to board approval. In the process, they also cut seats previously held by Jeffco PTA and by CSEA (Jeffco’s Classified School Employees Association), among others.

In February, board members added slots to include these and other stakeholder groups, so the new membership looks like this:

  • One parent representative from a school-level accountability team (SAC) from each articulation area (17)
  • Charter school SAC parent representatives (3)
  • Option school SAC parent representative (1)
  • Jeffco Schools teachers, with effort made to represent each grade band: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. JCEA may recommend individuals, and both members and non-members of JCEA are eligible (1-3)
  • Jeffco Schools building-level administrator (1-3)
  • Parent-at-large representatives (up to 10, with efforts made to represent the diversity of stakeholders)
  • Business community representative (at least 1)
  • Jeffco PTA member (1)
  • Jeffco Schools classified staff representative. Both CSEA members and non-members are eligible, and CSEA may recommend individuals (1)
  • Superintendent

Expansion of Two Roads Charter School Contract (2/4/16)

Jeffco Schools has offered a blended learning/online program for elementary school students as part of its Jefferson Virtual Academy (JVA). However, the K-5 program has not met its targeted enrollment and funding doesn’t support continuing the program. Two Roads Charter School expressed interest in taking over the program to continue it for participating and interested families, but was prevented from doing so by their current contract – the standard Jeffco Schools charter contract prohibits charters from offering online programs.

The board discussed amending the contract for Two Roads to take over the K-5 blended/online program during a study session on 1/28/16, and then voted to approve the move at the 2/4/16 meeting.

Expanded Bradford K-6 to a K-8 program (12/10/15)

This vote garnered some criticism, largely because it’s not entirely clear that the move had the support of all stakeholders. The Bradford community was highly supportive of the move to expand the program to include 7th and 8th grade programming, and the district supported the move because it was made with the requirement that the program be capped at 90 students per grade. That cap will avoid any need for building expansion in the future and limits the impact on the feeder schools in the Chatfield articulation area. District officials said the move had the support of principals at those feeder schools, though others noted that those principals did not attend the board meeting to speak to the issue one way or another. School Accountability Committees at feeder schools may not have been consulted either.

This issue was sprung on the board (and the at-large Jeffco community) out of the blue by district staff. Board members questioned district staff carefully about whether the administration at the feeder schools that would be affected supported the proposal. Staff told the board members that they did, so we can hardly fault the board members for doing their due diligence or for wanting to make the decision before the first round of choice-enrollment opened in January. That said, we’d also encourage board members to think about whether a board policy requiring the district to provide a certain amount of notice to the board before bringing an issue for a vote might be in their favor so that there is time to have more discussion before taking action. However, we’ll also note that when it came to expanding the online program at Two Roads (above), board members were quick to make sure there was a study session to discuss options before bringing it to a vote for the next meeting, so that’s a huge step toward respecting process and community engagement.

View our next post for specifics regarding negotiations with JCEA, and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Jeffco Proud!

2.4.16 BOE meeting preview

It’s already February and time for another board meeting. Here’s a brief run-down of the agenda for the Thursday, Feb. 4, meeting. The study session begins at 5:30 and the regular board meeting begins at 6:30 pm.

Your Childs Education

Here’s the link to stream the meeting:  http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Study Session: Legislative Update/Platform Review

The boardwill revise its legislative priorities and receive an update (also see the the Jan. 31 legislative update here).  As has been the case in past years, Ed Bowditch continues to serve as the district lobbyist.

Sadly, one bill of special interest in Jeffco has already been sent to the “kill committee.” Senator Andy Kerr and Representative Tracy Kraft-Tharp proposed Senate Bill 16-101 to hold School Boards more accountable by creating a five-member ethics commission within the Department of Education to hear ethics complaints against members of school district and charter boards.

Then onto the regular meeting at 6:30 pm.

Honors, Recognition and School Reports

This board will honor: 

That’s followed by individual member school reports and public comment. Sign up here to address the board during public comment part 1, but remember that only this part is reserved only for items on the agenda. If you want to speak on other items, sign up for public comment part 2.

Consent Agenda

Among other items, the consent agenda includes contract renewals for Addenbrooke Classical Academy, Compass Montessori Wheat Ridge and the New America charter schools. It also includes a contract modification for Two Roads Charter School that would allow it to operate an online K-5 program. The board discussed this at the Jan. 28 study session and an update in request to their questions is included in Board Docs.

It also includes a few revised board policies and contract awards. Last year at this time, 13 licensed staff (mainly classroom teachers) resigned. This year, we see only 4 resigning.

7.01 Student Achievement and Growth: MAP Fall and Winter Results

An update on student achievement scores from the MAP tests. The presentation, and a presentation from Dakota Ridge High School are in Board Docs.

Among the highlights: Jeffco’s reading performance exceeds MAP national norms in upper level performance ranges (“high” and “high average”) in ALL grade levels; and, Jeffco’s sophomores improved their math performance in the “high average” category.

Challenges include declines in “high” and “high average” winter MAP reading and math in most grade levels; and, persisting performance gaps for certain subgroups (e.g. Hispanic, Black, free/reduced lunch eligible, students with disabilities). We hope the board will ask Jeffco’s experts how our district can better replicate the successes and reduce the challenges, while also carefully asking district experts whether the “declines” on the test are an indication that schools need to be covering content more effectively or whether they are an issue of students adjusting to a new test format. In other words: the board should carefully consider how we use these tests to keep tabs on student achievement and how we can improve it, while also remembering that even these scores only represent a single snapshot on a single day.

8.01 CASB (Colorado Association of School Boards) Membership

We’ve been anticipating this item on the agenda since the new board members took office. As you’ll recall, WNW refused to renew Jeffco’s longstanding membership in the organization. Superintendent McMinimee told the new board members that he thought there were multiple benefits in renewing Jeffco’s membership, including additional legal and other resources. Our new board members have already benefit from some of those resources at CASB’s annual meeting, and we look forward to seeing Jeffco be part of that larger organization again.

9.01 – 9.04 Policy Work

Policies being reviewed include:

  • Governance Process Policies 1-17
  • EL-5, Financial Planning/Budgeting
  • EL-6, Financial Administration
  • EL-11, Communication and Counsel to the Board
Supporting documentation and potential changes are all linked in Board Docs.

After that, there’s the second part of public comment and the board calendar.

rm-forum

Don’t forget to attend one of the upcoming community forums to weigh in on the budget and other priorities. Due to this week’s snowstorm, the Monday evening forum at Pomona High School has now been moved to Wednesday, Feb. 10, from 6 – 7:30 pm.

Here’s the full list:

Sat., Feb. 6

  • Arvada West High School auditorium, 9 – 11:30 am.

Wed., Feb. 10

  • Evergreen Fire House auditorium, 7:30 – 9 am
  • Deer Creek Middle School cafeteria, 3:30 – 5 pm
  • Pomona High School library, 6 – 7:30 pm

Remember to weigh in and make your opinion heard!

Jeffco Proud!

 

12.10.15 BOE meeting tonight!

Clean SlateWe’ve been a bit quiet, but like you, our schedules are full of school concerts and other assorted holiday events. (Trust me when I say the above is an understatement!) Also? Not much is happening yet for us to write about.

Here’s what has happened since we last posted:

  • The new board members were sworn in and talked about their priorities. Those aren’t a surprise: employee compensation (for everyone, not just teachers), restoring trust, addressing growth areas in the district, student achievement, managing district resources, testing and assessment, and revisiting the composition of the newly-formed District Accountability Committee to address any gaps.
  • Brad Miller resigned, effective Nov. 30.
  • Board members held a study session on Nov. 30 to talk though how they will do outreach with the community and to map out next meetings.

The study session was basically about process: how they schedule school visits, how they should do community outreach meetings (like community budget forums), etc. You can watch or listen to the full meeting here:  http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310/videos/105904116.

They’ll have their first regular meeting today. The study session starts at 5:30 and is about the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). They’ll likely also talk a bit about projections for the 2015-16 budget cycle, which begins soon.

The regular meeting begins at 6:30 and it looks like public comment will occupy the vast majority of the agenda. The consent agenda largely contains the usual: approval of minutes, approval of contracts for temporary buildings at overcrowded NW Arvada schools, mill levy certification (which happens every year in December), and approval of new hires, staffing changes, and resignations.

The only unusual item is about a reconfiguration of Bradford Elementary from a K-6 to a K-8. According to Superintendent McMinimee and district staff, the change is being driven by parents, students and staff, and those affected have been able to comment on the change at meetings at the school and through a survey. The board members asked about this specific item and questioned whether it should be on the consent agenda at their Nov. 30 study session, and the advice they were given was that this decision is being made with support from that community.

The board will also work on the calendar and agenda for upcoming meetings.

The last item on the agenda is listed as a two-hour executive session to “receive legal advice on the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials, and relevant board and district policies related to the same.”

The fact that it’s listed as an executive session has already drawn fire from the usual players, including one who ironically commented that the public deserves to know why the board might need its own counsel. Guess she finally caught on to what JCSBW has been saying for two years – not to mention parents, students, community members and the two members of the board minority. We will also note, however, that unlike two years ago, the agenda item is to merely to receive information.

We’ll also remind readers that former BOE attorney Brad Miller required such the board members to meet to discuss what legal counsel the board would need. That requirement was in his original contract and was mentioned again in his resignation letter:

Please note that upon receipt of notice of termination, the Board agreed that it immediately will make a good faith effort and take all necessary steps to obtain any needed new counsel.

We applaud the efforts of the new board to immediately learn what they need to do to be fully compliant with both Colorado open meetings laws and the Colorado Open Records Act. That was very clearly a problem for members of the old board, as we noted in the past. Should this agenda item also be conducted in open session? Perhaps, though receiving legal advice on specific legal questions is a protected use of executive session:

State and local public bodies (including college and university boards) may use executive sessions to receive advice from an attorney on specific legal questions.

It’s also possible that board members may choose to conduct some of the agenda item in public before moving to executive session to request legal advice about other specific questions they may have. In either case, moving to executive session requires a vote, so we’ll see what they choose to do.

You can watch the fun here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

And as suggested by a reader, we’re going to start ending our posts with a new phrase:

JeffCo Proud!

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll update about tonight’s meeting, unless the pile of holiday preparations awaiting buries us until January.