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!

 

One More Board Meeting to Stand Guard…And Some Big Decisions

dignityAs much as we want to (and have) celebrated a clean slate thanks to the amazing Jeffco community, we still have work to do.  The new board will not take office until November 19, so we have to put away the confetti and get back to business.  Tomorrow, on Thursday, November 5, WNW will reign over one last board meeting.

There are 3 items to highlight for this meeting.  The first comes in the consent agenda.  The ratings are out and overall McMinimee is PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE.  With 12 goals he was rated Highly Effective in 2 areas, Effective in 3, Partially Effective in 5 and INEFFECTIVE in 2.  Using the simple 4 point elementary grading system that works out to a 2.4  (keeping in mind being Ineffective gives you a 1 from the start).

This brings up a few questions.  Is McMinimee, with no experience leading a large school district, in over his head?  Was he truly the best candidate WNW could find? (That’s rhetorical). Now that we are saddled with his contract, what will the clean slate do?

Bothersome is that PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE will result in $9,500 in bonuses.  That is 4.3%.  In a year when EFFECTIVE teachers will see less than a 1% raise and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE will see just over a 1% raise, McMinimee will be awarded a 4.3% bonus.

Knowing that DR. Stevenson chose to forego bonuses in times when teachers saw no raises, will MR. McMinimee choose to follow her example of leadership?  Or will he take the 4.3% bonus?

Doral Charter Application

The next questions for Thursday night, will WNW continue to ignore the community? Will they go out with the same disrespect they have reigned with?  Or will they make a mature, graceful decision?

Before them is the Doral Academy Charter Application.  Doral presented virtually the same application to Cherry Creek last month and it was unanimously rejected.

Here are our concerns with this application:

This would be the first charter school in Jeffco to be run by a Charter Management Organization (CMO).  And not just any CMO.  This CMO is Academica.  Academica is currently under federal investigation for financial conflict of interests. So it is particularly troublesome that according to the charter “Academica will be responsible for the DAC’s bookkeeping and financial reporting. Academica will also be assigned by the Board to bid out third-party services that the school requires …”

(For more information on who profits from these deals, we recommend you read this article.)

Another concern is the misrepresentation of this school as an arts school.  The curriculum clearly states it is an arts integrated school (meaning kids learn using songs, like children learn the presidents in their neighborhood schools).  However, in an effort to make a case for the school at the last presentation, Newkirk repeatedly tried to draw parallels to the Denver School of the Arts – which the charter panel never denied.

DSA is a wonderfully successful program, but it requires auditions and focuses on the arts.  It is not arts integration.  Would it be great to have an arts option school in Jeffco some day? Yes, but Doral Academy is NOT an arts school.

A third concern raised by the charter review committee was fiscal feasibility.  With 285 students needed to break even and 121 letters of intent, Doral is far from reaching that number.  Even then, the committee pointed out the budget was lean on staffing, infrastructure and food services.

As a parent though, the seating of the board is the most concerning element of the application.  The board terms are FIVE years (and a member can serve 2 terms), which seems lengthy.  The original board is formed from the founding committee with staggered terms (nothing unusual there).  However, as the terms expire the BOARD votes for their OWN replacements.  A self-perpetuating board DENIES any voice from the school’s community in their board.  Furthermore, with a board as large as possibly 9 members, there are only 2 seats allocated to parents.

This is far from the grassroots charters that thrive in Jeffco, and it is very far away from the community/parent voices this election advocated for.  When you add Academica in the mix – where school board members for one of their schools was none other than the President of Academica, the seating of the board becomes a vital issue.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: Our ideal would be that this contentious issue be tabled for the new board to vote on since they will be left with the fallout of the decision either way.  Unfortunately, state statute requires a response within 75 days, which may not be possible given the timing of the application submission.  Barring tabling the vote, our recommendation is that the application should be denied at this time due to: the fiscal jeopardy from lack of interest, the association with the troubled and beleaguered Academica, and the overly self-perpetuating structure of the board.

Public Comment Proposal

We commend Jill Fellman in this last act.  She has proposed that in study sessions that have 2 or more action items requiring a vote, that public comment be allowed.  Thank you, Jill, for being open to ALL voices.

District Accountability Committee (DAC)

Finally on the agenda are the revisions to the DAC.  Our hope is merely that when the Clean Slate takes office they will revisit this committee, returning the voices of PTA, parents, faith leaders, etc.  We also hope that the application for these positions in the future will include more than name and child’s school so that the candidate can be vetted properly.  Our final request is that a new policy would also include appointments from all members, rather than a majority vote that silences the minority.

accept

THIS IS NOT FAREWELL: A PERSONAL NOTE FROM JEFFCOFACTS, ONE OF OUR WRITERS

A little over a year ago I met the founder of Jeffco School Board Watch for coffee.  I had never been involved in politics and had no desire to be.  But I was appalled at the actions of WNW and had been so for months.  As coffee progressed I heard more about the agenda of Americans For Prosperity and WNW.  At first, I honestly thought – conspiracy theory.  But I agreed to write on occasion for Board Watch.  I chose the moniker JeffcoFacts, because I wanted to present a fair analysis based upon facts, not theories.  With time there were days that my emotions did ride high – when I saw the disrespect to students, teachers and board members.  When I saw the complete disregard for community surveys.  Some days JeffcoFacts and the Jeffco parent in me could not be separated.

Today we celebrate the end of the reign of terror.  And today in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give thanks to the many community leaders that stepped into the fray – too many to name.  And I thank the passionate founder (turns out he wasn’t a crazy conspiracy theorist) that gave me a voice here.

This election is not farewell.  I have learned so much about what makes great schools and what a true reform movement within a community can look like, that I can’t go back to the cocoon of inattention.  For the sake of not just the children of Jeffco, but for the schools fighting this battle in Thompson, DougCo and throughout the country.

What does the future of Board Watch look like?  It is too early to know.  But I can say that even the Clean Slate of candidates knows we are watching and we will always fight for our children, regardless of who is in office.  To do anything less, would be disingenuous.

Finally I want to say thank all of you – our followers.  I never thought I could do this.  And there were days I seemed so unqualified.  But then on occasion a comment would come in on an article and it lifted me up.  Or I would see the number of reads and I knew you were listening and sharing.  You are the reason the recall was successful.  Thank you for that and thank you for supporting us.

10.26.15 WNW #LogicFail

LogicFailThe irony is impossible to miss. Jeffco School Board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, aka WNW, claim to be “laser-focused” on student achievement…but only in certain cases. Ditto for fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency, and respect. For example:

When it comes to offering free full-day kindergarten to low-income families at a cost of $600,000, they said it’s not a mandate and we can’t afford it.

When it comes to equalizing mill levy funds–a move that is is not mandated and that at a cost of $8.1 million is 13.5 times more than it would cost to expand free full-day kindergarten, WNW said “it’s only fair.”

#LogicFail

When approached with any district request, WNW demand to know how it will impact student achievement.

When WNW equalized funding for charter schools, they didn’t ask how it would improve student achievement.

When told how full-day kindergarten improves student achievement for at-risk families, WNW ignored multiple national studies that demonstrate achievement gains, including Jeffco results that clearly showed student gains when they controlled for days attended (which is what good scientific studies do).

#LogicFail

WNW claim that they are moving Jeffco forward because they improved student achievement results.

As proof, WNW cite Jeffco graduation rates from before they took office.

#LogicFail

When WNW wanted to make sure the DAC aligned more closely with state statutes than the former SPAC did, they rewrote membership so that it was in violation of state law.

When this was pointed out to them — after they tried to rush the approval through that night without revisions and eventually agreed to follow their own policies — Witt said “that’s why this ‘compromise’ makes sense.”

#LogicFail

WNW are bragging about the school they “built” without incurring debt. But wait–do you see a new school in Candelas? No? Neither do we. Perhaps they should try “are building?” And that’s without addressing the fact that the K-6 school WNW approved is neither as large as it should be, that it will require an addition, that the district’s recommendation was for a K-8 and that new schools are needed in two other locations plus an expansion to Sierra Elementary, or the fact that by taking $18 million from the operating budget, they’ve left nothing for addressing unexpected budget needs like security.

#LogicFail

WNW repeatedly say they want a new District Accountability Committee that doesn’t look like the former Strategic Planning Advisory Council and that is truly aligned with state laws. Then John Newkirk proposes a membership that violates state laws.

#LogicFail

And our favorite: when Witt held a closed-door press conference to announce he was asking the Independent Ethics Commission to investigate him regarding allegations that he violated the Colorado open meetings act. Note that the IEC has no jurisdiction over school boards, that they do not weigh in on open meetings laws, and that they exist to advise about future decisions — and that Witt somehow thought a closed-door press conference was the perfect antidote to allegations of closed-door meetings.

#LogicFail #LogicFail #LogicFail

You know what you need to do. Vote and get those ballots in by Nov. 3 — or better, yet, turn in them in tomorrow! The sooner you turn them in, the sooner both sides will stop calling you and knocking on your door.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Vote for Ali Lasell in District 3
  2. Vote for Amanda Stevens in District 4
  3. Vote yes to recall Julie Williams
  4. Vote for Brad Rupert as successor candidate
  5. Vote yes to recall John Newkirk
  6. Vote for Susan Harmon as successor candidate
  7. Vote yes to recall Ken Witt
  8. Vote for Ron Mitchell as successor candidate
  9. Turn in your ballot by 7 pm on Tuesday, November 3. 

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

Beware!

 

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Witt, Newkirk, Williams, Johnson, and Merritts. How does that school board sound? Trust us, there won’t be much “local control,” “independence,” or “bridge-building.” There will be record numbers of closed-door sessions and backroom decision-making, driven by attorneys and profiteers, with the least transparency possible. We wouldn’t say that the above sets of ads would always correlate to that kind of lock-step alignment, but in this case we have no doubt.