Happy New Year!
We hope 2017 is off to a great start for you and yours! We wish we could say that 2017 is off to a good start for our school district, but we are dismayed at the way the Jeffco Schools Communications Department is handling, or rather not handling, the press release announcing that “the Board will vote on whether to start a search process for a new superintendent.”
In our opinion, Diana Wilson, the district’s Chief Communications Officer, has once again shown her unsuitability for her position with her irresponsible, unprofessional quote reported by Chalkbeat: “That the item is on the Jan. 12 agenda “essentially means they are not offering Dan a contract extension,” said district spokeswoman Diana Wilson.” We are shocked that Wilson would make such a statement as a vote has NOT been taken by the BOE, and it is not her place to attempt to read between the lines or make some sort of projection or guess as to what direction the BOE will take. This quote has fed a media feeding frenzy that has included accusations of a lack of transparency, etc.
The reality is that the BOE issued the news release specifically as an act of transparency to let the public know that although they had to meet in Executive Session to discuss a personnel matter (McMinimee’s performance and contract), they do intend to have a discussion during the next regular BOE meeting on Jan. 12, will listen to public comment on whether to retain McMinimee, and then will have a vote – in public.
This board is acting transparently and respectfully with regard to McMinimee; the district’s Chief Communications Officer is out of line and being disrespectful of the process. We find it extremely concerning that neither McMinimee nor Wilson have addressed her error nor retracted the statement.
We’re also disappointed in the memo Jeffco Schools Chief School Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott sent to staff. Here again, his words imply the BOE has already made a decision, leading the media to assume the BOE has acted inappropriately. That is not true. The BOE has followed the proper process for these discussions.
If you have an opinion on whether the BOE should retain McMinimee as superintendent, you can email comments to the BOE or sign up for public comment to share your thoughts with the board members at Thursday’s meeting. If you can’t attend the meeting, you can always watch it from the comfort of your own home via livestream.
Here are just a few letters of concern regarding McMinimee sent to the board this past month:
- C-16-800 from Don Cameron with a detailed analysis showing how the previous Supt search consultant focused on board preferences for the Supt as a priority over preferences expressed by parents, community members, administrators, teachers and others. Cameron goes on to point out his lack of trust in the current district leadership’s ability to “gain the confidence of voters to allow us to pass a mill and bond,” and that “some of that needs to be laid at the feet of the chief messenger [McMinimee].” We should all remember that the bogus superintendent search that landed McMinimee in this position was a key issue in the recall.
- c-16-801 from Angie Blomquist asking that McMinimee not be retained for several reasons, to include “standing mutely by” while other board members, staff and students were mistreated by the previous, recalled board majority, and taking his $20,000 bonus knowing the inability of the district to adequately compensate employees as a result of the on-going budget crisis. She feels “McMinimee is out of touch with what it means to be a teacher,” feels “his inexperience leads to poor decisions,” and is “overpaid and under qualified for his current position.”
- c-16-806 from Terry Cooper who points out the very concerning need to “rebuild the trust between teachers and district admin” and that “new leadership needs to address the riff created by the old board.” Terry goes on to note that “change and support will come when…a caring leader steps in with a crew that truly supports teachers and begins the much needed work of healing a divided district.”
These are just a few thoughts from a very few people concerned with the leadership in the district. We have talked with teachers, staff and administrators and are so discouraged to hear time and time again, especially from administrators, that Dan McMinimee is not an inspiring leader. Jeffco needs an inspiring leader. Someone who can heal and unite our district; guide and inform our board of education directors; hire the strongest and most experienced cabinet members who work with and listen to the staff they’re hired to support; build strong relationships with community and business leaders (and not just have conversations with these leaders when the district is asking for help with passing a mill/bond); and support and advocate for students, teachers and staff.
With that said, let’s dive in to the agenda for the January 12th meeting.
The meeting begins with a study session at 5 pm that will provide an update on Student Based Budgeting (SBB), which is the district’s method of funding the schools. The discussion will provide details on the changes to SBB for the 2016-17 school year as well as insights on the implementation of SBB by school principals.
We look forward to this update and ensuing discussion as we have several concerns about SBB that we hope the BOE will ask, such as:
- Smaller schools receive additional dollars; however, once the school reaches a certain pupil count, they lose those dollars and struggle with the allotted budget. Does this discourage schools from allowing additional open-enrollment students?
- In some schools, enrollment changes year by year and classroom by classroom. When a school experiences a dip in enrollment, the principal is faced with a resulting budget cut that may force the loss of an employee or more. However, when enrollment rebounds in a subsequent year that staff member is gone and the principal is faced with having to find a new teacher to fill that position. What is being done to address this issue?
- Some schools have more highly impacted student populations that require more resources. How will SBB dollars be allocated to address these additional needs at certain schools?
- SBB causes competition between schools for students. We are seeing a negative impact to schools and students as a result. Competition can be a healthy thing – to a degree, but it can also be a detriment. Schools in the south, for example, are seeing a negative effect as a result of unhealthy competition. Deer Creek Middle shifted to a 6-8 model when they began offering a STEM program to attract more students. Bradford succeeded in making the shift to a K-8 model when they suffered the financial consequences of losing many students to the STEM program at Deer Creek and the new charter, Golden View Classical Academy. Many of the schools in the south now use SBB money to pay for advertising in the local newspapers. Collegiate Academy, a Jeffco charter school, has gone so far as to develop a 15-page Marketing Plan and set aside $16,000 annually for marketing (to include $8,000 for a marketing coordinator). Is this good for students? Is this healthy competition? How does marketing improve student achievement? Wouldn’t marketing dollars and efforts be better spent in the classroom?
Next up, the OELS (Outdoor Lab) foundation will present at check to Jeffco Schools (thank you OELS!), Marna Messer, Jeffco Schools Director of Choice Programming, will receive the O’Rourke Prize (an annual award given for Distinguished Achievement in Professional Development), and students from Evergreen High School will be recognized for their performance in the State Tennis Championship.
We are happy to see that the “Board Reports” item has returned to the agenda! This is a great opportunity for board members to share their observations as they visit schools and participate in activities across the district with their fellow board members. We always enjoy this portion of the BOE meetings.
The BOE will also once again review the Great Works Montessori charter school application. This application was denied in November largely because it did not appear to have a sustainable budget and representatives were unable to address those concerns satisfactorily.
One specific issue concerns the proposed charter’s desire to attract low-income students who might thrive in a Montessori environment, while also needing a number of preschool families who can pay $1,500 per month to keep the school budget in the black. Preschool families would pay on a sliding scale, but unfortunately, that also means that the more successful the school is in attracting low-income students, the more their success harms their budget. The charter school representative told board members she was sure they could find additional funding for the budget if they needed it, but could offer no concrete suggestions or information at the meeting. Board members said they wanted to see a sustainable budget before approving a new charter school.
An additional concern was the lack of attention and details regarding how the charter school would address the needs of their target families, such as ELL resources, Spanish-speaking teachers and staff (for students and parents), and how the needs of students with IEPs, 504 plans and ALPs would be met. Another concern for the target population is transience. The charter school does not have a plan to integrate students coming from a traditional school setting, and only has a 1% contingency fund for emergencies, which is much too risky especially with consideration of weathering the loss of revenue from transient students.
Great Works appealed the Jeffco School Board’s decision to the State Board of Education, and the State Board ruled that Jeffco should take another look. Please look at this letter from Chris von Lersner, who was originally helping with Great Works but now has concerns.
Bottom line: with all Colorado schools facing cuts in the 2017-18 year, it’s more important than ever for new charter schools to have sustainable budgets that match realistic enrollment goals. We want them to be set for success, not destined for financial hardship and failure.