Is change in the air for Jeffco Schools 2017?

urgentIn case you haven’t heard, Jeffco Schools announced Tuesday the Jeffco School Board will vote on whether to start a search process for a new superintendent at their Jan. 12 regular board meeting.

For some — perhaps most — of our readers, this is long-awaited news. Others may be wondering why.

What’s not yet clear is whether this means that board members are seriously contemplating not renewing Superintendent Dan McMinimee’s contract, or whether they’re just fulfilling their promise to be transparent and accountable with board decisions and are providing ample notice so the community can be a part of the process and offer their input on the decision.

Although some Denver news outlets are reporting that McMinimee’s contract will not be renewed, Chalkbeat took a more nuanced approach and suggested that it was possible the board could still choose to renew his contract at the meeting.

No decision has been made yet, so news coverage stating that McMinimee’s contract will not be renewed is mere speculation and is either irresponsible journalism, or based on unprofessional comments from some at the district. Jeffco School Board members have held two executive sessions to discuss the contract, most recently on Dec. 15, but any vote to renew or not renew has to take place in open session, preferably with time for public comment and thoughtful, articulate board discussion. That is now scheduled for the Jan. 12 meeting.

Also from the same press release:

“It was clear during our executive sessions that the board felt we should explore our options to support the vision and direction of our school district,” said Board President Ron Mitchell. “This is a very difficult discussion, especially since Dan has led Jeffco Public Schools through some challenging times and we all appreciate his work.

…. Now that the current Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education has served over a year, the Board president expressed his expectation that the Board will have a full discussion regarding the desired direction of the district at the Jan. 12 meeting.

“If the Board decides to begin the search for a new superintendent, that action should not be viewed as a commentary on the Board’s estimation of Dan’s abilities or his performance in the role of superintendent,” explained Mitchell. “Board members expressed a desire to have a broader discussion about the Board’s vision for the district and type of leadership needed to make that vision a reality.”

As a refresher, Superintendent McMinimee was hired in 2014 as the sole finalist of a $40,000 national superintendent search. Before his hiring, he had spent several years working as an administrator in Douglas County, and many suspected that now-recalled board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams hired him in part because he had been the lead negotiator in Douglas County when they cut ties with the union. He was hired on a 3-2 vote in a meeting in which Witt shut down public comment after a mere 45 minutes. WNW eventually approved a three-year contract with a base salary of $220,000 and bonus pay of up to $40,000 based on goals set by the board.

This year, McMinimee received $20,000 in bonus pay based on the goals set by the previous board before the November 2015 election. McMinimee and the board discussed potential goals for 2017-18 at a recent meeting, and suggested that many of the goals McMinimee suggested should be a routine part of his job. They directed him to select different, more aspirational goals at a future meeting.

Board members also had a long executive session at the end of the Dec. 15 meeting to discuss the renewal of McMinimee’s contract, which ends on June 30, 2017. The board needs to make a decision by the end of March, but stated they wanted to start those discussions now. We saw a lot of chatter on social media about the 3-1/2 hour length of the executive session and what that might mean, but no one knows for sure.

JCSBW fervently hopes that a comprehensive, articulate, and thoughtful discussion will ensue at the Jan. 12 meeting in order to better explain what board members are thinking. Among other things, the Jeffco School Board needs to clarify:

  1. Specifically what they envision for the future of Jeffco Schools, and specifically what they want from a leader charged with carrying out that vision. (Emphasis on “specific,” because the press release is so vague that it could mean anything.)
  2. Specific areas in which McMinimee’s performance has fallen short, and why the board thinks different leadership may be a better option.
  3. What options the board has for selecting a new superintendent, how much those options cost, and why any additional cost is justified.

Three board seats are up for election in November, so it is extremely important that the board members be as transparent as possible as they move forward with this decision.

The average Jeffco voter will want to know why this board decided to renew or not renew McMinimee’s contract — and they’ll need to understand why it’s not a waste of money to spend several thousand more dollars on another superintendent search three years later. Three years ago, that search cost $40,000. If McMinimee’s contract is not renewed, that means taxpayers have paid an additional $13.3k per year on top of his salary.

We know many families, principals and teachers in Jeffco have not been pleased with McMinimee’s time here, and feel he is not the best candidate to lead our schools. However, that is not clear to the average voter or even the average Jeffco Schools family. We have no doubt that the anti-tax forces in Jeffco will waste no time in pointing to waste, lack of transparency, and vindictiveness if board members do not clearly make the case for whatever decision they reach on Jan. 12.

Readers, we also encourage you to communicate with the board, either during the public comment session at the Jan. 12 meeting or by writing the board before the meeting. You will be able to sign up to speak at public comment beginning on Monday, Jan. 9, and we’ll update with a link once that is available.

You can email the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, or email the board members individually using the links on the Jeffco School Board members page. It’s vitally important for the board — and the greater Jeffco community — to hear what you think and why.

Jeffco Proud!

Special Jeffco BOE Meeting – 12.15.2016

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This coming Thursday, Dec. 15, beginning at 5pm, the Board of Education will meet for the last time in 2016 to cover a variety of issues including:

After discussion of these issues, the board will meet in executive session to seek advice of legal counsel on a personnel matter. This portion of the meeting will be closed to the public.

Alameda Articulation Area Update

As of this post, the only information available for preview is an Alameda Area Update video and a 14-slide Alameda Area Update that outlines the capital improvements made to Rose Stein Elementary, an introduction to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) that will be offered at Rose Stein beginning next year, the timeline for community meetings and opening of the school, hiring timelines for staff, and IB training and support resources for staff. There are also a few slides outlining the programs available to Alameda Junior/Senior High students. Hopefully it’s just a typo and isn’t correct that the teacher retention rate was less than 5%?!

The board has also asked for an update on student achievement at Alameda International Jr/Sr High School, and we hope to see a presentation given that provides a detailed analysis using PARCC, MAP and other data to show progress, and a detailed discussion outlining measurable goals moving forward.

CAFR Presentation

Colorado revised Statute 22-32-109 requires the district prepare a comprehensive audited financial report (CAFR). The financial report consists of financial information prepared by the district and audited by an independent firm and indicates the financial status of the district at the end of the reporting period. It also provides a starting point for the annual budget preparation process.

Each year of the past 33 years, the Government Finance Officers’ Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) has awarded Jeffco Schools a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, meaning Jeffco has consistently published an easily readable and efficiently organized comprehensive annual financial report. In other words, when you hear Jeffco isn’t financially transparent, that’s simply wrong.

You can read the CAFR here and the audit report summary letter here. Here are two concerning findings from the audit:

  • The summary letter notes a problem with the accounting practices at Golden View Classical Academy (GVCA), and also notes a “scope change” that the auditors “consider to be significant to the responsibilities of those charged with governance of the group.” Our comment: remember that charter schools have their own boards. The Jeffco School Board can approve and renew charters, but otherwise has no jurisdiction over the charter schools unless they are in violation of their charter.
  • The management letter mentions that the district fell for a financial scam, and authorized a wire transfer of $26,564 to an unnamed party before later learning it was a scam. The auditors advise the district to “strengthen its internal controls surrounding the wire transfer process to verify all request for funds have a valid business purpose.” This is excellent advice we hope is heeded!

The CAFR also includes interesting demographic and economic data from Jeffco:

  • The Jeffco Schools property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is the LOWEST it’s been in 10 years.
  • The district’s ratio of net debt to assessed value is the LOWEST it’s been in 10 years. (6.51 percent in 2016 compared to 11.33 percent in 2007)
  • Per capita personal income in Jeffco has risen 27 percent in the past 10 years, while the average Jeffco teacher salary has gone up just 8 percent.
  • Enrollment has increased since 2010, yet Jeffco has fewer teachers and other licensed employees AND fewer support services employees, and administration ranks have increased by just 68 people.
  • We note that the CAFR lists 35.54 percent of Jeffco students in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program 10 years ago, but a worrisome 52 percent in the program now. A shout out to programs such as the Arvada Community Food Bank, the Action Center and the Golden Backpack Program for all they’re doing to help Jeffco’s hungry students.

Staffing Considerations

This update ensures board members are aware of the timing considerations for spring staffing and negotiations in light of the 2017/18 budget development cycle. This timeline shows that staff are recommending the board finalize the compensation commitment (and the reductions in the budget necessary to make this commitment) by March so that salaries offered in March for teaching vacancies reflect the new salary structure.

A note to our readers: if you are not attending your school accountability committee (SAC) meetings, you should be. Note that principals will need to confirm staffing decisions for the 2017-18 school year in January. Parents and community members should participate in this process by conveying your staffing priorities to the principal of your schools.

We will let you know as soon as the budget tool, community meetings, and any other opportunities are announced so you can share your thoughts and concerns with board members and the superintendent’s cabinet. Expect to see the budget tool sometime in January.

Charter School Renewal Contracts

Collegiate Academy of Colorado’s Application for Charter Renewal is a whopping 456 pages! We note that the school’s enrollment has decreased from a high in 2001 of 565 to just 397 students in the 2015 school year.

Meanwhile, the Charter Renewal Application for Mountain Phoenix is just 78 pages. That school’s enrollment has grown from 48 students in 2008 to 564 students in the 2015 school year.

In the executive summary, district staff recommend the Board study the renewal applications, with a decision anticipated by February. We will provide additional insight in future posts, before a final decision is made.

Executive Session

Finally, the Board will move into Executive Session at 7:30pm to “discuss a personnel matter involving the superintendent.” At the Dec. 1 regular board meeting, board members noted that Mr. McMinimee’s contract expires June 30, 2017, and that they will need to decide whether to renew it.

Board President Ron Mitchell said they would address that issue in December or January. We assume that is the topic of their executive session. The Board has allotted one hour for executive session and will then reconvene in open session to adjourn the meeting. Expect them to adjourn the meeting from the seminar room where they hold the executive session. However, if board members believe they need to take a vote, they will move back into the fifth floor board room to conduct that business in public before adjourning the meeting.

As always, you can attend the meeting in person at the Education Center (1829 Denver West Drive, Building 27, Golden), or you can stream the meeting live at this link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.  You can also watch the archived meeting later at your convenience if one of the many holiday activities scheduled this time of year conflicts with the meeting time.

Jeffco Proud!

Have you voted Yes on 3A and 3B yet? Do it today!

Chances are good that if you still have a ballot in hand, someone has contacted you and reminded you to get that ballot in by Nov. 8. Even my weather app is asking if I know where my polling place is. (Answer: yes, but I already voted.)

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Nevertheless, let’s say it again: We need everyone who supports public education to vote Yes on 3A and 3B, the Jeffco Schools mill and bond. We can’t risk another 2013, where very important issues — in that case, the composition of the majority of our school board — was decided by a very small group of the population. The issue that year was not that the majority of Jeffco supported WNW, but that the majority of Jeffco voters did not vote. Don’t let that happen again.

We need you to vote today or Tuesday. It’s too late to mail your ballot, but you can drop it off at a 24-hour ballot box, or at a voter service and polling center. You can also vote in person at the polling centers.

Even better: if you look at the list of polling centers, you can also check estimated wait times at those locations. The polls close at 7 pm on Tuesday night, and we need your yes vote on 3A & 3B.

We’ve given you the basics, explained the 3A mill and 3B bond in greater detail, explained what’s at stake, myth-busted much of the nonsense we’re hearing around both ballot issues, explained the state funding mess, pointed out that the Koch Brothers are back, and pointed out the cost of doing nothing. But if you need one more reason to vote yes, the Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee has it:

“We track how construction costs have gone up since that $99 million bond was put forward, and I think it’s an incredible story that we need to tell. That in an environment where costs were rising 5 to 7 percent per annum — that would be more than 21 percent over the course of these projects — this staff was able to deliver every single project that it promised to the public in Jefferson County and did it in a timely basis. To do it on budget in this environment really means they did it 20 percent under budget.

“We asking for funds to allow us to grow this district in an appropriate manner with the stewardship of those funds that has been demonstrated since the 2004 bond to be unparalleled.

Phillip Infelise, chief collaborator, P-Cubed Partners, LLC and member of Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee, April 21, 2016 meeting with the Jeffco BOE

We think that speaks for itself. Please get out and vote, and remember to go all the way to the bottom of the ballot to vote yes on 3A and 3B.

Jeffco Proud!

The Cost of Doing Nothing

What if we don’t do anything? That is a cost. There is a cost to doing nothing that every person in this county needs to consider.

– Dawn Williams, Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee  (CAAC), at their meeting with the BOE, 4/21/2016

For some, voting on the Jeffco Schools mill and bond, 3A and 3B, seems to be merely a question of whether they think the cost is worth it. What they may be missing is that there’s a cost either way.

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In our last post, we noted that state funding for Jeffco students hasn’t kept up with inflation between 2009 and now. On Tuesday, the state released its first budget forecast and they’re predicting funding cuts for schools.

Under the proposal, the negative factor would increase by $45 million (which, like any good double negative means that funding to schools will decrease). The best-case scenario is that schools will see slight funding increases, but those won’t keep pace with inflation or student population growth.

So what does that mean for Jeffco students?

For starters, it means Jeffco has less resources to support students in the classroom, and is less able to attract and retain great teachers. When pay doesn’t keep pace with inflation, people find jobs that pay better. Our teachers can easily head to Boulder, Denver, or Cherry Creek and gain a significant pay raise by doing so. That’s a significant cost to Jeffco students.

Being unable to have funding to support the purchase of additional learning resources, additional learning specialists to support struggling students, or to be able to expand learning opportunities to include more project-based work, STEM, art, music, and physical education is also a cost. Those are opportunities that Jeffco students don’t have as budgets are chipped away by inflation costs and state mandates.

Worst case scenario? More budget cuts. We haven’t recovered fully from the ones we experienced in past years, but we’ll be faced with more hard choices. The first priority for 3A money is to backfill cuts in state funding. Without it, our students pay the cost.

Another major cost is that Jeffco falls further behind when it comes to maintaining our school facilities. We know how that played out after the 2008 mill and bond failed:

The combination of needing to maintain our older schools, needing to build or renovate schools, and to bring all of our schools up to an appropriate facilities condition index would have been about a $250 million deficit. Over the years that issue has grown to a point where, when we sit as a committee and combine all the economic challenges that face the facilities group in 2016, we’re clearly looking at a number that exceeds $500 million.

– Phillip Infelise, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer has repeatedly told the board that the cost to adequately maintain Jeffco’s buildings is $65 to $75 million per year according to industry standards. Jeffco only has $18 million in the budget each year.

That’s also a cost. It’s led to more than $500 million in needed maintenance and new construction. Roofs and HVAC systems don’t fix themselves, so the costs continue to add up. For a quick glimpse of what that looks like, watch this video. The 2012 bond addressed the most pressing maintenance needs at the time, but it’s four years later. 3B money will address the current backlog of deferred maintenance.

Jeffco’s Capital Asset Advisory Committee members talked about the costs of deferred maintenance at great length with the Jeffco School Board members at their April 21 meeting. Those costs not only include the accumulated costs of deferred maintenance, but also school choice and learning:

If we allow our structures to become old looking and tired, we’re going to begin to lose…. People are going to find places where they can get a beautiful school and that beautiful school will encourage education.” “When a parent walks into a school and it feels good, looks good, they’re going to say “This is what I want my children to be educated in.”

The teachers and the students are going to feel much better if a school is well lit, the carpet is not worn out, the kitchens are producing the products that we need.”

– Gordon Callahan, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Still feeling skeptical? The facilities costs for doing nothing is much more than worn-out facilities. For example, 10 temporary classrooms were added to West Woods and Meicklejohn elementary schools this year, at a cost of $750,000 for a three-year commitment. That’s a pretty expensive “nothing.”

Another cost is the lost instruction time incurred every time a student housed in a dry temp has to put on a coat and buddy with a partner to leave that classroom and enter the regular school building to use a restroom.

There’s more:

In addition to new construction, other options can include busing, new boundaries, reconfiguration of grades and flex school years – all of which have costs to the families and the district’s budget and staff.

CAAC letter to the Jeffco School Board, 12/17/2015

What are those costs?

Let’s look at busing first. Some have suggested that reopening the currently closed Zerger Elementary would solve all problems. But the numbers suggest otherwise:

  • Zerger Elementary’s capacity: 480 students
  • Estimate of number of additional Jeffco students north of I-70: as many as 6,800 students
  • Cost to run the 6-8 bus routes that Jeffco estimates they would need to bus NW corridor students to Zerger: $47,000/route for a total of $280,000 to $375,000 annually.
  • Cost to recommission the building: $150,000
  • Cost of needed capital investments: $575,000
  • Total cost: $1,005,000.00

That’s a lot of cost for a building that will only accommodate a small fraction of the new seats needed in the area. Bond money would likely be needed in order to get the school up and running and address the maintenance issues to keep it warm, safe, and dry.

It also doesn’t get at the more thorny questions, including how many seats would actually be available to the students in new developments. Zerger’s attendance before it closed was around 290 according to facility reports. Reopening the school might only net 200 extra seats, if that, plus handfuls of empty seats from the two schools that absorbed the Zerger students. We happen to think that creates more problems than it solve, with a million-dollar price tag no less.

Others have asked about the former Sobesky building. Let’s look at those numbers:

  • Year built: 1947
  • Size: approximately 30,000 square feet
  • Capacity: 193 students

One of the reasons the district wanted to move Sobesky to a new location was that the building was not up to code and as a result, younger students could not attend.

The district may be able to sell it, but we’re doubtful that it would fetch enough of an asking price to make a dent in the $535 million in facilities needs.

Why not sell Zerger instead? They have been trying since the school was closed in 2011 and the school board voted to, but with no luck so far. Zerger’s location is a challenge. It was built as a neighborhood school and with the expectation that students would walk or bike. Parking is at a premium. A charter school might be interested, but there are already three charter schools located within a couple of miles of Zerger, including one located in the same neighborhood.

There is a cost to doing nothing, and it’s not cheap. We think it’s more fiscally prudent to be proactive and address these educational and facilities needs with targeted funding to enhance learning, expand facilities, and addresse deferred maintenance in ways that will net cost savings that can be directed back into the classroom in the long run. With interest rates at historic lows, the 3B bond makes good sense.

We encourage you to vote Yes on 3A and 3B, spread the word, and make sure ballots are turned in by Nov. 8.

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Jeffco Proud!

 

State Funding vs. Property Taxes: Why We Need 3A and 3B

Have you found yourself thinking about how your property taxes were higher this year and wondering why school districts across Colorado, including Jeffco Schools, are asking for more money in mill and bond requests like 3A and 3B?

We have answers. Read on!

Believe it or not, both of these things are true:

  1. Property taxes in Jeffco increased due to increased home values in the area.
  2. State school funding remained largely flat.

In Jeffco, state funding for the 2016-17 year increased 1.2 percent over 2015-16 funding, as reported in Jeffco’s 2016-17 Dollars and Sense brochure. Inflation, however, has been measured at 2.8 percent on the Front Range and is predicted to be at 2.6 percent this year.

When we say state funding has remained “largely flat” what we mean is that sometimes — such as this year–it isn’t even keeping up with inflation, which means less money for classrooms, for maintaining facilities, and for keeping pay competitive.

What’s worse is that even though the housing market is booming and taxes are up, the Denver Post reported last month that 2017-18 budget cuts may be on the way:

Colorado’s state budget faces a potential deficit this fiscal year, economic forecasters told state lawmakers Tuesday, as tax revenues continue to fall short of previous expectations.

If true, that would mean cuts to K-12 funding for 2017-18, and potentially mid-year cuts this year.

Let’s repeat that: despite a booming economy and increased property taxes, Jeffco Schools could see mid-year budget cuts this year.

That was the news a week ago. A few days ago Chalkbeat report Nic Garcia tweeted that the state budget chief now thinks that won’t happen. However, we won’t know more until the budget forecast is released at the beginning of November.

Here’s how school funding can remain flat even though your taxes increased:

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It’s pretty simple: the state uses more of your local taxes to fund your schools and decreases their share to use elsewhere in the budget. Mill levy override funds, on the other hand, aren’t part of the equation. All money from 3A and 3B stays in Jeffco and puts additional money in all our schools — charter, option, or neighborhood — and does so equitably. All students benefit.

Money from 3A becomes part of the operating budget; money from 3B is specifically for facilities, including capital maintenance, new construction, and school additions.

This chart that shows Jeffco’s state funding for the past several years. Note that 2016-17 funding is a mere $167 more than it was in 2009-2010.

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If state funding was keeping up with inflation, our students should be receiving $7,956 this year — $719 more than actual funding levels.

That’s why school funding needs a grassroots effort — in this case, 3A and 3B.

This graphic shows the difference that mill levy override funding makes for students. Boulder and Denver voters have approved many more 3A dollars for their students, which means their districts have more dollars for the classroom every year.

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Also, we’ve seen some crazy posts complaining that money from 3B isn’t being used to target student achievement. First, the law dictates that 3B money has to be used for facilities. Second, students learn better when they’re not being distracted by cold air from drafty windows, chilly classrooms from outdated HVAC systems, or water dripping into a bucket in their classroom because the leaky roof hasn’t been fixed. It’s just common sense.

A few other points:

1.  Yes, it would be nice if the state would get rid of the negative factor and restore that money to schools. But it hasn’t happened despite intense lobbying from Colorado’s superintendents, advocacy groups like Great Education Colorado, and individual citizens.

Instead, more cuts are predicted. Are we content to sit by and watch our school budgets get slashed again, or can we do better for our students? Our answer: by voting Yes on 3A and 3B Jeffco can do better.

2.  Marijuana money won’t dig us out of the funding hole. In fact, Jeffco isn’t receiving any pot tax. It isn’t and won’t help us with the current issues.

3.  Last, don’t forget that there is a cost to doing nothing in Jeffco. The leaky roofs won’t miraculously repair themselves. The cost to educate students and maintain our facilities won’t decrease if we choose to ignore it. We’ll talk about that more in another post.

Want one more reason? Watch Jeffco Economic Development Corporation Chair David Jones explain why the JEDC endorsed 3A 3B:

Please vote Yes on 3A and 3B, and then get those ballots in. Use this graphic to encourage others to vote by Nov. 8.

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JeffCo Proud!