What the Jeffco School Board Hopes to Gain from a Superintendent Search

UpdateLast Thursday, the Jeffco Schools Board of Education voted 5-0 to move ahead with a national Superintendent search. Before voting, each board member shared their personal thoughts, focusing especially on what they expect from a superintendent.

Following is a transcript of that conversation, including Board President Ron Mitchell’s introduction, but not including transition conversations about who would speak next. You can hear firsthand what was discussed here.

Again and again, we heard the key traits this board expects from a superintendent:

  • strong leadership skills, both internally and externally
  • the ability to build trust with all constituencies and take politics out of education in Jeffco
  • the ability to bring our community together in the best interests of 86,000 students
  • a skilled innovator who consistently provides vision and guidance and shares pertinent information in a timely manner
  • educational expertise and respect for the Colorado Academic Standards and the Jeffco 2020 Vision
  • a district ambassador who can build and grow key networks and communicate Jeffco’s successes
  • a leader who acts transparently

We also heard several times that that board members strived to be respectful of current Superintendent Dan McMinimee when discussing concerns about his performance. This is why the very personal aspects of their discussions happened in executive session rather than during the public discussion.

Here is the transcript of opening statements regarding the superintendent search from the Jan. 12 board meeting:

Ron Mitchell: The employment contract with our current superintendent, Mr. Dan McMinimee, expires on June 30th. It’s important that we incorporate that into our thinking. The contract does not require the Board of Education to take action unless the board wishes to extend the term beyond June 30th of 2017. In that case, the board is required and must take action and notify Mr. McMinimee prior to March 31 of 2017. If the board does not take action, the contract simply expires by its terms on June 30, 2017.

If the board wishes to consider new leadership for Jeffco Schools, the board must take action to begin the process of identifying and gathering information about qualified candidates. The search process is summarized in Colorado statutes 24-6-402 and includes deadlines for applications, requirements for applicants, election procedures, and the timeframe for making a selection.

I want you to know that this conversation is a difficult and challenging conversation for the board. I can say that, too, because we have met in executive session and we have discussed this thing at length, for several hours, actually.

Many people have asked me, “Why now? Why are you as the board dealing with this now?” And the answer is really fairly simple: if you are going to engage in a search process, my advice from experts who understand the search process is that you must be in the marketplace in January if you’re going to be competitive with other districts across the United States. So the “why now?” is really driven by if we go much beyond January, if we go beyond January, we begin to limit our choices and limit our options.

By doing this now the board has two clean choices. One, we could extend Mr. McMinimee’s contract. Two, we could launch a national search. I’ve often said to my colleagues over the past month or six weeks that this is a lose-lose for our board of education. And by that I mean this: we are fully aware of the fact, if you’ve listened to our constituency this evening just here in the boardroom, you know that not everyone is going to agree with this decision. We could choose either choice, and it will be right for some and wrong for others. We know that. That is why I consider this to be one of the most challenging decisions that we as a board have tried to do, tried to take on since we began here a year ago.

I believe that this board is committed to something I think is important, and I will want to share it with you, that is we will do our level best what is right for 86,000 students in Jeffco, for our staff, and for Jeffco’s future. That is the bottom line. I do not think that there is an agenda that is political, and I don’t think there is an agenda to get even with any of our predecessors.

Regardless of the decision, I want you to know also that this board of education hopes that regardless of the decision, Dan McMinimee will finish his contract with us.

With that as background, I think we should open this discussion with a motion, and that the vote on that motion will determine the direction that we choose as a board for Jefferson County Schools. Is there a motion on this issue?

Amanda Stevens: I move that the Jeffco Board of Education begin the superintendent search process, and that staff be authorized to take the necessary and appropriate steps to begin the process as soon as possible.

Brad Rupert: I second the motion.

Ron Mitchell: It’s been moved and seconded that Jeffco Public Schools begin the search process. That opens a discussion that I would really like to encourage all of our board members to participate in. This is a difficult and challenging decision.

JCSBW note: The statements of each board member follow:

Stevens: I want to begin by reiterating something that you said President Mitchell, and that is that specifically, this is a difficult decision and there are, by design, limited leverage points that a board of education utilizes. Our goal is to define the vision and mission we articulate for our students and to make sure that we are on target to achieve that. We have, as a board, one sole employee, and that’s our superintendent. It’s been a privilege to join the collaborative effort that thousands of staff and teachers work on every day to achieve great learning and life outcomes for students. I am motivated by one thing and one thing only, and that is that we’re maximizing the learning and life outcomes of each and every student each and every day.

I also want to clarify something that I think became confused due to some of the media coverage and that is we met in executive session, we heard from our superintendent, Mr. McMinimee, we had some conversations together. We did that to explore this and did so with full respect and openness. No decisions were made during that time, and it matters that our public know that and have confidence in the fact that we had a transparent and open conversation with one another and with our superintendent but that we did not, in any way, make a decision or take a straw poll, or figure out next steps. We simply navigated some of the issues and concerns around this topic.

So I want to begin by talking about what it is that I believe we know about Jeffco and what we don’t know. I think we know that we have the very best students in the world here, and it’s our privilege to serve them. I think we know that we have considerable challenges. Some of those are not created here. Some of those are a result of the fact that we’re now more than $2,000 below the national average when it comes to per-pupil investment in our students and their future. We also know that some of those challenges are embedded in this community. We did not win much-needed revenue for our facilities and for our own ongoing operational costs so we have difficult decisions ahead. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that each and every one of our students has extraordinary potential, and each and every one of our dollars has to be directed to them.

I want to recognize what it is that I look for in a leader. I think that we’ve done a great job as a board in the spring in re-evaluating and re-articulating the board ends. They are closely aligned with the Jeffco 2020 Vision. They capture a deep commitment to the educational standards and the Colorado Academic Standards, and to a more holistic understanding of what it is that students need to be ready to do in the 21st century work environment. And I believe deeply that the kind of innovation, expansive thinking, and granular analysis that needs to happen in our classrooms, in our schools, also needs to happen at the district level. So when I think about the kind of leader that Jeffco needs to tackle its future — and Jeffco students deserve — I’m looking for significant and demonstrated educational expertise, to drill down on the strengths and challenges, the shared next steps, what are the district-wide non-negotiables, what are the important flexibilities.  It may be that professional managerial expertise would serve as well but I will admit that I am looking for first and foremost educational expertise because I think the educational environment is unique.

I believe that Jeffco needs and students deserve a capable connector and communicator, someone who is a proactive ambassador of our schools in our community and our state, to tell the stories of the great accomplishments of our students and schools, to articulate the deep needs that we have, and I believe that Jeffco needs a strategic innovator, someone who can articulate and execute district-wide initiatives that support and complement the school-level initiatives we loved hearing about earlier during the student-based budgeting conversation.

I also want to say thank you to Dan. I think you’ve been a stable leader during changing times. I want to thank you for wisely deferring to the expertise of your cabinet. I think you’ve done that well. You’ve responded to Jeffco needs. I’m grateful for that. And it’s been a privilege to work with you and I hope that our time together isn’t done. At the same time, I have exacting standards and our board has one sole employee, and I’m ready to explore a process by which we can aim for next steps and identify and start a superintendent search process.

Rupert:  My position is that Mr. McMinimee has served Jeffco Schools and our children well during difficult times and under extremely difficult circumstances, as many of our speakers have expressed. He’s worked with two diverse boards and in my view he’s worked with this board constructively and with integrity. With his skilled management, Mr. McMinimee has helped us bring stability to the district, which I don’t think we had a year and a half ago, and he’s helped provide a foundation that we can build on.

With this motion, with a search that engages our community, and with a long history of high-quality public education, I’m hoping that we can attract a superintendent candidate with the leadership skills, the communication skills, the problem-solving skills, and the vision that can build on our foundation and raise Jeffco to new levels of educational excellence.

I will be looking for a candidate with the expertise to drive greater educational outcomes for our children, and the ability to build stronger ties with and support of our educators, families and the broader community.

I’ve heard from some quarters — we’ve had a lot of correspondence, as you can imagine, and even from a comment this evening — that we’ve been through difficult times and we should let things settle. And it’s true. We’ve been through difficulties the last three years, and I’m certain that we’re going to face more in the future, as outlined by Amanda.

But the children in our schools can’t afford for the adults to just let things settle. We’ve got problems to solve, challenges to overcome, and 86,000 children who’ve got the right to expect a great education now. Not when things settle down. I, therefore, choose not to fear the future, but to try and create it. And let us not succumb to the inertia of the day, but let’s build forward momentum.

It’s absolutely fair to ask that this decision be based upon actual performance. And in private conversations we’ve had some conversation about Mr. McMinimee’s performance, his skills as a manager, and areas that we would look for additional talent.

I believe strongly that that kind of conversation is appropriate privately because I honestly believe that Mr. McMinimee is in the middle of his career, and has extraordinary potential. He is not the same person he was five years ago, and he’s not the same person he will be five years from now. He’s going to take what he’s learned in Jeffco, facing the adversity he’s faced, and be an extraordinary leader somewhere, and develop new skills.

I firmly believe that Mr. McMinimee is going to develop into an extraordinary superintendent, but he needs the opportunity to have that growth, and it’s going to take other opportunities, I think, to get him there.

I, therefore, believe that it’s appropriate that we conduct a search now, and that we do it in the season that maximizes his ability to get a position elsewhere, if that’s what he chooses to do.

Ali Lasell: First, I want to thank everyone for speaking at public comment. I want to thank everyone for writing letters, and even the phone calls that I have received. I greatly value our community’s input, and so thank you. I want you to know that I have given this a lot of thought, and written several drafts of what I want to communicate. I am reading what I want to say because I don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want to birdwalk.

First and foremost, I care very deeply about Jeffco, and I intend to do the very best job to make decisions that are in the best interest of all 86,000 kids. I do want to thank all of you — cabinet, community, board members, Dan — for the work that we have done to date. We know we can do better, and we know we can do more. This district has some major challenges to work through this next year, while being thoughtful, strategic, long-range planners, as well.

Our district needs to continue to come together. Everyone needs to feel valued, whether you are a student, employee, or taxpayer. Our board consists of four unaffiliated voters and one affiliated with a political party. I take great pride in this, and I am confident that none of us up here has an agenda, personal or political. We are focused on making the best decisions for the 86,000 students that we serve, and for this organization, whose sole responsibility is to provide a high-quality education for each and every student.

I wanted to become a board member because I am passionate about public education. Education is not political, and there are some members of our community who want to politicize every single thing that we do. This needs to change for us to move forward. We need our community behind Jefferson County Public Schools.

We’ve got one employee. It is our job to make sure that we have the most qualified person in that position to shepherd our community through the very difficult times we face as a Colorado school district who is forced to make major cuts due to our funding crisis.

Now is the time in a superintendent’s contract where every board decides whether to search for a superintendent or not, which is what we’re discussing right now. I want to be clear to our community: there were no decisions made in executive session, regardless of what you’re hearing or reading. Dan, honestly, I feel that we have been trying to be protective of you throughout this process, in deference to you and your professional reputation. This discussion is not easy, but this discussion and decision are critical to the future of Jeffco. I feel I’ve been clear about my expectations, and shared any concerns I might have in a variety of ways. We’ve got monthly meetings, through email, or just through direct communication. All informal, but all very important.

To me, honestly, this isn’t as much about your evaluation as it is about where we are right now in Jeffco, and what kind of a leader we need to move this district forward. When I think of leadership qualities, and I’m going to outline what I think about. When I think of leadership qualities necessary to move Jeffco forward from this point on, so that we can continue to provide a high-quality education to our students, I believe we need a leader who can cultivate ongoing networks from the get-go with our business community, civic and service groups, city leaders, parents, teachers, students, and the 70 percent of our community that has zero connection to our schools. Someone who can communicate to all stakeholders that our schools are a major, valued part of our community, and are worth investing in, so we can continue to provide great opportunities for all 86,000 students. Someone who can build trust between the district leaders and school personnel, can lead internally as well as externally. Someone who can inspire our staff and our students to strive for excellence. An educational expert who can provide direction when needed, and guidance, making sure that all levels of our system are accountable. Someone who can look at our test results, positive or not so positive, and communicate a clear plan of action for excellence. Someone who can communicate the vision of the district to employees and our public. A forward-thinker who can anticipate potential challenges, as well as opportunities, and provide clear direction, clear solutions. A leader willing to make bold moves, look at that budget and find dollars that can be saved by making necessary cuts, while looking at programs, departments, and staffing, so our students receive the greatest benefit from our limited resources. Someone who will keep us routinely informed about issues impacting this district, so when our constituents ask us about an issue, we’ve got the facts.

Here’s what I’m saying: we need a very strong leader to take this district to the next level.

Bottom line, for me, we need an inspirational leader who provides vision and direction, who can lead both internally and externally, and who can build trust with our employees and community. I realize these are huge asks, but I believe that Jeffco will attract just that kind of leader.

I will be voting to launch a superintendent search, and feel strongly that our community needs to be a part of this process. If passed, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure this is an open and transparent process. These schools belong to our community, and I want our community to believe in and support the work that we are doing for our students. Thank you.

Susan Harmon: This is a really difficult conversation for me to have, and anyone out there who’s been in an employment situation, which is probably all of you on some level. It’s just bizarre to me that you have these conversations publicly, but I understand the necessity of it because of this particular position. I have never been in this position before, so it has been very challenging for me. And I can assure you that I have not made up my mind about any of this.

I spent a lot of time listening, and I get criticized at times because I seem to listen more than I speak up here, but I listen because there is a lot to hear and a lot to process. And I just try and think back on my experiences here in the limited time I’ve been on the board. My communications with you Dan, and items that were really important to me when I started this position, and you were responsive to them. You listened to them. And I think you’ve made great progress in those areas.

And those are the pieces of special education and where we were as a district on some of those things when I took this seat, and we got notifications of maybe being sanctioned. And you took that with integrity. You inherited these things, and you took action on them. You made great hires, and you’ve been true to your word on that. And we, as a board, have demanded reports on that and updates. And we keep using that analogy of we have a big rock to move there, but we’re making movement there. So that’s significant and important to me.

And I will say this repeatedly, and I know the board’s tired of hearing me, that whatever direction we go, that area, because all kids are general ed kids first, that we need to remember that and have integrity in that area.

The other area that was really important to me as a board member was career and workforce readiness, and making those connections. I have been privileged to have Warren Tech as one of my schools, high schools that have pathways that are designed with that goal in mind. And my experience has been again, as a superintendent, that you have been true to your word on that, you have put great effort, and have great working connections with the people that are running those programs, and we have made great strides in that 2020 Vision in terms of really looking at the whole child.

So, I listened to everyone, and yes, there’s always areas where, as I look at these words, you know, “room to improve,” “areas where we could be doing things differently.” You and I have talked about this.

How do you shake distrust? How do you change a perception? And that is so hard to do. And perception, unfortunately, matters. It matters in so much of what we do. And you could make the same decision as someone else would make, but if there’s a perception in place, it doesn’t matter what that is. Same thing that’s just happened to all of us. There’s a perception that a decision was made, or something happened — well, it didn’t happen when I was in the room.

So, that’s the tough thing about this job. And transparency, again, it’s perceptions. And I look forward to a full description of what this process actually looks like so that people’s perceptions of what may or may not have happened last time are simply that, perceptions. I didn’t participate in that process. I wasn’t a part of any of those meetings. All you can hear is what was presented. So, I don’t have a perception, but I do know that Dan went through that process, and I know that he did a presentation of his qualifications, and was one person that was recommended as a finalist. How the rest of that process thing goes, in terms of people’s backgrounds, ability to put out there that you are running for a position, and whether you want that to be public or not and how that works:  I hope that we get information on that so that we don’t continue this perpetual perception of some agenda, because I assure you if those perceptions were correct then I suppose we would have made a change in our school board superintendent in November or December — which we did not do.

So, with all due respect for all of the information, and I know that people feel really strongly about this, I still go back to inspiration, trust. Those are all these amorphous things, but they matter in this position. They do.

I think we all share a collective responsibility for 3A/3B not passing. And when I say collective, I mean our community, I mean ourselves as a school board, and obviously Dan takes a part of that, but we all collectively share in that. And we all need to collectively move forward with that. There are areas that we don’t have any control over, and only Dan does, because our only decision relates to Dan’s contract, not those areas that Dan has been directly working on.

So, it’s difficult, and I am concerned, and I know everyone knows this: it’s not about fear of change or fear of something new, because I embrace change. I think it’s always a positive. Change is always good, again, if you have the right perception.

So, I’m still struggling with this. And I know those are only two areas, and I just bring that up because those are areas that I was really focused on as a board member. I have other areas of concern. But on Brad’s point, too, I’m trying to be deferential over someone’s career and what we’re doing here and the impact we can have on that.

Mitchell: You know, sometimes I have often been the closer. I get to choose that, I guess, with the board. But I want you to know, sometimes I listen to what they have to say, and I say, you know, I probably should say wasn’t all those things pretty well stated, because they really were.

But I do want to say a couple of things.

One, I don’t believe in public evaluation of our employees. And so there are people who have criticized us for having our discussions about what to do with this particular issue in exec session. For them, I’m sorry. I don’t believe in public evaluation. I’m not really happy about what we even have to do here in public this evening. But I understand that it’s required by law.

I believe that Dan has led us through a difficult transition time from a prior board to this board, and has done a nice job of doing that. I believe that I have seen growth in Mr. McMinimee over the last year as we have worked with him. I think he has grown and, in many ways, become a better superintendent over the last year.

Having said that, I listen to people, and I ask myself, “What is this issue really about?”  And I actually shared with Dan early on in my relationship with him that I thought he needed to work on rebuilding, or building, trust with all of our constituent groups. And that’s a big assignment when you’re in Jefferson County. We have a lot of them. I know he took me seriously and tried to do that. And yet, I had people come to me fairly regularly and ask me this question.  They would say, “Is Mr. McMinimee really on our team, or is his value system the value system of the last board of education?”

I was asked that a lot, and I would say to people, “I’m checking that continuously, and I believe Mr. McMinimee is working for us and working collaboratively with us.”

I still believe that. I truly believe that he did that. So I share that story with you because there are people in our constituents group who do not trust that Dan can lead the direction this board wants us to go. That is still a factor.

And so, when trust becomes a question. And it is still a question for too many, I think, of our constituents. When that is a factor, then it is very difficult for those groups of people to find a leader to be inspirational and highly motivating. They’re always sitting there in the audience with a question mark in their mind rather than simply responding.

And so, I think there’s one other thing I want to say. One of the newspaper articles I read said this was all about evaluation and we should just do the evaluation and make a decision. So, I just want you to think theoretically with me for a moment. So what if we did on a percentage scale — and we wouldn’t — but what if we did? And we said, “OK, you know, we have a ‘C’ average superintendent.” Well then, what do you think ‘C’ average is? Maybe you think it’s 60 percent. Maybe you think it’s 70. I don’t know. What if I said, “Well, we have a good superintendent.” And you said, “Well, that’s, you know, that’s at least 75 or 80.”

And then what if I said to you, however we did that rating, wherever we found that scale to be, might we be searching for some other level on that scale? So, tying it strictly to evaluation is a very difficult process. I’m trying to use that as an example. You know, to me it’s a scale. There is a scale of performance. It’s not “average.” It’s not just “above average.” It’s a scale, there is a scale of  performance. It’s not “average.” It’s not “just above average.” And then the question becomes, “Is there another leader that could be more effective and lead us and our 86,000 students to a brighter future?”

And those are kind of the thoughts that have permeated my mind for the past few weeks.

Is there other discussion from the board?

Harmon: I just want to be clear in this national search then, to your point and to other people’s point, anyone can throw their hat in for this search.

Mitchell: Absolutely, if we vote to do this, Ms. Harmon, I think it should be publicly said that Mr. McMinimee could choose, you know, to apply. I would welcome that. I think there’s some things that might make him say, “Thanks for the invitation. I’m not interested.” But if he were interested, I would personally welcome that, yes.

JCSBW note: After more discussion, which we have not transcribed here, the Board voted 5-0 to move ahead with a search for a new superintendent. 

As always, the meeting was archived on the Jeffco Schools website, and you can watch the full meeting at this link.

The board is currently working on plans to incorporate as much public input as possible into the process. We will continue to update you as we learn more details. Meanwhile, you can always write to the board with your thoughts about what qualities an ideal superintendent will have at board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

JeffCo Proud!

1.12.17 Board Meeting – Don’t Miss It!

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.terry-elliott-memo  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.

Jeffco Proud!

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!

11.17.2016: So what’s next?

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The election is over. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, now we have to start thinking about how to move forward without bond funds to pay for facility upgrades and without additional mill levy funds that would have helped our schools and provided backfill money in case of state cuts.

We strongly encourage you to attend or stream tonight’s Jeffco School Board meeting because your input will be more important than ever in the coming months. The meeting starts at 5 pm in the Education Building, located at 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO. The board room is in the fifth floor.

If you can’t attend, you can stream the meeting from this link:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Or you can watch it or any of the previous board meetings later at your convenience.

The first agenda item is about boundary changes for the 2017-18 school year in the Ralston Valley articulation area. Candelas K-8 will finished and ready for students, so the district needs to redraw the boundaries accordingly.

Also note: Candelas K-8 is now officially Three Creeks K-8. That name was approved at the Nov. 3 school board meeting.

District staff met with members in those communities and used their input to decide on the final boundaries. You can also sign up for public comment if you’d like to talk to the board about the boundary change. Remember to sign up by 3:30 pm and to read the other guidelines about public comment, including the three-minute time limit for individuals. Groups of four or more speakers–who have signed up as a group in advance–have 10 minutes.

Also on Thursday’s agenda:

We’d like to highlight slide 14 from the budget process presentation. Specifically, it notes:

  • If the state funded schools according to all of the rules in the School Finance Act and Amendment 23, Jeffco Schools per-pupil funding would be $8,399.
  • The governor’s 2017-18 proposal increases the negative factor, which means less money for our kids.
  • The current proposal would set per-pupil funding at $7,416, which is considerably less than the $8,399 students would have without the negative factor.
  • Inflation is projected to be 2.7 percent.
  • The last time the state increased the negative factor was 2012-13.
  • How much money has Jeffco lost since the legislature hadn’t invented the negative factor in 2010?  $567 million.

The board will go into more depth about the current projections and what that means for the 2017-18 Jeffco Schools budget. Board members will also discuss ways to gather input from the community in the coming months.

Last but not least, the board will discuss next steps for the district in light of the failure of 3A and 3B.

The budget conversation isn’t likely to start before 8 pm. If time is at a premium for your family (and whose isn’t these days?), we’d suggest tuning in around 8 via the live stream.

JCSBW will keep you updated on the board news as we go forward, but we can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to stay involved with this process.

And last, thank you to everyone who volunteered for the 3A and 3B campaign and to all of you out there who voted for it. It certainly wasn’t the outcome we hoped we’d see, but nevertheless, we remain committed to working to find solutions for all of our students.

Some of you may be wondering why 3A and 3B didn’t pass this time. We have lots of thoughts about that but will save them for a different post. The most pressing issue this week is to move forward to look for new solutions. And with that, we remain

Jeffco Proud!