Saving the Jeffco WRHS GT Center

16402626_1295186623885088_5424815077130559609_oIf you attended or watched the Feb. 9 Jeffco School Board meeting, you know that many, many students from the Wheat Ridge High School GT Center program spoke passionately in support of the program after Superintendent Dan McMinimee directed his staff to include the program on the list of recommended budget cuts introduced at the Jan. 26 meeting.

You also remember that after hours of parents, students, teachers, and community members pleading with the board to not close schools, cut programs or cut other resources that impact Jeffco classrooms, McMinimee did an about-face and told his staff to try a new approach that relies on retirement savings rather than classroom resource cuts and school closures.

The result?  Most of the originally proposed cuts are now “deferred,” unless estimated state funding drops considerably.

Board member Ali Lasell told staff that she would like to see the WRHS GT Center program taken off the cut list entirely so that cuts weren’t merely “deferred” but completely off the table.

After some discussion district staff told board members that their goal was to fund the program through $150,000 of money from the district from another year, but then to fund the program through student-based budgeting dollars–just like every other GT Center program in Jeffco’s elementary and middle schools currently is. The result, staff said, would be a budget savings and would be more sustainable in the long run.

A long discussion ensued with district staff — specifically, Terry Elliot, Chief School Effectiveness Officer, and Kevin Carroll, Chief Student Success Officer — assuring board members that the program could be funded through SBB dollars with money left to spare.

Our impression from listening to this conversation in the board room was that Lasell and the other board members were very clear in directing district staff to remove this from a budget cut list and make sure it never returned. In fact, Amanda Stevens brought the issue up again later in the discussion to emphasize to McMinimee and staff in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want to see the program proposed for cuts again, not this year and not any year.

That said, we also recognize that this conversation took place well after midnight. So we’d like to include this transcript of the discussion and then ask a question. First, the transcript, with the caveat that some items without quotation marks around them have been paraphrased for clarity (remember, it was well after midnight and everyone was exhausted):

Amanda Stevens: “We’ve had a request to take some things off the table. To not defer, but just say no to some things.”

Ali Lasell:  “There are some Ds [deferred items] I have a problem with. A “D” can come back, right?”

[staff confirm that deferred items could be considered for cuts later if the state funding picture changes]

Lasell: “Here is what I want to propose: out of respect for the Wheat Ridge GT program, I’d like to vote to take that off the table right now, to take that off the D, and take it off the list.”

Kevin Carroll (Student Success Officer): I’ve talked to WRHS principal, we agree it’s the right program. We propose using some one-time dollars to fund the GT program this coming year [2017-18] and then look together and work with community to look at the $583,000 that come with these students each year, which is enough to fund 8 teachers. I believe we can work in partnership with finance and the high school to see what the long-term sustainable possibilities are to make it work with SBB just like elementary and middle school GT programs currently do. …. When transitioned to SBB, the center programs were run through programs they received students. The program attracts 95 students who choice in, making it mutually attractive for the GT Center and WRHS.

Ron Mitchell: Is there pressure on anyone if program is funded through SBB?

Carroll: No, it should be doable.  “We can make it a sustainable program, which is what it should be.”

Lasell: “Sustainable how?”

Carroll: “Sustainable so that it is funded by the students who participate within the program so it does not become at risk through budget cutting at the district level from year to year, just like we do with every other GT center program, similar to how we do with any other unique program at high schools right now.”  (Mentions pathways program, etc, says no additional funds come in to fund those beyond SBB dollars.)

Carroll:  “The dollars that come as a result of them being there [the GT students] should be leveraged to support their needs.”

Terry Elliot (Chief School Effectiveness Officer) explains that IB programs are supplemented to cover administrative costs such as testing and other elements that are specific to IB, but that funding does not cover the teaching FTE needed for IB; SBB covers FTE costs for IB.

Lasell: “I feel like this is a program, not just a premiere program in the state. I feel like it’s a nationally-recognized program, it is a center program for high school, and it is attracting kids from all over the district. The great thing about having it at WR is WR is pretty centrally located so it provides more opportunity for more people…..I think it’s a great location. But I also know that in general, high schools costs a lot more to operate because you have all these other specialized classes. In general their class sizes are a lot smaller than our middle and elementaries. I want us to respect the gems we have right now.”

Elliot: “I think what Mr. Carroll is saying is that we have a lot of gems that self-fund. Why is this one uniquely receiving additional dollars? The reason it got it original is undisputed: it was a start-up process, that’s the way we allocated FTEs to schools in the past but as we rolled to the SBB process we took all the dollars that were being allocated from here and pushed them into the per-pupil factor so that schools could continue to run their programs. WR is essentially getting paid twice for that class because if students come with a full schedule of six classes as part of the funding the school receives and one of those six classes is the GT program class that they take, and nobody  has ever said it’s anything other than a great program, but those dollars are kind of inherently built into our budgeting process. However, we’re giving that school an additional $150,000 to offer that program, so in a sense, they’re getting two dollars for that class, they’re getting paid twice for that class.”

Stevens: “Which allows the principal to direct his other SBB dollars to the kinds of offerings and wraparound services”

Elliot (interjects): “very low class student ratios,”

Stevens: “Let me ask you this. That conversation that would proceed with the principal there, would it be about size, where the equation shifts and it’s a shared cost?”

Carroll: “What we’re proposing is to not have to share any costs this year, but that we would pay the whole $150,000, but that we would transition them for the year after. Right now, on top of the existing two teachers, he could afford to pay for those teachers plus five more, 5-1/2 more, almost 6 teachers that he could use in other ways across his building, where right now he’s able to use all 7.87 teachers outside of these current teachers that are being paid for with central dollars.”

Susan Harmon: “I understand what you’re saying and I assure you, it’s a fabulous program. Every kid who stood up, I could listen to them for hours. But we’re also trying to create equity, there’s a lot of other great programs across the board, there are some other amazing gems, out there, and in the name of equity, we’re not taking that away. We’re going to manage it…”

Carroll (interjects): “Absolutely And if we got to the point and I would never propose this, but if the local school that gets to control the SBB dollars through a community process, a collaborative process with SACS and shared leadership, if they determine that through the SBB dollars that they did not believe they were able to house this program at Wheat Ridge High School I would find another place for it within the county. This program needs to continue so that’s not in question. It will continue. And my greatest hope is that it will continue at Wheat Ridge High School because there’s such a beautiful partnership that is going on there, and a wonderful program. I don’t think there’s any question that this type of program is absolutely necessary for these students.”

Mitchell: “And the likelihood of being able to work out a long-term solution collaborative you would guess, Mr. Carroll, is very good?”

Carroll: “I believe is very high given the amount of resources that come with these students.”

[a some time later, after a few other budget items have been discussed]

Stevens: I’d like to revisit the GT issue and request that it be a shared cost model that isn’t requiring 100 percent school dollars or 100 percent district dollars. Says she wants to make sure that it doesn’t become a one or the other, where the program might get pulled out of WRHS and sent elsewhere if WRHS decides its SBB dollars aren’t sufficient to make it fully self-funding next year.

Lasell: “I think you’re hearing us that we want that program to stay and we want it to stay at Wheat Ridge.”

Elliot: “We’re all on the same page.”

Lasell: “I just want to be really clear so you have your direction from us. So let’s figure it out and not hear about this possibility again, ok?”

Mitchell: “Yes, we would like to not come back to this one.”

[Mitchell closes that agenda item and moves to the next item.]

https://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310/videos/148985602

We’ve heard from from some community members that their impression is that the WRHS GT Center is only funded for one more year, and their future is uncertain after that. We’re not sure why, as the board members made it clear that they didn’t want to see the program on the chopping block again–and were assured repeatedly by staff that funding the program through SBB dollars like every other GT Center wouldn’t be a problem.

One objection the WRHS school accountability committee chair made at the meeting was that WRHS needs to direct more resources toward boosting student achievement scores among their very large free and reduced lunch population. However, WRHS is hardly alone in that respect. About half of Jeffco’s 16 GT Center schools that have considerable FRL populations, and four of those have much larger FRL populations than WRHS:

  • Kendrick Lakes – 29.3 percent
  • Hackberry – 31.1 percent
  • Sheridan Green – 32.1 percent
  • WRHS  46.2%

  • Creighton Middle School – 57.7 percent
  • North Arvada Middle School – 57.8 percent
  • Everitt Middle School – 66.5 percent
  • Stevens Elementary – 70 percent

CDE School Dashboard

http://www2.cde.state.co.us/schoolview/dish/schooldashboard.asp

WRHS is hardly alone in serving a diverse population of learners, both academically and socio-economically, so we don’t understand the WRHS SAC chair’s argument. Other GT Center schools have to balance those same issues, and continue to do so.

One other point: the board members asked about how other high school programs, such as IB, were funded. Elliot said that while IB programs do get some extra money, that money is reserved strictly for IB-specific administrative costs (related to testing requirements for IB students), but that the IB teachers are funded through SBB.

That said, we wonder if there’s a missing piece about the current WRHS GT Center that hasn’t been addressed in the budget discussion. JCSBW fully agrees that the WRHS GT Center is a valuable program that should not be a candidate for budget cuts, and wonder what more can be done to ensure a stable future for the program.

So we’d like to toss this question out to those in the WRHS GT community: what would you like to see the Jeffco School Board members do to ensure that the program is protected from budget cuts during the next decade?

Feel free to leave a comment below or to email us at MtEvans2015@gmail.com. As always, we’re happy to keep your responses anonymous, especially if there’s additional information we’d like to share with our readers to better understand this situation.

JeffCo Proud!