3A and 3B: A Matter of Trust in Leadership

If you’re still on the fence about 3A and 3B, the Jeffco Schools’ mill and bond initiative, don’t underestimate the importance of leadership and trust for the current school board in your decision-making.

One year ago, the previous school board majority was ousted by huge margins in favor of a “Clean Slate.” Readers of Jeffco School Board Watch will remember vividly that our formation was closely tied to the shenanigans of the previous board majority. Simply put, they were untrustworthy. Yes, the three of them lived in Jeffco, but it was clear that they were answering to ideologues, and often outside interests, rather than to what the majority of the community was saying.

Fast forward to today: hasn’t it been refreshing that the new school board has been in the news…so little? The five “new” board members–Ron Mitchell, Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, and Susan Harmon–do in fact represent their communities, govern responsibly and cautiously-yet-boldly, and have restored a great measure of professionalism and trust to traditions of Jeffco Schools.

During the course of the year, they have done yeoman’s work quietly but thoughtfully rebuilding foundations of trust in the community. Complaints have been few. The bottom line is that they are doing their job with a level of seriousness and community engagement that we have come to expect of our district leaders.

Having shorn up the relationship with our hard-working teachers, parents, and taxpayers, now they are asking for the community to reinvest in the schools again. They recognize that Jeffco’s aging buildings are in real need of repair and updating if we are to remain a first class district. They realize that many of our best teachers have left, and are still tempted to leave, because of wage stagnation, especially relative to other neighboring districts.

Most of all, they see that Jeffco kids suffer the brunt of the state’s underfunding, not just through deteriorating facilities and underpaid teachers, but also through many other cuts and restrictions to enriching parts of their education, such as music and athletics programs, technology investments, and more.

The numbers and stories behind Jeffco 3A 3B ask make sense in and of themselves, but undergirding those reasons is that we trust this board and their leadership. They have worked hard, made the case to us, and we urge everyone to vote “Yes” on 3A and 3B, not to reward the board of education, but because the case they’ve made to the community has been sensible, clear, and inspiring.

JeffCo Proud!

Didn’t They Learn Last Year? Koch Brothers, Leave Jeffco Alone!

The Koch Brothers, supposed champions of “local control,” are once again trying to influence Jeffco elections–in this case, the mill and bond.

For what reason? If the graphic here looks familiar, it’s because it is. We used it last year as the Koch Brothers poured money in from the outside in a wildly unsuccessful attempt to save the inept and controversy-ridden school board posts of Witt, Williams, and Newkirk. Well, the Koch’s network has so much money in it, they don’t know where to spend it, so they’re back and taking aim at Jeffco…again!

Koch

No one will forget the fact that the Koch Brothers and their political machine, AFP, directed hundreds of thousands in expenditures in Jeffco to prop up a school board majority that they probably never even met. The results had to be one of their worst investments ever: a 2-to-1 humiliation with voters rejecting their ideological intervention.

We thought that they’d think twice about meddling in a place as fiercely independent as Jeffco again. Looks like we were wrong.

Check this out: a full-on press by the Kochs to do what? Prevent the funding of our schools on a local level, even though the state and TABOR prevent adequate state funding of schools.

The Kochs and their allies profess to prioritize “local control” but then they’re working against communities funding their schools when the state can’t. What’s really going on?

With respect to the superficial allegations made by the Kochs, here are a few observations from a local e-newsletter we received this morning:

“First, PERA – that’s mandated at the state level, not the local level. Concerns about PERA need to be addressed at the Capital – not taken out on local school districts.

“What is the basis for allegations that funding isn’t going to the classroom?

“I’ve heard the statement made that ‘Jeffco is too top heavy – money is wasted on district-level staff.'”

The latest data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that for the 2015-16 school year, Jeffco had 4787 teachers and 412 administrators. Of the 412 administrators 307 were principals or assistant principals in Jeffco’s 153 schools. That leaves just 105 administrators at the Ed Center.

In comparison, DPS, which is very close in size to Jeffco, has 813 administrators.

“The district is very transparent with where the bond funds will go and where the mill levy funds will go. Please do your own research to understand how 3A & 3B deserve your YES vote! Jeffco graduate, grandparent, community leader and education advocate, Marta Murray, reminds us that the Sunshine Review recognized Jeffco for financial transparency.

“Now – more than ever before – we need your help! Yes, we need you to vote YES on 3A and 3B. But we also need you on social media, on the phone and walking door-to-door to share information on the benefits of a YES vote – and the ramifications of a NO vote!

“The Board of Education would have to direct staff how to decrease the budget. Some possible impacts:

  • School closures and consolidations
  • Split schedules
  • Year round schools
  • Changing boundaries and transportation radius
  • Limited ability to meet basic deferred maintenance
  • Continuing to lose great staff
  • Larger class sizes
  • Higher fees for parents
  • Lack of resources for student learning
  • Cutting programs and opportunities for students”

Here are the ways to help:

Here’s how you can help:

  1. DONATE!
  2. WALK!
  3. TALK!

Walking & Talking

With the AFP announcement of their impending social media strike against school districts across the state, it’s imperative that we have everyone on deck in this final stretch! Please sign up to walk – not only in your neighborhood, but in others across the district. Please also sign up to phone bank!

Can’t Walk on Saturdays? Days or times for Phone Banking Don’t Work for Your Schedule?! Write Nate or Chris – they can provide turf to walk and people to call on your schedule!

Boots on the Boulevard #Yeson3A3B Style!

Dust off your boots and get back out on the boulevard! Please join us this coming Friday from 3:30-6p for Boots on the Boulevard 4.0!! Make your own signs supporting 3A and 3B or bring your yard sign!

This action is IN ADDITION to walking, knocking, and talking to voters which is the most effective way to get our community to vote #Yeson3A3B

Below are the intersections for this action. Go to the one that is most convenient for you. See you on the Blvd. this FRIDAY.

Chatfield & Wads
Bowles & Wads
Yale & Wads
Alameda & Wads
Colfax & Wads
38th & Wads
52th & Wads
72nd & Wads
88th & Wads
Church ranch/100th & Wad

#WeAreJeffco

THANK YOU!!

 

“One can only do so much”!

Board Study Session (12/17/15) Preview: Starting to Tackle Big Issues

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, December 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Update

Detailed Facilities Analysis. The first two hours will focus on the state of Jeffco’s facilities, with a presentation from Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell and Executive Director of Facilities Tim Reed. Over the next five years, Jeffco will have nearly $800 million in facilities needs based on building condition and/or educational adequacy. In addition, enrollment in parts of the district is expected to increase significantly.

This letter from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee to the Board notes that “at least 7,200 more students are expected to enroll in the Candelas, Leyden Rock, West Woods and Solterra neighborhoods within 10 years.” The committee noted, “if you approve plans now, 1,050 additional seats can be ready for the fall of 2017 to serve the growing wave of new families. If you do not approve moving ahead, triage [use of lease arrangements for modular classrooms] and inefficient use of scarce funds will become the norm, further exacerbating the situation.” Look for Bell and Reed to propose several ideas (slide 48 of the presentation) for accommodating this growth. While the former Board acknowledged the need to look at asking the voters for a bond package to address facilities needs, the needs are pressing and cannot wait for an election.

Our hope is that the Board will consider a combination of Certificates of Participation (COPs) to address immediate needs coupled with asking the voters for a bond to address more long-term facilities needs. Although debt-funding isn’t typically preferred, COPs provide a reasonable alternative given a situation that has been left to go on for too long.

CMAS Results: Information and Looking Ahead. Next up, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Syna Morgan and Executive Director of Instructional Data and Educational Research & Design Dr. Carol Eaton will spend about an hour discussing CMAS results. The new test has five performance levels (rather than four, as in the previous tests): exceeded, met, approached, partially met, and did not yet meet. Met and Exceeded Expectations are considered “college and career ready” performance.

There remains some confusion about the difference between the “approached” and “partially met” levels. They’ll share data from Jeffco students by grade, and break out additional results for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) students, etc.

Overall, Jeffco performed better than the state in all subjects and in all grade levels, except in 8th grade math. The notable exception is a trend across the district of lower grade-level math performance beginning in 8th grade. Some reasoning for that may be that high performing students are not taking grade level math, but are instead taking higher level math courses and doing really well, especially in the 8th and 9th grades.

However, there is also a marked decrease in overall math performance beginning in 10th grade and continuing into 11th grade. This could be due to over-testing, and because students realize by high school that there are no rewards or consequences for test performance, coupled with their shifting focus to the ACT and SAT. They may just not be taking the tests seriously. We hope the Board will note this trend and ask District staff to look especially into this dip in 8th grade (and beyond) math performance and report back with root causes and thoughts moving forward to address this trend.

We also see that our Hispanic students, those on IEPs, those with FRL, and ELLs really struggle, and we hope the Board will look to and direct experienced staff to continue to investigate root causes and opportunities for improvement. Drs. Morgan and Eaton will also discuss results from the fall district assessments using the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) system, which replaced Acuity, and DIBELS, which is used in the primary grades.

Financing a New School in Arvada. Beginning at 8:30pm, the Board will revisit the $15 million underspend that the previous Board directed be used to build a school in the north end of the district. You’ll recall that district staff recommended that the school really needed to be a $25 million K-8 facility, but the previous Board chose instead to approve only enough for a too-small K-6.

Look for the new Board to consider a supplemental budget to amend some previous budgeting decisions. Both senior Staff and the conservative Financial Oversight Committee and the Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommend moving the $15 million back into the general fund, using COPs to fund the new school, and considering a one-time $5M pay increase (not to be added to base ongoing salary) for employees, and holding $10M in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/2017.

We wholeheartedly agree that operational funds should not be used to fund capital construction and that $15M should go back into the General Fund. We think putting some of the money aside into reserves is wise, and considering some kind of bonus for employees is admirable as the district needs to get employee pay back on track to be competitive with surrounding districts.

However, we are hearing across the district of the impacts to smaller schools by student-based budgeting (SBB). We would like to see the Board ask district staff first to seek input from schools as to their needs and pressure points that require immediate relief and support, address those items as much as possible, set aside a portion of the $15M to cover payments on COPs for initial years as much as possible, consider whether some of the funding should be used for the security budget increase requested earlier this fall, and then look at a bonus for staff and a contribution to reserves. The former Board did include a contribution into reserves in their budget, and district staff should be consulted to determine what additional contribution, if any, is recommended.

Community Engagement in the Budget Process. Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson will share community engagement plans for the upcoming budget development process. Due to low turnout in previous years, Ms. Askelson is not recommending community budget forums this round, but is recommending a survey that each school accountability committee (SAC) will be asked to complete and a district-wide survey marketed to all stakeholders. Both surveys would be hosted by an independent third party.

Because this board was elected on a platform of increasing community engagement, we hope that the board will reject the proposal to discontinue budget forums. The budget forums are a great opportunity for the community to engage. Those of us at JCSBW have participated in these budget forums and always see parents and community members at the forums that don’t attend board meetings, so these forums definitely reach the district’s constituents.

A better approach might be to ask that a question or questions pertaining to the usefulness and/or desire for budget forums be incorporated into the community survey so the Board has a clear understanding of the direction to go with regard to future budget forums. Perhaps TeleTown Halls could be implemented as a new way to reach district citizens.

Bradford K-8 Concerns. One thing we didn’t see was an agenda item to address concerns that have arisen over the decision to make Bradford a K-8 school, which the Board voted to approve at last week’s Board meeting. (We will write a separate post about that issue sometime in the next week or two.) We hope the Board will address the community’s concerns, and will commit to engaging the entire Chatfield articulation area when fleshing out the plan for the articulation area as a whole.

Judicious Use of Executive Sessions: When and Why? Lastly, we thought we’d weigh in on the concern expressed by some over the Board members meeting in Executive Session at the end of last week’s Board meeting after receiving a general overview of the Open Records and Open Meetings laws. We agree with many on all sides of the recent school board issues that executive sessions should be rare and judiciously used, and the reasoning behind executive session was explained. The overview was conducted in the public meeting (as we thought might be the case when we last posted), and specific questions for the attorneys was reserved for executive session. Keep in mind that some of the questions board members may have asked are, in fact, confidential. One of the examples of this would include questions about the Claire Davis law, which holds school districts responsible for acts of violence if a court determines that every security issue had not been taken. The answer to those questions would involve confidential information about Jeffco Schools security procedures, and can only be answered in executive session so as not to compromise our students.

We will continue watching any use of executive session over the long haul. And we’ll remind everyone that it is unusual for all five board members to be new to the board. Board members explained that they had personal and privileged matters to discuss with the attorneys that could not be shared with the public. For example, Brad Rupert is an attorney with clients, and had some questions about conflicts of interest.

Could board members have met individually with the lawyers outside of the board meeting? Yes, but meeting together was a more cost-effective and efficient use of everyone’s time and the district’s funds, and meeting individually would still be behind closed doors anyhow. We stand by the Board’s decision to discuss these matters in private with legal counsel. We don’t expect this Board to misuse their ability to meet in executive session, and view this concern to be unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

Again, this meeting is a study session, with no votes planned, and should wrap up by 10pm on Thursday.

Jeffco Proud!

 

12.10.15 BOE meeting tonight!

Clean SlateWe’ve been a bit quiet, but like you, our schedules are full of school concerts and other assorted holiday events. (Trust me when I say the above is an understatement!) Also? Not much is happening yet for us to write about.

Here’s what has happened since we last posted:

  • The new board members were sworn in and talked about their priorities. Those aren’t a surprise: employee compensation (for everyone, not just teachers), restoring trust, addressing growth areas in the district, student achievement, managing district resources, testing and assessment, and revisiting the composition of the newly-formed District Accountability Committee to address any gaps.
  • Brad Miller resigned, effective Nov. 30.
  • Board members held a study session on Nov. 30 to talk though how they will do outreach with the community and to map out next meetings.

The study session was basically about process: how they schedule school visits, how they should do community outreach meetings (like community budget forums), etc. You can watch or listen to the full meeting here:  http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310/videos/105904116.

They’ll have their first regular meeting today. The study session starts at 5:30 and is about the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). They’ll likely also talk a bit about projections for the 2015-16 budget cycle, which begins soon.

The regular meeting begins at 6:30 and it looks like public comment will occupy the vast majority of the agenda. The consent agenda largely contains the usual: approval of minutes, approval of contracts for temporary buildings at overcrowded NW Arvada schools, mill levy certification (which happens every year in December), and approval of new hires, staffing changes, and resignations.

The only unusual item is about a reconfiguration of Bradford Elementary from a K-6 to a K-8. According to Superintendent McMinimee and district staff, the change is being driven by parents, students and staff, and those affected have been able to comment on the change at meetings at the school and through a survey. The board members asked about this specific item and questioned whether it should be on the consent agenda at their Nov. 30 study session, and the advice they were given was that this decision is being made with support from that community.

The board will also work on the calendar and agenda for upcoming meetings.

The last item on the agenda is listed as a two-hour executive session to “receive legal advice on the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials, and relevant board and district policies related to the same.”

The fact that it’s listed as an executive session has already drawn fire from the usual players, including one who ironically commented that the public deserves to know why the board might need its own counsel. Guess she finally caught on to what JCSBW has been saying for two years – not to mention parents, students, community members and the two members of the board minority. We will also note, however, that unlike two years ago, the agenda item is to merely to receive information.

We’ll also remind readers that former BOE attorney Brad Miller required such the board members to meet to discuss what legal counsel the board would need. That requirement was in his original contract and was mentioned again in his resignation letter:

Please note that upon receipt of notice of termination, the Board agreed that it immediately will make a good faith effort and take all necessary steps to obtain any needed new counsel.

We applaud the efforts of the new board to immediately learn what they need to do to be fully compliant with both Colorado open meetings laws and the Colorado Open Records Act. That was very clearly a problem for members of the old board, as we noted in the past. Should this agenda item also be conducted in open session? Perhaps, though receiving legal advice on specific legal questions is a protected use of executive session:

State and local public bodies (including college and university boards) may use executive sessions to receive advice from an attorney on specific legal questions.

It’s also possible that board members may choose to conduct some of the agenda item in public before moving to executive session to request legal advice about other specific questions they may have. In either case, moving to executive session requires a vote, so we’ll see what they choose to do.

You can watch the fun here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

And as suggested by a reader, we’re going to start ending our posts with a new phrase:

JeffCo Proud!

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll update about tonight’s meeting, unless the pile of holiday preparations awaiting buries us until January.


 

11.18.15 Ready for a New Era

motivation-is-when-your-dreams-put-on-work-clothes

As you can tell, we’ve been enjoying some rest the last couple of weeks (translation: we’ve been tackling all the stuff we put off until after the election, and this proves that we’re actually parents and not a funded 24/7 machine!). But we’re not going away. Yes, we’re excited about the Clean Slate. We’re thrilled that we’ll have a full set of school board members dedicated to tackling the many challenges that Jeffco Schools faces with careful consideration and community input.

But we also know that WNW supporters are incensed that voters exercised their critical thinking skills and clearly stated that partisan politics have no place in our schools. They’ve always been fired up, but their outrage took on a new level at the Nov. 5 board meeting. We’re not going to repeat their drivel here because it doesn’t deserve the light of day (and can be heard on the recording of the meeting anyhow). It’s clear that our job is not done.

What we know:

  • There are challenging decisions ahead
  • The new board members will solicit community input
  • Community input needs to be based on good information
  • WNW supporters are already working to spread their lies and rumors.

So we’ll continue to watch. For the time being, we hope to simply highlight the topics that will be addressed at upcoming board meetings and to provide a summary of the meeting afterward. We’ll try to highlight big issues and give you a more detailed picture as it comes. And we’ll let you know what else we’re seeing and hearing out there. Brad Miller, WNW’s board attorney hired under extremely questionable circumstances and the top vote-getter among a poll of our readers, has already resigned, opening the door for less partisan legal counsel and discussions.

We hesitate to say that we’ll let you know what we’re seeing from “the other side” because this is not an our side/their side fight. But — and we cannot emphasize this strongly enough — the Independence Institute, Jeffco Students First, and the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity do see this as an our side/their side fight. They don’t see middle ground nor do they value it, and they are already making it clear that they will fight anything that doesn’t align to their very strict, partisan ideology with every lie and rumor they can fabricate. Jon Caldara also made it clear they intend to start working now, “ruthlessly” and “24/7” in order to be successful in 2017 when the three seats are up for election again.

We, on the other hand, recognize that there are many perspectives on education, many needs to address and insufficient resources for doing so. We hope the board members are able to successfully navigate the decision-making process and find the middle ground — and that they’re equally successful in communicating that message to the public.

We’ll continue watching and hope you’ll continue reading.

The Clean Slate members, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell will be sworn in this Thursday, 11/19, at 5:30 pm in the board room. They’ll decide leadership positions, and then will hear public comment if you’d like to sign up for a slot. It should be refreshing to have five board members who care about what we think. We’re looking forward to it.