Catching up, plus the 4.6.17 agenda

We thought we’d start with a quick summary of what’s been going on the past few months.  Some highlights:

Superintendent Search

The biggest news here was announced this week: former Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who stepped back at the beginning of March, has accepted a job as superintendent for the New America Schools charter school network. He will begin that position when his Jeffco contract ends on July 1.

Meanwhile, McMinimee will continue to serve Jeffco Schools in an advisory role, per his revised contract, while Terry Elliot serves as acting superintendent.

At the March meeting, board members looked at the responses they had received from the community about qualities they thought most important in our next superintendent. You can see the community feedback in this presentation, visit the Jeffco Schools superintendent search page, and and view the Ray & Associates ad for the position.

Jeffco School Board members will hear an update on the superintendent search at tonight’s April 6 board meeting. The application window for the superintendent search ends April 10, and Board members will meet in executive session with Ray & Associates to start screening candidates on April 20.

2017-18 Jeffco Schools Budget

Here, we’d first like to direct everyone’s attention to the most current list of budget reductions so that everyone can see that the Wheat Ridge High School GT Center and the proposed closures to Swanson, Stober, Peck, and Pennington are off the list. Those items are listed as “removed” in the document.

The March 23 budget presentation also included feedback from the online interactive budget tool, and from the telephone town halls. More than 18,000 individuals viewed the tool and 5,366 responses were submitted, which is a 585 percent increase over the previous year.  Feedback from all sources is listed on slides 7 through 9.

Board members clarified at the March 23 meeting that, unless something drastically changed at the state level, it was extremely unlikely they would consider the items in the deferred column again this year.

Current projections indicate that the final state budget will be close to the governor’s request, and board members agreed that district staff could proceed with the following budget assumptions:

  • Approximately $4 million in new state funding
  • Including the items in blue on this list in the Jeffco Schools 2017-18 budget
  • Increasing compensation for all Jeffco employees by $19.8 million
  • Keeping any one-time use of reserves on hold until there is more clarity on state funding

The first budget public hearing will be April 20. The second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4.

Want to Join the District Accountability Committee?

Applications are being accepted for Jeffco’s District Accountability Committee (DAC) from now through April 30. If you are interested in joining this important group, read more about the DAC application process here and about the work the DAC does here.

Other News

The Wheat Ridge High School GT Center is off the list of cuts, as noted above. However, there still seems to be some confusion about how the SBB funding mechanism will work to support the GT Center Program. After our previous post about this issue, we heard from some readers who said that WRHS’s SBB dollars only fund six classes and this is a seventh class, though we know of other Jeffco high schools that are funding seventh classes with SBB.

Some of the feedback also focused on the fact that this is a program and not just a class. While we agree, our combined and varied experiences among the JCSBW writers has been that GT Centers in our Jeffco elementary and middle schools are also programs that address both the socio-emotional issues as well as providing appropriate academic acceleration.

We hope the Jeffco School Board members will follow up with the WRHS staff and accountability committee in a future meeting to check in on the progress and talk through any issues that could pose a problem in future funding.

Doral Academy will lease Zerger Elementary from the district for the 2017-18 year, per a contract that was approved at the March 23 meeting. It is a one-year lease with no option for renewal, and Doral representatives told the Jeffco School Board that their ideal location is further west. Here are three key things you need to know about this decision:

  1. If the school board hadn’t approved the lease, Doral could have appealed the lease decision to the State Board of Education. We’ll merely point out that given the State BOE’s decision regarding Great Work Montessori, it’s likely the state board would have told Jeffco to approve the lease anyhow.
  2. Jeffco Schools can continue to market the property while Doral is in it, so it won’t impede the district’s attempts to sell it.
  3. According to the contract, Doral will pay nearly $200,000 to lease the building, which, frankly, is money the district is not receiving while Zerger sits empty.

Several board members expressed concern about an overabundance of charters in the area and the potential impact on neighboring schools. It is true that there are a lot of charter schools clustered in the area. Woodrow Wilson Academy is also located in the Zerger neighborhood, merely a half-mile away. Excel Academy is only two miles to the west, Jefferson Academy is 2.5 miles, and Lincoln Academy is 3.5 miles away.

However, Doral’s current location is only 3 miles away from Zerger, making it unlikely that the lease will have a substantial impact on neighboring schools. Families who either wanted a nearby charter school or who wanted one still within walking distance of their house have had Woodrow Wilson as a nearby option even before Zerger closed in May 2011.

The school board approved a three-year conditional contract renewal for Mountain Phoenix, which is a Waldorf charter school. The issue was test scores, because Mountain Phoenix’s 2016 academic proficiency scores were quite low, triggering an automatic flag during the contract review process.

The school’s math scores ranked in the 9th percentile in elementary, and 25th percentile in middle school. Math growth scores were also below the district average at all grade levels except 7th grade. Science scores were also low, with the scores at the 18th percentile in science for both elementary and middle school students.

Much of this can be chalked up to the “Waldorf curve,” because Waldorf focuses on arts and storytelling and creativity in the early grades. The Waldorf curve is something the district has been aware of for a number of years, and the students generally have shown improvements in academic proficiency, especially during the middle school years.

This is another topic that has drawn a lot of ire from critics who implied that the district was unfairly focusing on Mountain Phoenix when other neighborhood schools also are struggling with academic proficiency. However, the actual conversation in the board room was polite and respectful, with board members and Mountain Phoenix staff trying to find the best way to balance how to preserve the Waldorf experience while also finding new ways to address the increased academic standards. A three-year contract was approved, and we at JCSBW think that Mountain Phoenix will be successful.

New boundaries were set for Shelton Elementary and Welchester Elementary at the board’s March 9 meeting to accommodate the students from Pleasant View, which closes at the end of this year.

Agenda for the April 6 Jeffco BOE meeting

Watch for a presentation from the TDPAC (Technology Data Privacy Advisory Committee) during the 5 pm study session.

The Board will also hear an update on the superintendent search during the study session, as noted above.

The regular meeting will begin at 6 pm with the usual awards and recognitions, after which the board will discuss the District Unified Improvement Plan (UIP). There are several attachments for this agenda item, so we’ll link to the District Accountability Committee UIP Recommendations and encourage you to visit BoardDocs to look at the other associated materials.

As always, we encourage you to attend the meeting in person or to watch the live stream. Videos of the meetings are also available for later viewing.

JeffCo Proud!

Budget Proposal for Jeffco Schools (1.26.17 meeting summary)

UpdateAs you’ve undoubtedly heard on the news by now, the budget recommendations from Jeffco Schools staff caught a lot of people by surprise, including the board members who had only received the recommendations a day earlier. A lot took place at the Jan. 26 Jeffco School Board meeting, and we’ll summarize this information as efficiently as possible.

Budget Proposal — School Closings

After voters said “no” to 3A and 3B this fall, Jeffco School Board members asked district staff to find funds to invest in compensation, with a target number of $25 million. As we’ve mentioned many times, teachers make about 10 percent less in Jeffco than they could in neighboring districts, which means we’re not competitive in the labor market for teachers or other resources like speech pathologists and more.

Staff presented those recommendations tonight, including a number of far-ranging cuts to resources and staff, in addition to closing five schools, relocating one school, and reconfiguring some articulation areas to a K-5, 6-8 model a year earlier than planned.

The facilities presentation recommended closing these schools:

  • Peck Elementary
  • Pennington Elementary
  • Pleasant View Elementary
  • Stober Elementary
  • Swanson Elementary

In addition, Long View High School would be relocated from its current location, presumably to McClain High School.

In order to close the above schools, the Arvada and Wheat Ridge articulation areas would need to change to a K-5, 6-8 configuration for the 2017-18 school year rather than for the 2018-19 school year as planned. This means current 5th graders in those two articulation areas would be 6th graders in middle school this August, while the remaining areas wouldn’t reconfigure until 2018-19.

The Chatfield articulation area is also included for reconfiguration for 2017-18, but that reconfiguration has been planned for more than a year, and the community has been working through that process for some time now.

Staff also noted that school performance was not a criteria in the closure recommendations. The criteria used are detailed on the slides, and we’ll post more about the facilities recommendations in a few days.

Budget Proposal – Other Cuts

The budget presentation explained the state funding picture (bleak) and suggestions for various funding scenarios. It also discussed one-time funds.

A separate document details the budget cuts recommended by Superintendent McMinimee’s cabinet. These would be implemented in four phases, with some requiring BOE approval, and others falling under “staff action.” Here’s a summary, but we encourage you to read through the details at this link.

  • Phase 1A: Increase athletic fees and activity card fees, eliminate quarterly financial audit review (external quarterly audit would remain), reduce National School Board membership, increase community building use fees, and close five elementary schools. Total savings: $4,508,410.00
  • Phase 1B: Reduce utility, fuel, sick and personal payout and contingency budgets; reclassify educational research and design staff to other funds or grants; reduce achievement directors, support staff, educator effectiveness staff, and GT teachers; reduce security budget; cut superintendent, technology and human resources staff. Total savings: $7,987,008.00
  • Phase 2: Reduce custodial staff and clean only 60 percent of buildings nightly (vs. 80 percent currently); reduce literary interventionists, content specialists, support personnel and substitute expenses for professional development; reduce achievement directors; reduce central social emotional support; reduce GT resource teachers; eliminate superintendent community relations budget, including administrator welcome; eliminate student device home filtering and reduce technology supply budget; eliminate option school and Outdoor Lab busing. Total savings: $4,554,204.00
  • Phase 3: Eliminate literacy interventionists; eliminate MAP testing in K-2 and mastery content; eliminate social emotional learning specialists. Total savings: $1,815,030.00
  • Phase 4: Reduce assessment coordinator and technician, reduce library coordinator and secretarial support; eliminate 14 social emotional support staff funded to student-based budgeting. Total savings: $1,534,299.00

Total savings: $20,398,951.00

Board members would need to approve Phase 1A, which includes the school closures. The other steps could be taken by the district without needing further approval from the board.

Board Discussion about the Budget Proposal

Board members were surprised by some of the recommendations and immediately emphasized the importance of connecting with the community to do this work in collaboration, particularly regarding school closures. Three of the five schools on the closure list have not been discussed in recent facilities conversations, so this is brand-new information for those communities, board members cautioned.

They also asked staff, “Why the rush?” in regard to the proposed school closures and accelerated reconfiguration schedule for the Arvada and Wheat Ridge articulation areas.

“We have a little bit of an integrity issue here,” board President Ron Mitchell commented, noting that board members have spent months reassuring parents and the community that the K-5/6-8 reconfiguration would be a two-year process.

The closures and reconfiguration would save the district $3.5 million dollars, and Brad Rupert suggested that they could use $3.5 million in one-time dollars to fill the compensation hole and have extra time to plan.

Ali Lasell said she would rather respect and honor the timeline presented to the community with the reconfiguration taking place in Fall 2018 as planned. This would allow all schools and families adequate time to plan and allow communities could make that transition at the same time.

Rupert noted that one of the goals last spring was to create a deliberate process for moving sixth graders to middle school and for any school closures. “This is the opposite of that,” he pointed out.

School-family partnerships are our job, Lasell added.

“Our communities have great memories if we don’t keep our word,” Mitchell added.

Susan Harmon noted that there are costs everywhere, which makes this challenging. Not addressing the compensation issues will mean Jeffco continues to lose ground in attracting and retaining teachers, but the cuts and closed schools have a big cost as well.

Amanda Stevens pointed out that once a school is on a closure list, it impacts enrollment, even if the school stays open. Prolonging closures can also have a negative impact overall.

“We need to get this process right,” Mitchell said. “This is not the end but the beginning, so we need to do it well, do it right.” He also said that he thought the state budget picture would likely mean more school closures down the road, which makes it even more important to have a good process.

Lasell worries that the Wheat Ridge area seems to be taking the brunt of the cuts, and wants to make sure that the district talks with the city manager and mayor if they decide to head in that direction.

Staff is asking board members to be ready to vote on these issues at the Feb. 9 meeting.

Bottom line: Board members need your input, quickly. Please email them with your thoughts at board@jeffco.k12.co.us or feel free to contact individual board members using these links.

Other BOE Updates

Superintendent Search

Staff updated board members on the superintendent search. Jeffco Schools sent a request for proposals to five known superintendent search organizations and posted the proposal request online. Jeffco received three responses.

A committee consisting of Ron Mitchell, Amanda Stevens, Kathleen Askelson (Jeffco chief financial officer), Amy Weber (chief human resources officer), and Betty Standley (director of purchasing), evaluated the proposals on cost, approach, experience, and qualifications. They unanimously selected Ray and Associates, which yes, is the search firm that the Jeffco School Board used in 2014.

The next step is to hear from Ray and Associates about the search procedure, and that will most likely be on the agenda for the Feb. 9 meeting.

Jeffco 2020 Vision

The Jeffco 2020 presentation focused largely on a growing interest in implementing project-based learning (PBL) in schools to meet the goals of Jeffco 2020. About 20 percent of Jeffco’s schools are currently implementing PBL in some fashion. For some examples of what PBL looks like in action, check out this video and the other videos on the Jeffco 2020 page.

Performance-based assessments also provide an alternative to traditional testing and are better aligned with the PBL approach. The district is currently working to redesign curriculum to include the 2020 competencies in addition to the state standards. Staff and teachers are collaborating and expect that to be ready for Fall 2017.

Multiple pathways to graduation and college and career readiness are also in development. New this year: apprenticeship programs for students interested in that pathway.

Contract Negotiations

Jeffco met with the teachers association, JCEA, on Jan. 19 (that meeting can be viewed by clicking the link), and will meet with the classified staff association, JESPA, on Feb. 1.

JESPA has a contract with Jeffco through August 2019 and will negotiate salary and benefits, plus three items that can be brought to the table by each team.

JCEA has a contract through August 2021, and will negotiate salary and benefits, two items that can be brought by each team, and items of mutual interest.

Amy Weber noted in the presentation that compensation will be a major issue, not least because 3A failed. Issue 3A included $12.6 million for compensation that we won’t have, but mill levy overrides in neighboring districts like Boulder, Cherry Creek, and Denver all passed, meaning they’ll have more money available for raises for their staff.

Bottom line: we’re not competitive in the marketplace and we continue to lose ground. Consider this:

Comp

Cost of living has gone up 17.8 percent, but salary increases have only kept up with half of that. Two notable facts:

  1. In 2010, a Jeffco Schools teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience earned $52,330. In 2017, that same Jeffco Schools teacher only earns $49,839. In neighboring districts, that teacher can earn $57,733.
  2. A Jeffco Schools entry-level assistant principal was paid $72,589 in 2010, is paid $73,540 now, but could earn $78,854 in a neighboring district.

Comp2Staff asked the board to commit to funding at least $12 million in compensation increases and proposes funding that through Phase I cuts, as detailed in the budget presentation.

Great Works Montessori charter school application

This was a recent addition to the agenda. As you’ll recall, the board denied the Great Works Montessori School charter school application in November due to concerns about the sustainability of their proposed enrollment numbers and budget figures. GWMS appealed to the state school board, who sent the application back to Jeffco with an order to reconsider it.

The school and staff worked together to address some of the issues, but at the January meeting there was still a lot of confusion about whether the budget would be sustainable. Board members didn’t feel comfortable with the funding model that substantially funded the K-8 students through preschool tuition and were concerned it would lead to immediate funding shortfalls. Enrollment numbers also continued to be an issue. Board members considered a conditional approval, but weren’t sure of the numbers needed. In the end, they voted to deny the application a second time.

GWMS could have appealed to the state board a second time, but their lawyers contacted the district, and they were able to work out a compromise. Amanda Stevens said they agreed to add another 45 letters of intent to the condition, which could make the budget more sustainable and less reliant on the preschool budget.

The conditional approval was unanimous, and GWMS has until April 1 to fulfill the conditions set forth in the approval in order to open for Fall 2017.

We’ve given you a lot of information to absorb, and encourage you to read through the presentations and make your voices heard. The school board members want to make decisions that benefit our entire Jeffco community and need your feedback to do that. Again, please email your thoughts to board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

Despite these challenges, we remain

JeffCo Proud!