1.26.17 Board Meeting – Be Sure to Tune In: Supt Search, Budget & 6th Grade Recommendations!

The Board of Education’s next board meeting, a study session, will be this coming Thursday, Jan. 26, starting at 5 pm. If you can’t attend in person at the Ed Center, we encourage you to tune in via livestream. There will be some very important conversations regarding the superintendent search, budget recommendations, and suggested direction for moving 6th graders to middle schools district-wide.

Before we jump into the agenda for the upcoming BOE meeting, we would first like to emphasize the importance of participating in the budget process. Please start with this brief video, which provides an overview of the budget crisis. Note that we are funded $985 less per student than Amendment 23 requires and $2,200 less PER STUDENT than the national average! Our teachers make, on average, 10% less than surrounding school districts, and they make, on average, 17% less than similarly educated individuals nationally, requiring many to work 2nd and 3rd jobs to make ends meet.

Bottom line: we need competitive compensation to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers and staff for our children. Please be sure to complete the budget survey by Feb. 10.

In addition, the district will host four telephone town halls where you can learn more and make your voice heard: Feb. 1 and Feb. 7 at 6 pm and 7 pm on both nights. The number to call is 855-312-2107. Please plan to participate.

If the budget tool and the tele-town halls aren’t for you, you are encouraged to email the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us to share your concerns. They are going to be making some tough decisions with the budget. Make sure to let them know your thoughts.

First up on the agenda for the evening is the legislative update. It isn’t good news. The Gallagher Amendment will reduce the Residential Assessment Rate almost 1.5 percent, which will in turn reduce school district property tax collections by approximately $135M! To address this shortfall, the Governor has proposed legislation to reduce the Senior Homestead Exemption by half, which would save the state $68M. He has also proposed legislation to raise the tax on recreational marijuana from 8.0-12.0 percent, which would raise $42M.

We don’t see how either of these “band-aids,” which will hurt seniors and make the discussion even more confusing regarding pot money and schools, will help our funding crisis. We need real solutions.

Also in the legislative update, we’ll hear about some interesting proposed legislation, including these bills: a bill to require an additional $42M for Full-day Kindergarten, a house bill to let districts decide whether to administer certain state tests, a house bill to allow concealed carry in public schools, a senate bill to provide handgun safety training for school employees, a house bill to prohibit corporal punishment (just in case you thought that wasn’t allowed already!), a house bill to address teacher shortages in CO, a senate bill that requires districts to equalize mill levy override payments with charter schools (Jeffco already does this), and many others. Check them out! As a refresher, here are the board’s legislative priorities.

Next up is an update on the superintendent search. If you missed our last post about the board’s decision to move ahead with a national superintendent search, please read it and understand the expectations our BOE has for Jeffco’s superintendent. Note that the search needs to begin no later than January to take full advantage of a national candidate pool. Looks like attachments providing more info are coming soon, but as of the release of this post, attachments had not yet been provided.

Following the superintendent search update, we’ll hear from staff with an update on the Jeffco 2020 strategic plan. The presentation highlights that 20 percent of Jeffco schools are implementing Performance Based Learning (PBL) and Assessments (PBA) that allow for collaborative partnerships with the community and businesses and measure students’ abilities by allowing students to problem-solve in real-world context as opposed to traditional testing.

Slide 12 shares the results from the 2015-16 employee survey (with 5,666 employees participating!) of Jeffco 2020 questions by school level and shows that while teachers highly rate the job Jeffco does at increasing student performance in content mastery, the results are clear across school levels that “self-direction and personal responsibility” is rated the lowest by employees. Just above that is civic and global engagement.

Parents — we can really help out here. Self-direction, engagement, and personal responsibility are skills that must be taught and reinforced at home as well in order for our kiddos to be successful at school.

Next, we will hear an update on employee negotiations. JCEA negotiations began on Jan. 19 and will be streamed. Here’s the negotiations schedule. You can watch the livestream here. At this time, there is no recording from the Jan. 19 negotiations meeting, but we’re assuming that will be available soon.

Note the concern on slide 6 that as a result of Jeffco not passing our mill levy override while other surrounding districts did, we are even further away from the mark in providing competitive compensation to Jeffco employees, which puts us in danger of losing and/or not attracting the best and brightest teachers and staff. While the BOE had asked staff to find $25M to be allocated for teacher compensation, we’re seeing on slide 10 in this presentation that the ask is for a commitment to find a minimum of $12M to keep us level — but “level” does not make Jeffco competitive in the marketplace.

Next, cabinet will present their recommendations for the budget. Staff will address the impact of the reduced property valuations on our budget (the Gallagher Amendment). A few items of note from the presentation are:

  • a projected 242 student decrease across the district
  • $6M retirement/turnover savings – possibly as much as $9M
  • Cabinet has prioritized a four-phased system of reductions and fee changes to provide $20.4M towards the BOE’s $25M goal for compensation increases (the worksheet detailing the recommended reductions will be available on BoardDocs by Jan. 27)
  • the General Fund ended the year with $24M more than anticipated, a portion of which can be used to supplement urgent facility needs and provide a contingency for unforeseen state budget shortfalls
  • a public hearing on the proposed budget will be held in April and the budget will be adopted in May
  • next steps include implementation of Phase I reductions and preparation for implementation of the next phases set to begin on March 16, 2017. That means budget cuts will affect this school year.

The next item (2.06) addresses recommendations from facilities staff in light of the failed 2016 bond effort and the budget crisis. There are no attachments, and thus no details available at this time on BoardDocs to give us insight into what staff recommendations may be.

However, we know items for consideration include closing schools and boundary adjustments. It does seem from the wording, “the approach presented will involve recommendations for moving sixth grade, implementing limited capital improvements to middle schools…” that we can expect to see staff make recommendations to move forward with plans to transition to K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools across the district, at least to some degree.  This should be an interesting conversation you don’t want to miss if you have elementary-aged children.

Finally, the BOE will review board/staff linkage (B/SL) policies per the annual work plan.

As you can see, this upcoming meeting is one you don’t want to miss. We’ll post after the meeting to let you know what happened if you’re busy with after-school activities and more.

JeffCo Proud!

5.2.16 Jeffco Schools Facilities Master Plan Summary

lakwoodAt the end of April, staff presented an updated facilities master plan to the school board at a study session. First, we want to emphasize that the board has not voted on the plan, nor is it planning to finalize any of the recommendations soon.

What is happening is this: staff are now hosting a series of meetings around the district to explain the reasoning behind the plan, answer questions about details of the plan, and collect feedback from parents. The communications department staff is collecting the feedback and making it available to school board members, staff, and even to the public through links to community meeting feedback and survey feedback received before April 28 on the Districtwide Facilities Master Plan page on the Jeffco Schools website. Comments will continue be posted as they are received throughout the feedback process.

Jeffco Schools has also posted other important links with more information about the plan:

There are also multiple community meetings taking place between now and mid-June:

  • May 4, Conifer High School, 8–10 am
  • May 4, Green Mountain High School, 5-7 pm
  • May 31, Ralston Valley High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 1, Pomona High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 4, Stevens Elementary, 8-10 am
  • June 4, Arvada West High School, 11 am – 1 pm
  • June 6, Golden High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 8, Bear Creek High School, 8-10 am
  • June 8, Wheat Ridge High School, 6-8 pm
  • June 9, Stein at O’Connell, 6-8 pm

If you can’t make any of the meetings (or even if you can, but want to provide additional feedback), you can provide feedback via an online survey that is also posted on the Facilities Master Plan page.

So, you may find yourself asking, why are they doing this now?

There are several reasons:

First, the master plan hasn’t been comprehensively updated since 2011.

Second, you’ll likely remember the debate over how to best fund construction of a new school or schools in northwest Arvada: through a bond issue or through Certificates of Participation (COPs), or by pulling money out of classrooms to fund new construction. This was an issue during the recall election last November. The new board members voted to use COPs to build the K-8 at Candelas and to fund phase II of the Sierra Elementary construction. However, all of them were very clear that they prefer to use bonds to finance capital construction.

With that in mind, the board asked staff to update the master plan and to consider what a potential bond package might look like that also takes into account capital needs throughout the district. The facilities master plan is the result.

Third, we’ve been waiting a long time for the economy to get better and state funding to increase, right? Except that the economy has improved and everyone’s property taxes went up and a new marijuana tax was approved and Jeffco Schools still isn’t going to see much (if any) additional state funding. The “negative factor,” allows the state to keep those additional property and marijuana taxes and allocate it to other parts of the state budget — and in fact, our legislators are not giving those additional revenues to the schools.

Nothing about the current funding patterns seems like it will change anytime soon, so we in Jeffco need to tackle our current capital needs ourselves.

One of the big goals of this plan, besides addressing high-growth areas, school overcrowding, and schools with major maintenance needs like new roofs or HVAC systems, is to reduce the amount Jeffco spends on maintenance overall so that those dollars can be used in the classroom. Updated HVAC and electrical systems some schools will produce thousands of dollars in utility cost savings in the long run. It also means that in some cases, the plan suggests school consolidations or closures, along with the replacement of certain school buildings.

“Why are they closing schools and asking money to build new ones?” is a question we’ve heard frequently. The short answer is that on average, our schools are 45 years old and many have major capital needs. If, however, the school can consolidate two of those aging schools into one new and larger school, they’ll save money in the long run. The equation they use is something similar to the one that all of us use when deciding whether to repair or replace an aging car: at some point it becomes cheaper in the long run to buy a new or newer car than to continue sinking thousands of dollar into a 20-year-old car that’s in the shop every few months. A newer car means few if any repair costs and usually better fuel mileage (or in the case of schools, utility savings) as well.

That said, most of the proposals hinge on a successful bond campaign. Without one, it’s not possible to build a new school or addition necessary to consolidate two other schools. And they want the Jeffco community to have a plan that everyone is reasonably happy with, which is the reason they’re asking for so much community feedback. They want to know which parts of the facilities master plan need to be changed before moving forward.

A few more notes on cost: The plan also suggests a couple of minimal cost options. The first one boils down to what Jeffco is already doing: building a K-8 at Candelas, finishing phase II construction at Sierra Elementary, finishing the Rose Stein construction as planned, and continuing with the district’s deferred maintenance plan overall.

A second minimal cost option is to reconfigure schools in four articulation areas as K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools. It makes use of available space at the middle school level and creates space in elementary schools that may be lacking it. Note that the proposal is not a district-wide proposal to move to a K-5, 6-8 configuration, but rather one based on student numbers in each articulation area. Even in a proposal that is based on bond money, some elementary schools would be left in a K-6, 7-8 pattern in order to not overcrowd the middle school.

Our friends at Support Jeffco Kids posted a summary that includes summary information about each of the articulation areas, and we encourage you read that post or to take time to look at the links we’ve included above.

District staff plan to take the feedback to the board to consider at the board’s June 16 meeting. They are expected to provide further direction regarding the plan to staff at that time. Staff will then incorporate the direction into a new version of the plan, and we’d expect a vote on the revised version at a future meeting. There will also need to be a vote if the school board decided to put a bond issue on the ballot.

As you can see, everything is in the very early stages of planning. Look at the information or attend a forum and then let the board members know what you think through one of the above channels or by simply writing them at board@jeffco.k12.co.us.

JeffCo Proud!