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!

The Cost of Doing Nothing

What if we don’t do anything? That is a cost. There is a cost to doing nothing that every person in this county needs to consider.

– Dawn Williams, Jeffco Schools Capital Asset Advisory Committee  (CAAC), at their meeting with the BOE, 4/21/2016

For some, voting on the Jeffco Schools mill and bond, 3A and 3B, seems to be merely a question of whether they think the cost is worth it. What they may be missing is that there’s a cost either way.

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In our last post, we noted that state funding for Jeffco students hasn’t kept up with inflation between 2009 and now. On Tuesday, the state released its first budget forecast and they’re predicting funding cuts for schools.

Under the proposal, the negative factor would increase by $45 million (which, like any good double negative means that funding to schools will decrease). The best-case scenario is that schools will see slight funding increases, but those won’t keep pace with inflation or student population growth.

So what does that mean for Jeffco students?

For starters, it means Jeffco has less resources to support students in the classroom, and is less able to attract and retain great teachers. When pay doesn’t keep pace with inflation, people find jobs that pay better. Our teachers can easily head to Boulder, Denver, or Cherry Creek and gain a significant pay raise by doing so. That’s a significant cost to Jeffco students.

Being unable to have funding to support the purchase of additional learning resources, additional learning specialists to support struggling students, or to be able to expand learning opportunities to include more project-based work, STEM, art, music, and physical education is also a cost. Those are opportunities that Jeffco students don’t have as budgets are chipped away by inflation costs and state mandates.

Worst case scenario? More budget cuts. We haven’t recovered fully from the ones we experienced in past years, but we’ll be faced with more hard choices. The first priority for 3A money is to backfill cuts in state funding. Without it, our students pay the cost.

Another major cost is that Jeffco falls further behind when it comes to maintaining our school facilities. We know how that played out after the 2008 mill and bond failed:

The combination of needing to maintain our older schools, needing to build or renovate schools, and to bring all of our schools up to an appropriate facilities condition index would have been about a $250 million deficit. Over the years that issue has grown to a point where, when we sit as a committee and combine all the economic challenges that face the facilities group in 2016, we’re clearly looking at a number that exceeds $500 million.

– Phillip Infelise, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer has repeatedly told the board that the cost to adequately maintain Jeffco’s buildings is $65 to $75 million per year according to industry standards. Jeffco only has $18 million in the budget each year.

That’s also a cost. It’s led to more than $500 million in needed maintenance and new construction. Roofs and HVAC systems don’t fix themselves, so the costs continue to add up. For a quick glimpse of what that looks like, watch this video. The 2012 bond addressed the most pressing maintenance needs at the time, but it’s four years later. 3B money will address the current backlog of deferred maintenance.

Jeffco’s Capital Asset Advisory Committee members talked about the costs of deferred maintenance at great length with the Jeffco School Board members at their April 21 meeting. Those costs not only include the accumulated costs of deferred maintenance, but also school choice and learning:

If we allow our structures to become old looking and tired, we’re going to begin to lose…. People are going to find places where they can get a beautiful school and that beautiful school will encourage education.” “When a parent walks into a school and it feels good, looks good, they’re going to say “This is what I want my children to be educated in.”

The teachers and the students are going to feel much better if a school is well lit, the carpet is not worn out, the kitchens are producing the products that we need.”

– Gordon Callahan, CAAC, 4/21/2016

Still feeling skeptical? The facilities costs for doing nothing is much more than worn-out facilities. For example, 10 temporary classrooms were added to West Woods and Meicklejohn elementary schools this year, at a cost of $750,000 for a three-year commitment. That’s a pretty expensive “nothing.”

Another cost is the lost instruction time incurred every time a student housed in a dry temp has to put on a coat and buddy with a partner to leave that classroom and enter the regular school building to use a restroom.

There’s more:

In addition to new construction, other options can include busing, new boundaries, reconfiguration of grades and flex school years – all of which have costs to the families and the district’s budget and staff.

CAAC letter to the Jeffco School Board, 12/17/2015

What are those costs?

Let’s look at busing first. Some have suggested that reopening the currently closed Zerger Elementary would solve all problems. But the numbers suggest otherwise:

  • Zerger Elementary’s capacity: 480 students
  • Estimate of number of additional Jeffco students north of I-70: as many as 6,800 students
  • Cost to run the 6-8 bus routes that Jeffco estimates they would need to bus NW corridor students to Zerger: $47,000/route for a total of $280,000 to $375,000 annually.
  • Cost to recommission the building: $150,000
  • Cost of needed capital investments: $575,000
  • Total cost: $1,005,000.00

That’s a lot of cost for a building that will only accommodate a small fraction of the new seats needed in the area. Bond money would likely be needed in order to get the school up and running and address the maintenance issues to keep it warm, safe, and dry.

It also doesn’t get at the more thorny questions, including how many seats would actually be available to the students in new developments. Zerger’s attendance before it closed was around 290 according to facility reports. Reopening the school might only net 200 extra seats, if that, plus handfuls of empty seats from the two schools that absorbed the Zerger students. We happen to think that creates more problems than it solve, with a million-dollar price tag no less.

Others have asked about the former Sobesky building. Let’s look at those numbers:

  • Year built: 1947
  • Size: approximately 30,000 square feet
  • Capacity: 193 students

One of the reasons the district wanted to move Sobesky to a new location was that the building was not up to code and as a result, younger students could not attend.

The district may be able to sell it, but we’re doubtful that it would fetch enough of an asking price to make a dent in the $535 million in facilities needs.

Why not sell Zerger instead? They have been trying since the school was closed in 2011 and the school board voted to, but with no luck so far. Zerger’s location is a challenge. It was built as a neighborhood school and with the expectation that students would walk or bike. Parking is at a premium. A charter school might be interested, but there are already three charter schools located within a couple of miles of Zerger, including one located in the same neighborhood.

There is a cost to doing nothing, and it’s not cheap. We think it’s more fiscally prudent to be proactive and address these educational and facilities needs with targeted funding to enhance learning, expand facilities, and addresse deferred maintenance in ways that will net cost savings that can be directed back into the classroom in the long run. With interest rates at historic lows, the 3B bond makes good sense.

We encourage you to vote Yes on 3A and 3B, spread the word, and make sure ballots are turned in by Nov. 8.

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Jeffco Proud!

 

State Funding vs. Property Taxes: Why We Need 3A and 3B

Have you found yourself thinking about how your property taxes were higher this year and wondering why school districts across Colorado, including Jeffco Schools, are asking for more money in mill and bond requests like 3A and 3B?

We have answers. Read on!

Believe it or not, both of these things are true:

  1. Property taxes in Jeffco increased due to increased home values in the area.
  2. State school funding remained largely flat.

In Jeffco, state funding for the 2016-17 year increased 1.2 percent over 2015-16 funding, as reported in Jeffco’s 2016-17 Dollars and Sense brochure. Inflation, however, has been measured at 2.8 percent on the Front Range and is predicted to be at 2.6 percent this year.

When we say state funding has remained “largely flat” what we mean is that sometimes — such as this year–it isn’t even keeping up with inflation, which means less money for classrooms, for maintaining facilities, and for keeping pay competitive.

What’s worse is that even though the housing market is booming and taxes are up, the Denver Post reported last month that 2017-18 budget cuts may be on the way:

Colorado’s state budget faces a potential deficit this fiscal year, economic forecasters told state lawmakers Tuesday, as tax revenues continue to fall short of previous expectations.

If true, that would mean cuts to K-12 funding for 2017-18, and potentially mid-year cuts this year.

Let’s repeat that: despite a booming economy and increased property taxes, Jeffco Schools could see mid-year budget cuts this year.

That was the news a week ago. A few days ago Chalkbeat report Nic Garcia tweeted that the state budget chief now thinks that won’t happen. However, we won’t know more until the budget forecast is released at the beginning of November.

Here’s how school funding can remain flat even though your taxes increased:

StateLocalfunding

It’s pretty simple: the state uses more of your local taxes to fund your schools and decreases their share to use elsewhere in the budget. Mill levy override funds, on the other hand, aren’t part of the equation. All money from 3A and 3B stays in Jeffco and puts additional money in all our schools — charter, option, or neighborhood — and does so equitably. All students benefit.

Money from 3A becomes part of the operating budget; money from 3B is specifically for facilities, including capital maintenance, new construction, and school additions.

This chart that shows Jeffco’s state funding for the past several years. Note that 2016-17 funding is a mere $167 more than it was in 2009-2010.

statefunding

If state funding was keeping up with inflation, our students should be receiving $7,956 this year — $719 more than actual funding levels.

That’s why school funding needs a grassroots effort — in this case, 3A and 3B.

This graphic shows the difference that mill levy override funding makes for students. Boulder and Denver voters have approved many more 3A dollars for their students, which means their districts have more dollars for the classroom every year.

fundingcomp

Also, we’ve seen some crazy posts complaining that money from 3B isn’t being used to target student achievement. First, the law dictates that 3B money has to be used for facilities. Second, students learn better when they’re not being distracted by cold air from drafty windows, chilly classrooms from outdated HVAC systems, or water dripping into a bucket in their classroom because the leaky roof hasn’t been fixed. It’s just common sense.

A few other points:

1.  Yes, it would be nice if the state would get rid of the negative factor and restore that money to schools. But it hasn’t happened despite intense lobbying from Colorado’s superintendents, advocacy groups like Great Education Colorado, and individual citizens.

Instead, more cuts are predicted. Are we content to sit by and watch our school budgets get slashed again, or can we do better for our students? Our answer: by voting Yes on 3A and 3B Jeffco can do better.

2.  Marijuana money won’t dig us out of the funding hole. In fact, Jeffco isn’t receiving any pot tax. It isn’t and won’t help us with the current issues.

3.  Last, don’t forget that there is a cost to doing nothing in Jeffco. The leaky roofs won’t miraculously repair themselves. The cost to educate students and maintain our facilities won’t decrease if we choose to ignore it. We’ll talk about that more in another post.

Want one more reason? Watch Jeffco Economic Development Corporation Chair David Jones explain why the JEDC endorsed 3A 3B:

Please vote Yes on 3A and 3B, and then get those ballots in. Use this graphic to encourage others to vote by Nov. 8.

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JeffCo Proud!