3.17.2016 BOE MEETING PREVIEW

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The Jeffco School Board will hold a study session this Thursday, March 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you cannot attend, you can stream the meeting online. Key matters include:

Jeffco’s Early Childhood Education Program

The Board will hear the latest regarding Jeffco’s growing Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program. This includes preschool, Kindergarten and before- and after-school programs. The Board will also meet ECE community partners during this update.

We’re curious to know the impacts to enrollment in Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) as a result of the requirement that free FDK be provided to all students on free and reduced lunch (FRL). This is something that hasn’t been clear, so we’re wondering:

  • How many schools were providing free FDK to all students prior to SBB who have stopped doing so, specifically due to the percentage of FRL students in their school? Our understand from last year was that there were 40 schools providing free FDK that went down to 25 schools after the implementation of SBB.
  • As we understand it, schools receive additional funds for free lunch kiddos, but not for reduced lunch kiddos. Therefore, schools have to provide the funds for school fees and free FDK for reduced lunch kiddos from their general fund. How is this impacting schools and what is being done to relieve this pressure?

We’re also wondering if the district or new board has considered a tiered system of charging for FDK like the one Denver Public Schools implemented, which bases tuition upon the size of the family relative to their gross income and ability to pay instead of a flat $300/month fee? Or is there a way the district could move toward offering free FDK for everyone, perhaps on a 5- or 10-year implementation plan? (The ideal situation would be that the state allocates funding to allow all districts to offer free FDK, of course, but we’re well aware of the ongoing state funding problems.)

2nd Quarter Financial Report

Jeffco Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson, a representative from the District’s auditor and members of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee will share the latest financial news. The report identifies funds, departments and/or schools to monitor closely throughout the year.

We’re pleased to see no charter schools are borrowing at the end of this quarter, and Collegiate Academy has closed its line of credit with the District. Budgeting for the 2016-2017 school year will continue to be a hot topic. Stay tuned.

District Accountability Committee

Next, Jeffco Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott and District Accountability Committee Chair Julie Oxenford-O’Brian will update the Board on the District’s Unified Improvement Plan before it is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education.

Legislative Update

Jeffco’s Lobbyist, Ed Bowditch, will update the Board on legislation affecting schools, districts and education.

When Cindy Stevenson Left Jeffco…

Two years ago, when the Board approved former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s early release from her duties, Witt, Newkirk and Williams insisted on barring her from volunteering or being employed in Jeffco Schools in the future.

Paragraph #12, page 5 of 8 of that agreement reads, No continuing right of employment by the District. Dr. Stevenson agrees that she will not apply for or otherwise seek re-employment or seek to volunteer in the District, (emphasis added) including its charter schools until December 31, 2018, and that, in the event she does so, it will be a material breach of this Agreement, and the District and its charter schools will have no obligation to consider her application.”

At the March 3, 2016, meeting, Ron Mitchell asked that this be reviewed by district legal counsel to see if that prohibition could be changed. At the last meeting, Mitchell said he didn’t think that was a typical element of an agreement and that it seemed needless. We are interested in understanding whether that clause can be changed or eliminated, and what the board may have in mind.

We’ll also note for the record that Stevenson is currently employed as Director of the CASE Leadership Initiative, so we don’t think this is a move to reinstate her as superintendent. Barring her from even volunteering in the district, however, was always clearly meant to be spiteful by WNW.

Employee Negotiations

The meeting wraps up with an update on Employee Negotiations – the teacher contract. The Board will hear from Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Weber and contract attorney Jim Branum. The next negotiations session will take place Monday, March 28.

Jeffco Student Headed to Scripps National Spelling Bee – AGAIN!

On a lighter note, we’d like to congratulate Jeffco Schools student Sylvie Lamontagne who will represent Colorado in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second year running. Lamontagne, an eighth grader at Creighton Middle School, competed last year and finished 9th out of 285 spellers at the national bee. This is the first time in 20 years that Colorado has had a back-to-back champion, thanks in part to a change in the rules that allows a winner to compete again in the contest. Her winning word was “ossifrage.” Good luck at the national spelling bee!

JeffCo Proud!

 

Reflections from an Outgoing School Board Member

school-crossingRecently we were able to snag some communication time with outgoing Jeffco School Board member and former board president Lesley Dahlkemper.  We wanted to get a clear view from a current board member about what was working and what was not working on the school board.  Future board members, regardless of their political stripes, can learn valuable insights from a veteran.  As a voter, please consider her wins and losses as you contemplate the types of members you’d like to see on the board in the future.

Ms. Dahlkemper’s top two accomplishments were around budgeting and community engagement.  She came in during a time of very tight budget constraints.  “The board collaborated with community members, parents, district leaders, educators and the employee associations to make decisions that kept difficult budget cuts away from classrooms,” she said. “This work was tied with walking door-to-door and phone banking with other parents and community members to pass a modest bond package that addressed immediate needs to keep students ‘safe, warm and dry’ as well as a mill levy package to maintain Outdoor Lab, band, class sizes, and other services, which were at risk.”  It was a strong, collaborative community effort.  It was also bipartisan, and both and both Democratic and Republican parents worked on the effort.

With respect to community engagement, she said, “As board president, I worked with my board colleagues and the Colorado Association of School Boards to draft the policy. An excerpt from the policy states: ‘The board believes that engaging our community is essential to preserving a strong system of public education. The board’s policies and decisions should reflect community values, good educational practice and available financial resources.’ Jeffco is one of only a handful of school  boards with such a policy.”

Unfortunately, community engagement takes more than just listening.  It takes courage to act according to the wishes of the public.  Ms. Dahlkemper explained “My greatest disappointment [over the last two years] was several failed motions during multiple board meetings to fund full-day kindergarten for schools with students on the cusp of free- and reduced-lunch.”

The board was presented with data, many times, about this critical need and impact it makes on children.  During her first two years, the former board did approve full-day kindergarten funding for more than one dozen at risk schools, but the current board repeatedly turned down her motions on a 3-2 vote in the last two years.

Not only should the board listen and act according to the public wishes to the degree they can with budget constraints, they should also listen to each other. Jeffco Schools has had a rich tradition of board members with diverse views who have worked together in the best interests of all children.

In the past, they listened closely to our community to identify priorities.  They followed board policies that required them to study a proposal and ask questions – with a vote always occurring at the second meeting.  “It’s been disheartening to see surprise after surprise introduced at the board table,” she said. “These surprises range from hiring a school board attorney prior to knowing his hourly rate and scope of work to a recent resolution gutting months of work by parent and district leaders designed to better align the district accountability committee to state law to a new compensation system that was never fully vetted with Ms. Fellman, me or employees – as policy requires.”

The message from this outgoing member could not be more clear:  “Listen to the community – including those with whom you agree and disagree. Study the issues. Ask lots of questions. Find common ground and build from there. Communicate clearly – and in a variety of ways – to the public about the board’s rationale for its decisions. Work closely with other board members to come up with meaningful, innovative solutions to complex challenges. Always remember that your decisions affect 85,000 children and the quality of Jeffco’s schools. These decisions have implications for us all regardless of whether we have children enrolled in a Jeffco school. Great schools and great communities go hand-in-hand. It is a privilege to serve on the Jeffco school board.”

As for staying engaged in education, don’t worry.  Besides her full time job in education, Ms. Dahlkemper is involved in her daughter’s school – both its PTA and school accountability committees. As any parent of a tween knows, being a supportive, present parent is key at this time in her daughter’s life.  She will have much more time to do this effectively.

On the fun side, she’ll spend her Sundays reading the New York Times and Denver Post cover to cover in lieu of Board Docs. Most of all she says, “I’m eager to spend more time with my daughter, Grace, and my husband, Mike. It seems like just yesterday we were taking Grace to Rooney Ranch Elementary School for her first day of kindergarten. In two short years, she will be in high school.  In six years, she will graduate from high school. Time is fleeting. I want to be fully present for her and for Mike.”