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!

1.12.17 Board Meeting – Don’t Miss It!

Happy New Year!

We hope 2017 is off to a great start for you and yours! We wish we could say that 2017 is off to a good start for our school district, but we are dismayed at the way the Jeffco Schools Communications Department is handling, or rather not handling, the press release announcing that “the Board will vote on whether to start a search process for a new superintendent.”

In our opinion, Diana Wilson, the district’s Chief Communications Officer, has once again shown her unsuitability for her position with her irresponsible, unprofessional quote reported by Chalkbeat: “That the item is on the Jan. 12 agenda “essentially means they are not offering Dan a contract extension,” said district spokeswoman Diana Wilson.”  We are shocked that Wilson would make such a statement as a vote has NOT been taken by the BOE, and it is not her place to attempt to read between the lines or make some sort of projection or guess as to what direction the BOE will take. This quote has fed a media feeding frenzy that has included accusations of a lack of transparency, etc.

The reality is that the BOE issued the news release specifically as an act of transparency to let the public know that although they had to meet in Executive Session to discuss a personnel matter (McMinimee’s performance and contract), they do intend to have a discussion during the next regular BOE meeting on Jan. 12, will listen to public comment on whether to retain McMinimee, and then will have a vote – in public.

This board is acting transparently and respectfully with regard to McMinimee; the district’s Chief Communications Officer is out of line and being disrespectful of the process. We find it extremely concerning that neither McMinimee nor Wilson have addressed her error nor retracted the statement.

We’re also disappointed in the memo Jeffco Schools Chief School Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott sent to staff.terry-elliott-memo  Here again, his words imply the BOE has already made a decision, leading the media to assume the BOE has acted inappropriately. That is not true. The BOE has followed the proper process for these discussions.

If you have an opinion on whether the BOE should retain McMinimee as superintendent, you can email comments to the BOE or sign up for public comment to share your thoughts with the board members at Thursday’s meeting. If you can’t attend the meeting, you can always watch it from the comfort of your own home via livestream.

Here are just a few letters of concern regarding McMinimee sent to the board this past month:

  • C-16-800 from Don Cameron with a detailed analysis showing how the previous Supt search consultant focused on board preferences for the Supt as a priority over preferences expressed by parents, community members, administrators, teachers and others. Cameron goes on to point out his lack of trust in the current district leadership’s ability to “gain the confidence of voters to allow us to pass a mill and bond,” and that “some of that needs to be laid at the feet of the chief messenger [McMinimee].” We should all remember that the bogus superintendent search that landed McMinimee in this position was a key issue in the recall.
  • c-16-801 from Angie Blomquist asking that McMinimee not be retained for several reasons, to include “standing mutely by” while other board members, staff and students were mistreated by the previous, recalled board majority, and taking his $20,000 bonus knowing the inability of the district to adequately compensate employees as a result of the on-going budget crisis. She feels “McMinimee is out of touch with what it means to be a teacher,” feels “his inexperience leads to poor decisions,” and is “overpaid and under qualified for his current position.”
  • c-16-806 from Terry Cooper who points out the very concerning need to “rebuild the trust between teachers and district admin” and that “new leadership needs to address the riff created by the old board.” Terry goes on to note that “change and support will come when…a caring leader steps in with a  crew that truly supports teachers and begins the much needed work of healing a divided district.”

These are just a few thoughts from a very few people concerned with the leadership in the district. We have talked with teachers, staff and administrators and are so discouraged to hear time and time again, especially from administrators, that Dan McMinimee is not an inspiring leader. Jeffco needs an inspiring leader. Someone who can heal and unite our district; guide and inform our board of education directors; hire the strongest and most experienced cabinet members who work with and listen to the staff they’re hired to support; build strong relationships with community and business leaders (and not just have conversations with these leaders when the district is asking for help with passing a mill/bond); and support and advocate for students, teachers and staff.

With that said, let’s dive in to the agenda for the January 12th meeting.

The meeting begins with a study session at 5 pm that will provide an update on Student Based Budgeting (SBB), which is the district’s method of funding the schools. The discussion will provide details on the changes to SBB for the 2016-17 school year as well as insights on the implementation of SBB by school principals.

We look forward to this update and ensuing discussion as we have several concerns about SBB that we hope the BOE will ask, such as:

  • Smaller schools receive additional dollars; however, once the school reaches a certain pupil count, they lose those dollars and struggle with the allotted budget. Does this discourage schools from allowing additional open-enrollment students?
  • In some schools, enrollment changes year by year and classroom by classroom. When a school experiences a dip in enrollment, the principal is faced with a resulting budget cut that may force the loss of an employee or more. However, when enrollment rebounds in a subsequent year that staff member is gone and the principal is faced with having to find a new teacher to fill that position. What is being done to address this issue?
  • Some schools have more highly impacted student populations that require more resources. How will SBB dollars be allocated to address these additional needs at certain schools?
  • SBB causes competition between schools for students. We are seeing a negative impact to schools and students as a result. Competition can be a healthy thing – to a degree, but it can also be a detriment. Schools in the south, for example, are seeing a negative effect as a result of unhealthy competition. Deer Creek Middle shifted to a 6-8 model when they began offering a STEM program to attract more students. Bradford succeeded in making the shift to a K-8 model when they suffered the financial consequences of losing many students to the STEM program at Deer Creek and the new charter, Golden View Classical Academy. Many of the schools in the south now use SBB money to pay for advertising in the local newspapers. Collegiate Academy, a Jeffco charter school, has gone so far as to develop a 15-page Marketing Plan and set aside $16,000 annually for marketing (to include $8,000 for a marketing coordinator). Is this good for students? Is this healthy competition? How does marketing improve student achievement? Wouldn’t marketing dollars and efforts be better spent in the classroom?

Next up, the OELS (Outdoor Lab) foundation will present at check to Jeffco Schools (thank you OELS!), Marna Messer, Jeffco Schools Director of Choice Programming, will receive the O’Rourke Prize (an annual award given for Distinguished Achievement in Professional Development), and students from Evergreen High School will be recognized for their performance in the State Tennis Championship.

We are happy to see that the “Board Reports” item has returned to the agenda! This is a great opportunity for board members to share their observations as they visit schools and participate in activities across the district with their fellow board members. We always enjoy this portion of the BOE meetings.

The BOE will also once again review the Great Works Montessori charter school application. This application was denied in November largely because it did not appear to have a sustainable budget and representatives were unable to address those concerns satisfactorily.

One specific issue concerns the proposed charter’s desire to attract low-income students who might thrive in a Montessori environment, while also needing a number of preschool families who can pay $1,500 per month to keep the school budget in the black. Preschool families would pay on a sliding scale, but unfortunately, that also means that the more successful the school is in attracting low-income students, the more their success harms their budget. The charter school representative told board members she was sure they could find additional funding for the budget if they needed it, but could offer no concrete suggestions or information at the meeting. Board members said they wanted to see a sustainable budget before approving a new charter school.

An additional concern was the lack of attention and details regarding how the charter school would address the needs of their target families, such as ELL resources, Spanish-speaking teachers and staff (for students and parents), and how the needs of students with IEPs, 504 plans and ALPs would be met. Another concern for the target population is transience. The charter school does not have a plan to integrate students coming from a traditional school setting, and only has a 1% contingency fund for emergencies, which is much too risky especially with consideration of weathering the loss of revenue from transient students.

Great Works appealed the Jeffco School Board’s decision to the State Board of Education, and the State Board ruled that Jeffco should take another look. Please look at this letter from Chris von Lersner, who was originally helping with Great Works but now has concerns.

Bottom line: with all Colorado schools facing cuts in the 2017-18 year, it’s more important than ever for new charter schools to have sustainable budgets that match realistic enrollment goals. We want them to be set for success, not destined for financial hardship and failure.

Jeffco Proud!