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!

4.6.16 The AFP is at it again & quick 4/7 BOE meeting preview

This will be a brief update, as all of our writers are currently swamped with other things. We know we owe you a summary of the last couple of meetings and we will have that for you as soon as humanely possible.

However, we wanted to bring your attention to some news uncovered by our friends at Jeffco Citizens for Responsible Education. They noticed that a number of emails regarding the use of Certificates of Participation (COPs) had been sent to the board. The vast majority of those in opposition were one of two form letters. Jeffco CRE followed that trail a bit further, right to the door of Americans for Prosperity, who conveniently set up a webpage so that people could submit a form letter to the board through their website.

Screenshot 2016-04-03 15.33.08

We agree with Jeffco CRE when they write “Colorado is a local control state for a reason.  Outside special interest groups should stop sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.” Indeed.

In addition, there’s a board meeting this Thursday, April 7.

Highlights

Can’t attend? Stream the meeting live at this link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

JeffCo Proud!

 

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our summary of board actions and other board work to-date. If you missed it, start with part 1, which summarizes some of their work regarding Certificates of Participation and other major issues.  This post will focus on negotiations and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Employee Negotiations

Negotiations season is just kicking off, and the board has heard from both the district and JCEA about the process and issues that will take center stage. The board heard a presentation from JCEA at the 2/18/16 study session and gave the district negotiating team some direction regarding upcoming negotiation sessions.

JCEA identified some issues they’d like to address in negotiations:

  • Increase professional development funding (it was cut during the recession)
  • To include JCEA as part of the teacher induction program again (last August they were refused)
  • To restore association leave for leadership roles. JCEA pays for subs during a member’s leave, and this issue was previously part of the contract.
  • A predictable, comprehensive salary schedule for all employees (a grid system)

JCEA agrees that teachers need to be rated effective or highly effective to move a step but want a rich conversation with the district about other things that should be happening annually, like regular professional development or other expectations.

In addition, JCEA said they do not want to see a distinction made regarding effective and highly effective teachers when it comes to the salary structure currently because they are not confident in the current inter-rater reliability within schools or across the district. They also think it reduces collegiality within the schools. They see the primary purpose of evaluations as leading to growth rather than being tied to income.

Many of the same issues, especially regarding competitive pay and a predictable schedule, were mentioned by the district as well.

The district’s negotiating team also asked board members to list some of their priorities at the Feb. 18 meeting. Board members said:

  • Be more competitive in compensation, within the restraints of the budget and with the understanding that Jeffco will likely never offer the highest salaries in the area
  • Compensation for masters degrees, though some board members want to see that tied closely to a teacher’s subject matter or to teaching in general (as opposed to someone with a completely unrelated master’s degree)
  • Compensation for additional credit hours beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Additional compensation for hard-to-fill positions, like speech pathologists and school psychologists
  • Compensation tied to experience

There were other issues where the board remains uncertain:

  • Compensation tied to performance

All indicated they’d like to see some of that, but the how and why are very unclear. There are concerns about the reliability of the evaluation system, about whether a distinction should be made between effective and highly effective, and how to measure that appropriately.

Susan Harmon was very clear that she doesn’t want to see performance tied to test scores; Ron Mitchell said he sees effective and highly effective ratings as a continuum, and that he doesn’t think there’s much difference between a teacher who’s at the high end of effective or a teacher at the low-end of highly effective.

  • Additional compensation for school subjects

Board members were split on this question, which largely applies to high schools. Some argued that a math teacher should be paid more than an English teacher if those positions are harder to fill; others said that if you have a highly effective music teacher and a highly effective science teacher, both have a major, positive impact on students and the school so it’s hard to justify paying one more than the other. No decisions were made there.

  • Additional compensation for placement in more challenging schools

Board members are very mixed on this one. They all agree that something should be done to make those positions more attractive, but whether that will be through providing some sort of additional compensation, additional recognition, or additional resources and support remains to be decided.

Much of the research indicates that additional compensation might be enough to bring a teacher to schools with higher poverty rates and other challenges, but isn’t usually enough to keep them there. Feedback from the “strategic comp” project also indicated that what teachers find more compelling are strong leaders, a cooperative team, and lots of support and resources to help with the challenges.

The negotiation sessions are being streamed and archived. Archived sessions (which of this writing only include the 2/6/16 negotiation session) can be viewed here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/4781604

Negotiation session dates are posted here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=A6TT4P718068

Other Jeffco School Board actions

Charter School Contract Renewals

Charter school contract renewals are typically on the consent agenda unless there is a special issue at stake. We’re noting this under other business because the board dedicated part of a study session on 1/28/16 to learn about the renewal process.

Facilities Master Plan

The board heard an update on the facilities master planning process at the 1/28/16 study session. Expect to hear more about the updated facilities master plan in March.

Technology and Date Privacy Advisory Committee

The 1/28/16 study session included an update from the TDPAC.

2016 Legislative Season

The board has received a few legislative updates and is working on a TABOR statement. They’re also expected to take positions on upcoming legislation soon, likely in March, but some board members wanted more time to read through the full bill before voting one way or the other.

Board members also met with Jeffco legislators on 1/26/16, largely to discuss school funding issues, but also to talk with them about other proposals that affect education.

Budget Process & Board Ends

Since taking office, the board has had multiple presentations about the budget process as well as the community engagement process. In addition, they recently heard from the community directly at a series of community budget forums held Feb. 1-10.

Board members discussed what they’d heard at these forums at their 2/18/16 study session. Everyone noted that they heard lots of positive feedback about the Jeffco 20/20 Vision, which was good news. The community forums also focused on board ends and the budget.

Most heard a fair amount of dissatisfaction regarding board ends, with concern that the ends didn’t consider the whole child, weren’t sufficient, were unrealistic in some ways, relied on test scores too much, and were not specific enough in other ways. More project-based assessments, parent involvement (including diversified pathways for that involvement), more pathways for college and career planning, and more focus on special populations was mentioned.

Parent involvement in middle school and high school also was noted as an issue, as was the continued push to offer free full-day kindergarten throughout the district. The board is looking to schedule a retreat to discuss and revise those ends further sometime this spring.

When it came to the budget, many members noted that community members really wanted “both/and” (a feeling that’s familiar to most of us in these years of tight budgets). Technology needs, employee compensation, free full-day kindergarten and the needs of special populations were also prominent in those discussions.

Board Policies

There have been multiple long conversations about current board policies and wording. We’ve noted significant changes above. The rest are (to our eyes) minor, so we invite interested parties to look at the various revised documents from the 1/14, 2/4 and 2/18 meetings via BoardDocs.

The board’s next regular meeting will be March 3. We invite you to join us there or to watch via streaming.

Jeffco Proud!

9.21.15 Jeffco WNW Recall Fact Check (Part 3)

Recall The FactsIt’s time for our Jeffco Recall fact check, Part 3! As you know, there’s no shortage of topics, but this should provide a useful boost for chats with your neighbors, family, and colleagues.

 

Teacher Compensation

Why does it matter? Teacher compensation matters because our children are taught by teachers. We want to keep our great teachers here in Jeffco and be competitive to attract other great teachers. Compensation, respect and a good working environment are all essential to attract and retain great teachers, but even more importantly, because a teacher’s working environment is also our students’ working environment. Our students matter — and this issue is vital to student success.

CLAIM 1: WNW increased teacher compensation by 7 percent.

FACTS:

  • Compensation increases ≠ salary increases. Compensation refers to the entire package — health insurance, other insurance, retirement benefits and more. Salary refers to the amount of money in your paycheck.
  • This year, Jeffco teachers will receive salary increases of 0.5 percent to 1 percent, depending on whether they were rated as effective or highly effective.
  • WNW’s 7 percent is a compensation increase that includes additional costs for healthcare and retirement that make up the bulk of that number.
  • The Denver Public School Board gave their teachers a salary increase of 6 percent for 2015/16, on top of the additional costs for healthcare and retirement.
  • Boulder Valley teachers will also receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living salary increase, plus another 3 percent salary increase on top of that for 2015/16.
  • Bottom line: A salary increase of 1 percent — or less! — doesn’t stretch very far. The average Jeffco teacher will see about $40 more each month, and we’ve already lost hundreds of teachers who’ve left for better-paying positions in neighboring districts like Boulder and Denver.

CLAIM 2: Their new compensation plan rewards great teachers.

FACTS:

  • “Board member Ken Witt, who first proposed the pay system in a hand-drawn sketch and asked the staff to present the plan for a vote one month later….” (Yesenia Robles, Denver Post, July 28, 2015, emphasis ours).
  • The plan was introduced without warning and implemented with no discussion with JCEA or the district’s teachers through other means.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores, despite the fact that teachers had been told 2013/14 was a “hold harmless” year.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores despite the fact that the federal mediator specifically stated the evaluation in its current state lacked interrater reliability and should not be used for determining compensation.
  • The compensation plan had not been mentioned once by Witt or other board members during previous months of contract negotiations, impasse and mediation. 
  • Many teachers agreed that they appreciated the raise, but strongly disagreed with the process that shut them completely out of a conversation about what would make them feel rewarded.
  • Bottom line: A compensation plan that rewards great teachers needs to be planned months in advance and discussed with teachers, not introduced and approved with a vague sketch after the school year had already started.

CLAIM 3: WNW raised salaries of current teachers to match the starting salary schedule for new hires that had been developed after the new compensation plan was approved.

FACTS:

  • They did—but only after JCEA took them to court because the board majority refused to address the issue in their budget process.
  • Amy Weber, the district’s personnel director, warned the board that they would need to take steps to equalize pay between new hires and current Jeffco teachers after the board voted to raise starting salaries and approved a new salary schedule for new hires.
  • Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman also raised the issue and pushed to close the gap—but were ignored by Witt, Newkirk and Williams.
  • Superintendent Dan McMinimee and district staff proposed a solution that stayed within WNW’s budget guidelines and addressed the inequity.
  • At no point did Witt, Newkirk or Williams direct staff to equalize the gap between new hires and veteran teachers.
  • When McMinimee and staff presented their proposal to equalize pay for new hires and veteran Jeffco teachers, the board majority members said they would prefer to see a raise go to substitutes rather than address this issue for teachers who are in the classrooms every day.
  • Bottom line: WNW spent months refusing to address the issue despite requests from district staff and the two other board members. Waiting months to approve a common-sense solution — and even suggesting that it couldn’t be done at the meeting when they finally did approve it — is bad policy and bad governance. Claiming this as a WNW achievement is laughable.

CLAIM #4: The board fought to raise substitute compensation.

FACTS:

  • A raise for substitutes was part of the original district proposal.
  • It was dropped after McMinimee and his staff looked for ways to equalize the gap between new hires and stay within the numbers the board had allocated.
  • When Witt suggested that the district wouldn’t be able to equalize pay because the raises should go to substitutes instead, McMinimee jumped in with a solution that provided substitutes with some raise and kept salary schedules intact.
  • Bottom line: McMinimee — not WNW — provided the momentum on this issue from start to finish. There was that minute in one meeting this spring when all three said they prioritized giving substitutes a raise and would wait on equalizing pay (see above) when they learned the increase had been dropped, but McMinimee was the one found a way to solve both issues. The fact that WNW did not look for a way to compensate both, when both have been at a pay disadvantage for years, speaks volumes about the board majority’s priorities and goals. This is not an achievement they can claim.

What seems to be missing in the minds of WNW is the recognition that when they talk about putting money “into the classroom” that means paying teachers and others who serve as resources. Our teachers have been clear that increasing salary was one of their top priorities. Already, many have left to make as much as $7,000 to $10,000 more in other districts. As parents who have bills to pay and children to feed, we can hardly blame them for finding a job that pays better.

This highlights a serious problem. If the board majority doesn’t value our teachers, then our teachers will continue to leave in large numbers and will have a harder time attracting new great teachers to the district. Those who do come will lack mentors, as many of our experienced teachers will have gone elsewhere. Our students will experience constant churn as teacher turnover increases. Multiple studies show that high teacher turnover hurts student achievement (see here, here, here and here). It’s also expensive because more money goes into recruiting and training. Churn is not good for students, and we don’t want it in Jeffco.

So what can you do?

  • Spread the word! Please talk to your neighbors, your friends, and join us to walk Jeffco to let voters know about the recall. Some of us walked doors this weekend and it’s easy. You’ll be partnered with someone so you’re not out there on your own and the time flies past.
  • Donate! Americans for Prosperity have already sent two mailings in support of WNW at a cost of $35,000 – $45,000 each, according to our friends at Support Jeffco Kids. If you don’t have the cash to spare (we get it!), please join us to walk Jeffco and tell voters how negatively WNW is affecting our students and our schools.
    • Donate to Jeffco United Forward to support Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell who are running for the regular election seats, and to also support Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell who are running as replacement candidates.
    • Or donate to Jeffco United for Action, which supports the recall portion of this campaign.
  • Vote! The recall will be on the regular Nov. 3 general election ballot. Mark it on your calendar and tell everyone you know to be sure to vote. Elections matter!

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

It’s time for a clean slate!


 

9.1.15 Notes from the Aug. 27 BOE meeting

recallshirtHere’s an update from last Thursday’s Jeffco School Board meeting, just in time to be prepared for the Sept. 3 regular meeting this Thursday.

JCEA contract

The board did approve the JCEA contract on a 5-0 vote but the mood was anything but celebratory. Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman both expressed their disappointment in the contract’s short 10-month duration, with Dahlkemper stating she knew of no other organization that would spend six months and 150 hours to negotiate a contract that would only last for ten. She also pointed to the waste of taxpayer money (spent on a facilitator who would agree to stream and record the negotiations) that could have been funneled back to the classroom.

Fellman also said she thought everyone had better things to do than continually negotiating a contract when the process would need to start over again in five months. Nevertheless, both agreed that it was better to have a contract in place with appropriate protections for class size and more, which is why they voted for it.

Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, predictably, considered the contract a success. Why? Well for one, all three praised the factor that it was shorter. Seriously? Were people complaining about the number of pages? Did reading all the pages hurt their poor little heads? It’s hard to understand where the inherent victory is in shorter when they spend so much time saying student learning needs to be more rigorous.

Williams also cheered the fact that it had less pages (not that you’re surprised) and said the contract was easier to understand for every “layperson.” Huh? Again, the irony that a school board majority who harps on improving student achievement wants their own material dumbed down so they can understand it.

This 5-0 vote is not a victory but a challenge. Our teachers only have a contract through June 30, but if we want our great teachers to stay here in Jeffco, we need to turn things around in this district by November 3.

We need to get the word out about the recall and about the candidates we support for school board: Amanda Stevens and Ali Lassell to fill the seats that Fellman and Dahlkemper are leaving, and Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell to fill the recalled seats.

SPAC and board committees

A proposal to split the current Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) into two committees was presented by district staff. SPAC has been a WNW target for some time now, though the proposal presented on Thursday night seems to have support from SPAC members (besides the usual “minority report” character, even).

One member of SPAC wrote to JCSBW and shared that the request to modify the workload of SPAC came from last year’s SPAC members and not from the board. Among the concerns was that they often didn’t have the time they wanted to be able to adequately analyze and discuss the many issues on the agenda.  That member said she was pleased by the way the workload and emphasis would be divided between the two committees. Both will need to be monitored closely to prevent the majority of members from being board appointees.

The idea is this: the committee would be split into the District Accountability Committee (DAC) and would still be chaired and led by parent members. It would focus on the district’s Unified Improvement Plan and the many other accountability measures required by law. The second committee would the Strategic Planning Advisory Planning Committee, which would focus only on strategic planning, leaving the accountability work to the other committee.

The current parent chair and chair-elect, Julie Oxenford-O’Brien and Orin Levy, would chair the new DAC. The new SPAC would need to be organized, but district officials said they want to get the DAC organized first. Under the new reorganization, DAC would be a board committee, and SPAC would be a superintendent committee.

Witt immediately said that he wants to make sure all DAC members are approved by the board. Williams had her usual laundry list of demands about posting the scheduled meetings (which are already posted), streaming and recording all meetings, including a majority and minority report, reporting to the board on a regular basis, etc.

Williams also questioned one change in the bylaws that would allow the DAC to remove members who didn’t attend on a regular basis or who bullied or threatened other members. The co-chairs explained that they didn’t have a problem with dissenting opinions, but that members needed to express dissenting opinions in socially-appropriate ways (known to parents the world around as “use your inside voice, don’t interrupt and be polite”) — something that certain SPAC members have failed to do at recent meetings. Naturally, Witt also questioned the measure and said that expelling members will be subject to board approval.

Newkirk wanted to go for the nuclear option and start from scratch to create an entirely new DAC. Predictably, he had “worked up some language,” and even more predictably, he had not sent it to other board members before the meeting because well, why show your cards, right? (Oh right, transparency.) He proceeded to read his ideas, including the idea that once they choose new members, the new members should write all the DAC bylaws. Elliot pointed out that what Newkirk proposed was essentially what the district was doing, minus the bit about wiping out all the members and starting over.

Witt also jumped on Newkirk’s plan, arguing that a group of people doing all the same things didn’t sound new to him. McMinimee defended the district proposal. Newkirk responded by proposing that not only should they wipe the slate clean, the new DAC should start its work with only the six members required by law, despite McMinimee’s detailed discussion of how they had looked at comparable districts like Boulder, Cherry Creek and Douglas County, and all of those also had large DAC committees due to their size. Elliot pointed out that the six member requirement was a minimum for small districts who might otherwise have trouble meeting that number. And at this point Dahlkemper jumped in, asking what problem Newkirk was trying to solve.

That problem, of course, has been the elephant in the room during every WNW conversation about SPAC: they clearly want to replace some (or most!) of the current members with friends of theirs. No votes were taken, and the issue will be back on the Sept. 3 meeting, where you can use the public comment time to share your own opinions.

Facilities (the NW Arvada question)

It’s been a year since this board started talking about growing populations in north and central Jeffco, and yet most of those issues remain unaddressed. As you’ll remember from this spring, WNW refused to use Certificates of Participation to address the multiple growth issues in the county, instead choosing to keep $18 million from the classroom in order to build a school somewhere in the NW Arvada area. That led to another problem, which is that the district estimated they could build K-8 schools on two of the sites for $25 million, or a smaller K-6 school on a third site for slightly less.

Thursday’s presentation showed what the district could provide for $18 million, because it is possible (though unwise!) to build smaller schools at those sites under the $18 million budget constraint. The drawback, of course, is that current estimates show 6,000 to 7,000 new students needing seats in the NW Arvada area in the next six years. Building smaller schools on lots that could accommodate larger schools won’t save us in the long run. An argument could be made that those schools could be expanded down the road–but we’ll simply point to the situation at Sierra Elementary, also in NW Arvada–where parents and students have been waiting for just that for seven years, since the 2008 bond measure failed. The district has repeatedly said that Sierra needs to be a priority, but none of the three have discussed it at all.

The conversation in the board meeting was every bit as frustrating and idiotic as they’ve been in the past.

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer, told the board that his goal is to open a new facility in the fall of 2017, and the options he was presenting were based on what they could do with an $18 million budget.

The issue: a project shortfall of 6,784 seats in the next five to six years in the “northwest corridor” (the area north of I-70 and west of Kipling). This area includes the new housing developments in Candelas, Leyden Rock and Whisper Creek (approximately 4,884 seats), as well as a number of smaller projects where “farmettes” in Arvada are now being developed into neighborhoods (1,900 seats).

That number could grow higher because they are beginning to see some neighborhood turnover in the area, as older families move out and younger families replace them. Schools impacted include Fairmount, Mieklejohn, Mitchell, Sierra, Van Arsdale, and Westwood Elementary, along with Drake and Oberon Middle School and Ralston Valley High School.

The three potential sties are Table Rock, located at 58th and Hwy 93, or the Candelas site or Leyden Rock site, both located in their respective subdivisions. The district has recommended Table Rock as the best location to build first, and continued to do so in their presentation.

Here’s what the district can do with $18 million:

  • Table Rock – 625 students in a PK-8 school
  • Candelas – 625 students in a PK-8 school, with room for additional buildings in the future (Bell said they would master plan that site before building)
  • Leyden Rock – 450 students in a K-6 school, plus an additional 6 months of construction time due to the challenging topography of the site

Bell had two goals: how to maximize the number of seats the district could get with $18 million, and how to impact the most schools positively. Based on those goals, he recommended the Table Rock site, or secondarily, the Candelas site.

And this is where the conversation got interesting.

Witt asked if Bell was suggesting that they should never build on the Leyden Rock site. Bell said they would need to build on that site, but under the current budget constraints and with the number of students expected, he wanted to maximize how the money was spent. The cost to build the Table Rock or Candelas schools is about $28,800 per student, but the Leyden Rock school will run about $40,000 per student.

Witt suggested that goals that maximized the use of money and impacted the most schools were not “shared values.” (Got it? Using money effectively to benefit children is not a value Ken Witt shares.) But Witt continued to press for the Leyden Rock site. Why?

Why build a smaller school that will take an additional six months to construct when other sites will provide seats for more students more quickly?

Why focus on Leyden Rock? There doesn’t seem to be any data that would suggest Leyden Rock is growing faster than Candelas, or that Leyden Rock will have a noticeably larger number of students who need a school than any of the other areas.

We have many theories about Witt’s obsession with Leyden Rock, and suspect that there’s $$$ involved somehow. Some have suggested potential real estate investments or ties to campaign donors who have financial interests in Leyden Rock. Some have also suggested that perhaps a new Leyden Rock school would not become a neighborhood school but a charter. Either way, we smell a rat.

The issue will be on this Thursday’s agenda as well, and district staff are recommending they build on the Table Rock site. What are the odds the board agrees? We think the odds are better that Witt or Newkirk pulls something out of their pocket (language they “worked up” or whatever they drew on a napkin) to propose an entirely new plan, while Julie Williams continues to push for a building that can be printed by a 3D printer.

Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.

Other agenda items for this Thursday’s meeting

The regular school board meeting is this Thursday and starts at 5:30 pm in the Education Center board room (5th floor) with a study session about master’s degrees and compensation, as well as “draft policy language for study by Board members regarding codifying equal funding and compensation in Board policy.” Witt is supposedly writing that language, though as of Wednesday morning it had not been posted (or written? Perhaps he’s waiting for the muse?).

Also on the agenda: a presentation about college and career readiness with a focus on ACT, AP and algebra results, a monitoring report on school safety, and a student based budgeting update. If you can’t attend, you can watch the live stream here: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

We also encourage you to write the board about issues that concern you at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and to sign up to speak at public comment. Individual board member addresses are also listed on the Jeffco Schools website, though keep in mind that if you only write individual members, they are not required to respond nor do they have to include your message in the official board correspondence that is available for the public to read each month.

You have until 3:30 pm on Thursday to sign up to speak about agenda-related items on Part 1 or to sign up for non-agenda items on Part 2. Remember that you have, at most, 3 minutes for public comment (10 if a group), and that if there are enough speakers, your time will be reduced to 2 minutes or even 1 minute. Be prepared to only have one minute to speak (5 minutes if a group) because that is the most common scenario.

Keep watching and keep fighting, JeffCo!