Guest Post: Jeffco Schools Budget Cut Recommendations

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Today we feature a guest post by one our readers, Bob Greenawalt, a Jeffco parent, taxpayer, and community member, regarding some of the Jeffco Schools budget cuts recommended by the district. Our five Jeffco School Board members are preparing to vote on these recommendations on Thursday and need your input. Greenawalt highlights some of the potential cuts in his post.

On January 26, 2017 the Superintendent’s Cabinet, among other things, recommended:

  • Eliminating all (30) social and emotional learning specialists and a coordinator.
  • Eliminating all (20) literacy interventionists.
  • Eliminating four of 16 resource teachers who help support teachers of students determined to be gifted and talented.
  • Cut the 2 GT teachers who run the District’s only HS GT program at Wheat Ridge.

Let’s hope that the Board was as surprised by these recommendations as I was.

By all indications, these programs are successful and working to help our kids. Schools nationwide are investing in social emotional work, which helps students develop skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts and make responsible decisions. District research shows that the literacy interventionists are “closing the gap for our most highly impacted populations.” The targeted cut of the 2 GT teachers includes a 2017 Colorado Teacher of the Year Finalist.

All of these successful programs were designed to help students on the margins. It makes me wonder what message the Superintendent and his Cabinet is sending to teachers, students and the community with these recommendations?

The Board has an opportunity to show the community that it really does care about kids and their education by rejecting these recommendations and finding other ways to fund their desired compensation investment of $25M.

If the Board accepts these recommendations, we will be left questioning their priorities and reasoning, and an at-risk population will be deprived of vital resources.

The School Board needs to remember its responsibility to put the kids first!

We at JCSBW want add that the issues with compensation are real and that $25 million would go a long way toward making salaries in Jeffco Schools competitive with our neighboring districts. However, the board has not yet landed on a specific plan for compensation and the cuts district staff recommended surprised everyone at the Jan. 26 meeting.

District staff recommended the $25 million number. Given that District staff were then only able to present a little over $20 million in recommended cuts, we don’t expect to see anything close to $25 million go toward compensation this year. We also know board members were not a proponent of closing any schools for the 2017-18 school year, or accelerating any timelines regarding the move toward K-5, 6-8 configurations. 

Board members have placed a high priority on teacher compensation because of how important having a great teacher in every classroom is to student success. Jeffco risks losing some of its best educators.

We pointed out recently that 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 — compensation has gone DOWN. In neighboring districts, that teacher can earn $57,733. Are those teachers going to head to Boulder or Cherry Creek to earn nearly $8,000 more per year? Sure — especially if they have kids headed to college. It’s a real issue.

However, some of the recommended cuts, such as those mentioned above and the recommendation to close five schools, will have a major impact on our Jeffco students and communities.

The question for board members will be how to balance keeping good teachers in Jeffco while also continuing to invest in educational innovations that we know help Jeffco students achieve.

If you can’t make the meeting tomorrow, please watch the live stream at this link: https://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

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!

 

5.5.16 FMP & BOE Meeting Preview

Before we get into the preview of Thursday’s BOE regular meeting, we would like to remind you of the importance of reviewing the district’s Facilities Master Plan and then sharing your comments with the board. You can email the board (board@jeffco.k12.co.us), attend one of the 10 remaining community meetings on the FMP to provide your input, participate in a survey online to share your thoughts and/or sign up here to speak to the board at Thursday’s BOE meeting during public comment.

Visit the Jeffco Schools website for more information about the FMP, including Frequently Asked Questions, information on funding challenges, and info on potential funding options.

Your Childs Education

Now, onto the upcoming BOE meeting. The study session begins at 5 pm (note the change: this study session starts a bit earlier than the usual 5:30 pm) a meeting between board members and the City of Edgewater’s mayor and city council members to discuss items of mutual interest. We recognize and appreciate the effort of this board to meet with our local officials to strengthen the partnership between our communities and our schools!

The regular board meeting begins at 6:30 pm.Here’s the link to watch the meeting online:  http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Honors, Recognition and School Reports

The board will honor Manning School student Ellie Schwiker for her first place award in the Gilder Lehrman Institute and Civil War Roundtable of New York 2016 national Civil War Research Essay Contest! You can read her essay here.

That’s followed by individual member school reports and public comment. Sign up here to address the board during public comment part 1, but remember that this part is reserved only for items on the agenda. If you want to speak on other items, sign up for public comment part 2.

The board will also recognize Jeffco Schools’ Wrestling State Champions from Pomona High School, Lakewood High School and Jefferson High School; and Golden High School and Bear Creek High Schools’ Debate State Champions!

Columbine High School soccer coach, Peter Horvath, will be recognized for being inducted into the 53rd class of CO High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and Ken Caryl Middle School’s principal, Patrick Sandos, will be recognized for his “unanimous and enthusiastic endorsement” for the Distinguished Service Award from the CO Association of School Executive (CASE).

Last, but certainly not least, Green Mountain High School principal Colleen Owens has been named 2016 Colorado High School Principal of the Year by CASE!

Congratulations to all of Jeffco’s amazing students and staff!

Proposed 2016/2017 Budget

After board reports and public comment, district staff will present the 2016/2017 Proposed Budget to the board. You can view their presentation and the proposed budget, and you can sign up to address the board about the budget here. This is a separate public comment period that will occur after the the proposed budget is presented to the board.

Note that the budget will be adopted at the next regular BOE meeting on June 2nd. Current projections suggest that the negative factor remains unchanged, meaning that school districts across the state are receiving $855 million less than they should be receiving under a fully-funded school finance formula.

Consent Agenda

You can review the Consent Agenda items here. Among other items, the consent agenda includes monitoring reports on EL-2, EL-3, EL-4 and EL-10. EL-2 and EL-10, specifically, will be discussed later on in the meeting under agenda item 9.0.

A couple of items are especially noteworthy:

There is a request to change the name of the current Stein Elementary at O’Connell (formerly McConnell Middle School) to Emory Elementary School. The proposal also suggests changing the name of the Rose Stein Elementary campus (currently closed for construction) to Rose Stein International Elementary School when it reopens in Fall 2017. Numerous forums and opportunities for community input were made before proposing these name changes.

In separate news, this time last year the district saw 4 administrator resignation, 5 teacher resignations and 25 classified staff resignations. This year, we have 1 administrator resignation, 2 teacher resignations and 15 classified staff resignations. We are hoping to see this trend continue into the summer. We won’t see the numbers for those who resign this summer until the first regular meeting in September, but we are hearing a renewed trust in the BOE. The big concern remains whether Jeffco can be competitive enough with surrounding districts to attract and retain the best and the brightest!

Third Quarter Financial Report

The final item of Thursday’s agenda that we’d like to draw your attention to is the 3rd Quarter Financial Report. You can review the presentation and the report.

Graduation Season

Congratulations to all students in the Class of 2016! Look for School Board members and other District staff at numerous graduation ceremonies over the next few weeks.

JeffCo Proud!

5.2.16 Jeffco Schools Facilities Master Plan Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JeffCo Proud!

 

 

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.

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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!