Preview of School Board Meeting Preview for January 14, 2016

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream. Prior to the 5 pm meeting, students from Arvada High School’s orchestra kick off the evening with a 5 pm performance.

During the first hour of the meeting, the board will hear from the district Human Resources leadership team on employee compensation strategies, workforce issues and recent decisions. In looking at the team’s presentation, we are struck by the “We Are Jeffco” slide (slide 4) where it specifically calls attention to Jeffco’s 5,690 “effective educators.” We’re wondering why it isn’t just labeled “educators” or broken down into highly effective, partially effective, effective, etc.

Also, it’s interesting to see that total salary and benefits for Jeffco staff lags inflation by 7%! Slide 14 of the presentation is just heartbreaking — where classroom teacher turnover dropped in Boulder, Cherry Creek, DougCo and Littleton, there was a frightening spike in turnover in Jeffco. We’ve got to turn that trend around! District leadership asks a great question: “are we able to attract and retain quality staff?” Jeffco uses EPI (Educators Professional Inventory) for all licensed classroom positions. This teacher selection tool predicts an applicant’s potential impact on student achievement.

In addition, there’s a presentation about Jeffco’s Strategic Compensation pilot, but too little time for a full discussion. The pilot looked at whether additional compensation for educators makes a difference in student achievement and evaluated which supports for teachers and principals have the greatest impact on student achievement. The findings show students do better when they have better (higher rated) teachers.

Things that affect teacher quality include strong leaders/shared leadership, collaboration, professional learning communities, and rigorous evaluations with growth-focused feedback and associated professional development. The presentation doesn’t address the role of compensation.

We hope the board asks for more information about this piece. We think the key is offering a competitive wage and an innovative, collaborative, supportive work environment. The strategic compensation pilot has been extended for a year with six elementary schools and two middle schools serving as learning model schools.

Next up: honors and recognitions. Kudos to students from D’Evelyn, West Jeff Middle, Arvada West High, and staff from Jeffco’s North Area Athletic Complex.

We’re also thrilled a former practice has been reinstated: board members sharing information on board work and/or activities they participated in since the prior regular board meeting. We know the new board members have been very active since taking office and look forward to hearing their updates. (One caveat: please stick to the summary versions if the meeting has a long agenda.)

Correspondence since the last meeting includes many letters regarding Bradford Elementary’s change from K-6 to K-8. In addition, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee urges the board to address growth (Phase II of Sierra Elementary, K-8 at 58th Avenue and Hwy 93), plus overcrowding and aging facilities across the district.

To address the board about an agenda item, sign up here. One highlight on the consent agenda: Jeffco only lost one more teacher compared to resignations for the same period last year. We hope the tides are turning. Also, we appear to have a new Chief Communications Officer – Diana Wilson – officially starting Jan. 19. She holds an MBA from CU Denver and has worked for the past two years for the Westminster Fire Department. We very much look forward to seeing Jeffco Schools move forward with a fully-functioning communications department again.

The board will also discuss the process to complete Superintendent McMinimee’s summative evaluation for the 2014/2015 school year and goals for this school year (15/16), which will be based on the district goals (ends) set by the board. The board has discussed revisions to district goals, but have not arrived at a revised set of goals. When will this occur?

The first item in the discussion agenda is a resolution pertaining to the $15M underspend (largely from unfilled positions) that was going to be used by the prior board to fund the construction of the new school at Candelas. This resolution would authorize the return of that $15M from the Capital Reserve Fund to the General Fund, and this resolution acknowledges that the transfer will not result in an on-going deficit. But there doesn’t seem to be any further discussion or vote regarding what will be done with the $15M. Will it be allocated as recommended by staff, with $5M as a one-time compensation to staff and the remaining $10M to be held in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/17? Or are there other budget issues that weren’t addressed, including the request from Jeffco’s security department last fall, that might also benefit from these funds?

Next, there’s recommendation to construct a K-8 school instead of a K-6 school at the Candelas site. This was previously part of the discussion, but WNW chose to ignore it and approve only a K-6 for reasons we never fully understood. We’re happy to see a return to the district’s recommendation for a K-8 structure that will better address projected enrollment and make the most of Jeffco’s construction dollars on this project.

There’s also a recommendation to use of Certificates of Participation (COPs), or other means of financing, in order to move forward with the much-needed construction of Phase II of Sierra Elementary School, which will provide seating capacity for an additional 250 students.

Finally, the Board will discuss rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). Mr. McMinimee has previously recommended this action and we expect a vote to rejoin.

The final major agenda items are review of policies pertaining to asset protection (EL-7); the school calendar (EL-14); and governance process, ends, executive limitations, and board/staff linkage. Only two minutes are allotted for this last item so we don’t expect to hear the board discuss revisions to Ends (district goals), but we do expect to hear more about Ends in the near future.

Jeffco Proud!

Board Study Session (12/17/15) Preview: Starting to Tackle Big Issues

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, December 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Update

Detailed Facilities Analysis. The first two hours will focus on the state of Jeffco’s facilities, with a presentation from Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell and Executive Director of Facilities Tim Reed. Over the next five years, Jeffco will have nearly $800 million in facilities needs based on building condition and/or educational adequacy. In addition, enrollment in parts of the district is expected to increase significantly.

This letter from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee to the Board notes that “at least 7,200 more students are expected to enroll in the Candelas, Leyden Rock, West Woods and Solterra neighborhoods within 10 years.” The committee noted, “if you approve plans now, 1,050 additional seats can be ready for the fall of 2017 to serve the growing wave of new families. If you do not approve moving ahead, triage [use of lease arrangements for modular classrooms] and inefficient use of scarce funds will become the norm, further exacerbating the situation.” Look for Bell and Reed to propose several ideas (slide 48 of the presentation) for accommodating this growth. While the former Board acknowledged the need to look at asking the voters for a bond package to address facilities needs, the needs are pressing and cannot wait for an election.

Our hope is that the Board will consider a combination of Certificates of Participation (COPs) to address immediate needs coupled with asking the voters for a bond to address more long-term facilities needs. Although debt-funding isn’t typically preferred, COPs provide a reasonable alternative given a situation that has been left to go on for too long.

CMAS Results: Information and Looking Ahead. Next up, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Syna Morgan and Executive Director of Instructional Data and Educational Research & Design Dr. Carol Eaton will spend about an hour discussing CMAS results. The new test has five performance levels (rather than four, as in the previous tests): exceeded, met, approached, partially met, and did not yet meet. Met and Exceeded Expectations are considered “college and career ready” performance.

There remains some confusion about the difference between the “approached” and “partially met” levels. They’ll share data from Jeffco students by grade, and break out additional results for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) students, etc.

Overall, Jeffco performed better than the state in all subjects and in all grade levels, except in 8th grade math. The notable exception is a trend across the district of lower grade-level math performance beginning in 8th grade. Some reasoning for that may be that high performing students are not taking grade level math, but are instead taking higher level math courses and doing really well, especially in the 8th and 9th grades.

However, there is also a marked decrease in overall math performance beginning in 10th grade and continuing into 11th grade. This could be due to over-testing, and because students realize by high school that there are no rewards or consequences for test performance, coupled with their shifting focus to the ACT and SAT. They may just not be taking the tests seriously. We hope the Board will note this trend and ask District staff to look especially into this dip in 8th grade (and beyond) math performance and report back with root causes and thoughts moving forward to address this trend.

We also see that our Hispanic students, those on IEPs, those with FRL, and ELLs really struggle, and we hope the Board will look to and direct experienced staff to continue to investigate root causes and opportunities for improvement. Drs. Morgan and Eaton will also discuss results from the fall district assessments using the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) system, which replaced Acuity, and DIBELS, which is used in the primary grades.

Financing a New School in Arvada. Beginning at 8:30pm, the Board will revisit the $15 million underspend that the previous Board directed be used to build a school in the north end of the district. You’ll recall that district staff recommended that the school really needed to be a $25 million K-8 facility, but the previous Board chose instead to approve only enough for a too-small K-6.

Look for the new Board to consider a supplemental budget to amend some previous budgeting decisions. Both senior Staff and the conservative Financial Oversight Committee and the Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommend moving the $15 million back into the general fund, using COPs to fund the new school, and considering a one-time $5M pay increase (not to be added to base ongoing salary) for employees, and holding $10M in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/2017.

We wholeheartedly agree that operational funds should not be used to fund capital construction and that $15M should go back into the General Fund. We think putting some of the money aside into reserves is wise, and considering some kind of bonus for employees is admirable as the district needs to get employee pay back on track to be competitive with surrounding districts.

However, we are hearing across the district of the impacts to smaller schools by student-based budgeting (SBB). We would like to see the Board ask district staff first to seek input from schools as to their needs and pressure points that require immediate relief and support, address those items as much as possible, set aside a portion of the $15M to cover payments on COPs for initial years as much as possible, consider whether some of the funding should be used for the security budget increase requested earlier this fall, and then look at a bonus for staff and a contribution to reserves. The former Board did include a contribution into reserves in their budget, and district staff should be consulted to determine what additional contribution, if any, is recommended.

Community Engagement in the Budget Process. Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson will share community engagement plans for the upcoming budget development process. Due to low turnout in previous years, Ms. Askelson is not recommending community budget forums this round, but is recommending a survey that each school accountability committee (SAC) will be asked to complete and a district-wide survey marketed to all stakeholders. Both surveys would be hosted by an independent third party.

Because this board was elected on a platform of increasing community engagement, we hope that the board will reject the proposal to discontinue budget forums. The budget forums are a great opportunity for the community to engage. Those of us at JCSBW have participated in these budget forums and always see parents and community members at the forums that don’t attend board meetings, so these forums definitely reach the district’s constituents.

A better approach might be to ask that a question or questions pertaining to the usefulness and/or desire for budget forums be incorporated into the community survey so the Board has a clear understanding of the direction to go with regard to future budget forums. Perhaps TeleTown Halls could be implemented as a new way to reach district citizens.

Bradford K-8 Concerns. One thing we didn’t see was an agenda item to address concerns that have arisen over the decision to make Bradford a K-8 school, which the Board voted to approve at last week’s Board meeting. (We will write a separate post about that issue sometime in the next week or two.) We hope the Board will address the community’s concerns, and will commit to engaging the entire Chatfield articulation area when fleshing out the plan for the articulation area as a whole.

Judicious Use of Executive Sessions: When and Why? Lastly, we thought we’d weigh in on the concern expressed by some over the Board members meeting in Executive Session at the end of last week’s Board meeting after receiving a general overview of the Open Records and Open Meetings laws. We agree with many on all sides of the recent school board issues that executive sessions should be rare and judiciously used, and the reasoning behind executive session was explained. The overview was conducted in the public meeting (as we thought might be the case when we last posted), and specific questions for the attorneys was reserved for executive session. Keep in mind that some of the questions board members may have asked are, in fact, confidential. One of the examples of this would include questions about the Claire Davis law, which holds school districts responsible for acts of violence if a court determines that every security issue had not been taken. The answer to those questions would involve confidential information about Jeffco Schools security procedures, and can only be answered in executive session so as not to compromise our students.

We will continue watching any use of executive session over the long haul. And we’ll remind everyone that it is unusual for all five board members to be new to the board. Board members explained that they had personal and privileged matters to discuss with the attorneys that could not be shared with the public. For example, Brad Rupert is an attorney with clients, and had some questions about conflicts of interest.

Could board members have met individually with the lawyers outside of the board meeting? Yes, but meeting together was a more cost-effective and efficient use of everyone’s time and the district’s funds, and meeting individually would still be behind closed doors anyhow. We stand by the Board’s decision to discuss these matters in private with legal counsel. We don’t expect this Board to misuse their ability to meet in executive session, and view this concern to be unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

Again, this meeting is a study session, with no votes planned, and should wrap up by 10pm on Thursday.

Jeffco Proud!

 

9.11.15 Recall will be on November ballot & WNW surprises

If you attended or watched the Sept. 3 Jeffco School Board meeting, you may have heard something you never expected to hear: the three board majority members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have said they do not support raising taxes for schools, are thinking about raising your taxes.

We know!

contortionist

Here’s how that played out. Now a year later, the board majority had (yet another) discussion about where to build a school in the northwest Jeffco corridor. They have been considering three sites: Table Rock (Hwy 93 and 58th Ave), Leyden Rock or Candelas, and at the last meeting Witt was pushing pretty heavily for Leyden Rock, despite the reality that a school built at that site will seat less kids and take longer to build. The Sept. 3 meeting was a general meeting, so parents from NW Arvada came to comment, with some strongly advocating for Leyden Rock because, they argued, they’re growing faster than Candelas.

Newkirk opened the Sept. 3 discussion with a long, meandering and pointless preamble about how as elected officials they didn’t need to accept district recommendations. A few minutes later, he finally got to the point and made a motion for the district to build on the Leyden Rock site and for staff to begin soliciting bids to build a school with 625 seats in 24 months at that location.

Reality check: That’s not possible, at least not with the paltry $18 million the district designated for a school. Leyden Rock has some steep slopes that make designing and constructing a school more complex. Retaining walls and a lot of earth moving will be necessary in order to build, and the school will need a couple of building pads and at least one elevator. All in all, that makes for a construction premium of $3.5 million according to estimates, which leaves only $14.5 million for the school building itself. Between the limited budget and topography, Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell and Facilities Director Tim Reed estimate they will only be able to build a 450-seat school and it will take six months longer than construction at the other two sites.

Newkirk later asked if the issue was that companies wouldn’t make such a low bid, but Superintendent McMinimee pointed out that we are building schools to last. Remember the adage about fast, good, and cheap? You can only pick two.

The discussion was lengthy and painful, so I’ll skip to the highlights.

Highlight 1: McMinimee went to bat for his staff, and our hat is off to him for taking a stand. After Newkirk’s grandstanding and motion, McMinimee told the board he felt compelled to respond, and he defended his staff’s recommendations and estimates. He pointed out that the topic had been on the table for more than a year and that their original recommendation was to use Certificates of Participation to build a school and finish phase II at Sierra Elementary to relieve some of the pressure on surrounding schools.

McMinimee also noted that Jeffco was in the process of adding temporary buildings to West Woods Elementary this year, and that the growth issue is not only north of 82nd Avenue. If you missed it, you can catch McMinimee’s comments in the meeting video. You’ll want to scroll to about 2:52:45 in the video which is about where his comments begin.

Jill Fellman eventually called for the board to put Certificates of Participation back on on the table, but it was met with the usual argument from Williams that the issue should be put to a vote of the people. The option of a bond came up, and Newkirk said he would be “very open” to that possibility.

Witt did some grandstanding and claimed that the 2012 bond measure should have been larger and included money to build new schools, which was ridiculous considering that the economy still was weak in 2012 and more to the point: he didn’t even support the very small amount that was needed to keep our students warm, safe and dry and has been trying to take that money and use it elsewhere since he was elected.

Highlight 2: Dahlkemper made the motion to direct staff to present a comprehensive bond scenario for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot, and the motion passed 5-0.

Then there was another painful discussion about whether the district should build the K-8 recommended by the district at Candelas, or just a K-6 because Witt thinks that’s the real growth issue (or something). It was another conversation that was quite confusing, not least because it takes two years to build a school and children will age toward middle school during that time. Finally they agreed to push off the decision about grade configuration until the next meeting, which provides staff some time to put together a presentation about the benefits of each scenario.

School Safety

School safety was another topic, largely because the district’s safety office is stretched to the limit. Suicide assessments are up 600 percent over the last two years. There were also 281 threats last year, which is a 100 percent increase. Safe2Tell fielded more than 700 reports in which Jeffco students reported a friend in crisis requiring immediate help, and 44,091 calls for assistance were made from schools to security asking for help.

Jeffco has 11 patrol officers and 3 management team members to respond to calls. Our law enforcement agencies also provide School Resource Officers–36 of them–at no charge to the district. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the $1.3 million budget they have is not sufficient given the increase in threats and suicide assessments. They need more money.

School Based Budgeting (SBB)

There was a brief report on school based budgeting. The short version is that they are hearing positive comments from principals who have more flexibility to provide resources based on student needs. They also looked at the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

Here’s the point to remember: the number of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten appears to have increased, but the number of schools offering free full-day kindergarten has decreased from 40 to 32. We’ll know more after the district has an official count later this fall.

Recall to be on the Nov. 3 ballot!

Jeffco United for Action received great news last week after the Jeffco County Clerk said she’s confident the recall can be part of the November general election ballot. There are a few hurdles remaining, but the news is really good. For the full story, check out Chalkbeat’s analysis here.

Now It’s Your Turn

With only a few weeks until the mail-in ballots arrive, we all need to pitch in and help. You can:

https://www.facebook.com/Amanda-for-Jeffco-Schools-604780212991553/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/Ali-Lasell-for-Jeffco-421746884684406/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/bradforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/susanforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ronforjeffcokids

  • Walk doors with Jeffco United to educate Jeffco voters about why we need to recall Witt, Newkirk and Williams. You can sign up to walk this Saturday during one of the morning, afternoon or evening shifts, or at any of the multiple other days in September and October.
  • Post a yard sign supporting the recall. Information about getting a sign is posted on their Facebook page.

We need to get the word out and that takes all of us. Any little bit helps, so walking just one shift, donating another $5 or $10 to a campaign, and spreading the word. We don’t want another two years without the respect, accountability and transparency that Jeffco deserves. Our students, our schools and all of us deserve better. Let’s make sure everyone knows it and votes to recall WNW on Nov. 3.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!