9/3: Student Based Budgeting – The Devil is in the Detail

devil_in_detailsIn the Budget Development Presentation tomorrow night (Agenda item 6.01), the District staff will cover in slides a concept we first heard about at the August 23rd Board Study Session:  Student Based Budgeting (SBB).

As of this writing (the evening of 9/2), that part of the presentation is still “Under Construction”.

So we at JeffCo School Board Watch have done some quick research for you.  Below is what we have learned in the last few days about Student Based Budgeting or SBB.  Hopefully, this will help your understanding of the budget presentation tomorrow night, as well as prompt some good questions.

We used as a starting point the SBB-guide.pdf published by Educational Resource Services (ERS). After going through the guide and other sources, here is what SBB is a nutshell (okay – maybe a coconut shell):

Student Based Budgeting

Instead of districts using funding to acquire, develop, or support resources that then are apportioned out to schools and programs, funds are instead attached to individual students as much as possible.  The school that a student attends becomes the recipient of the amount of funds that individual student has been assigned.  While there is a base amount of funding assigned to each student, additional funds are allocated to each student according to objectively measurable needs or conditions.

The principals of each school then take the funds their students have brought with them and are basically free to use them to put together the resources, teachers, programs, and/or facilities the principal feels is necessary to achieve the student performance desired.

ERS says there are several advantages to this system, including, equity, flexibility, and transparency.  It is supposed to reduce the District overhead, which in theory frees up more funds, and allows each principal to customize his or her school as they see fit to meet the needs of the schools students.

This sounds wonderful, simple, easy, and logical!  So why isn’t everyone doing already?

Because the devil is in the details!

For SBB to be implemented and actually produce the results ERS promises requires many conditions to be just right.  For sake of clarity and brevity, we are looking at only the top items of the main challenges.  Everything we have read about SBB says the deeper you get into it, the more complicated it gets and the more issues that need resolution.

Challenge #1 – Funding Sources.  

Much of a school districts expenditures are non-discretionary.

  1. Not all funding sources can be broken into per student expenditures.  For example, money JeffCo receives from 3B is legally obligated to be used only on the repairs and maintenance of existing school buildings.  The same issue confronts other funding sources.  Grants are often given to schools, or to district programs.  State funding is often tied to specific programs.  Federal funding has to be spent in accordance with Federal guidelines or the money is lost.  In short, you just cannot take the entire budget of JeffCo, divide it by the number of students and end up with your per student funds.  Much of the money simply cannot legally be spent that way.
  2. Funding from outside sources, even when student-oriented, generally has specific rules on the type of student that the funds can be spent on.  A grant from an organization to the District to help GT students cannot be repurposed and spread to non-GT students.
  3. Many grants require some form of matching funds from the District or schools.  This further muddies the water of the per student fund amount.

Challenge #2 – Determining the Base Amount of per student and then the additional amounts allocated for specific needs or conditions.

  1. Just identifying the number of different conditions and needs will be an enormous task.  In addition to the obvious ones such as Special Ed, At-Risk, GT, ELL, etc., there are less obvious including traveling distance (more rural students need more transportation dollars), Elective choices, special program selection such as AP, IB, or Technical training.  There are many, many more.
  2. Determining the amount each condition and need will be allocated. Think the fighting between regular public schools and charter schools is fierce?  How about when GT parents square off with Special Ed?  Or Sports participants with Drama?  School nurses vs. custodians? Elective participants vying with music?  Movie barroom brawls will seem tame by comparison.

Challenge #3 – Additional Skills needed by Principals and District staff

  1. Most principals are not currently experienced or trained in the kind of decisions this would demand. Currently, principals are focused primarily on hiring, training, and retaining good teachers, staying within their budget, interfacing with the parents, community, and district (and many, many, other things).  They are not trained to issue RFPs for contract services, manage contractors, evaluate building maintenance risks vs. benefits, building and implementing marketing plans, project managing software projects, etc., all things this approach demands.
  2. An additional class of District employee would be required:  Project Managers.  This would increase District overhead instead of reducing it.
  3. A completely new and different budgeting approach and software would be required.  The software would most likely demand a high level of customization, increasing it’s up front and continuing costs (it becomes expensive to modify).

Challenge #4 – Political ramifications

  1. What happens when this results in a school currently getting lots of funding sees it diverted to a school that has been underfunded?  I.e., how happy will D’Evelyn parents be if they see D’Evelyn’s budget drop while Jefferson High’s goes up?  Does any parent think that their school is overfunded?
  2. For this to be truly effective and equitable, charter schools will also have to be funded this way.  Initially, charter school advocates will cheer this approach.  But will they keep cheering when they see their funding drop in order to help an elementary school in Edgewater that has 80% of the kids on free or reduced lunches and 50% of them in ELL?  PTAs will get involved.  Local politicians trying to keep funding for their children’s schools.  This system, if done right, will see schools with highly active PTAs and awesome fundraisers lose funding to schools that do not have those advantages.  How well will that go over?

Challenge #5 – District Resources vs. Outsourcing vs. Conflicts of Interest

  1. Individual schools may make choices that optimize results for them, but worsen the results for everyone else.  For example, a Principal in a relatively new elementary school chooses to outsource janitorial services instead of using classified employees because he or she can save some money.  If enough schools do this, then custodial services will effectively be eliminated as a District capability, resulting in all schools having to contract out for janitorial services.  This will hurt older, less well maintained schools who will now have to pay more for those services.  This is a lesson of economics:  optimizing each segment of a system to it’s own maximum efficiency results in an over lower efficiency for the entire system.  The system is also more fragile, with breakdowns having larger ramifications.
  2. If WiFi needs to be upgraded across the District, instead of having one RFP, one vendor, and one contract to oversee, each school will need to issue it’s own RFP, select it’s own vendor, and oversee the work itself.  And what if a principal decides that his or her school needs another ELL teacher more than improved WiFi….but the District is penalized if all their schools do not meet the new data security standards?
  3. With each principal responsible for making all the decisions, the opportunity to benefit friends or relatives goes up…unless there is a dramatic increase in District staff to handle the increased contract review and monitoring that SBB would involve.  It does not even have to be nefarious.  It could simply start out as a brother-in-law offering the principal a really good deal.

All of this goes back to Challenge #3, the need for principals to acquire an entirely new set of skills and training.

Challenge #6 – Organizational skills and conditions to carry this out.

  1. The goals of Student Based Budgeting is to improve student performance by making it more likely resources go where they are most needed.  This is in contrast to the “every child gets the same amount of money spent on him or her as every other child” mentality.  Are the various stakeholder groups, especially charter school parents, willing to see more money going to poor children in poor neighborhoods than to their own schools and children?
  2. Transparency is a pre-requisite.  This system relies on the trust of all those involved.  That trust is built by having open discussions and accounting, plus consensus on how much additional funds each objective measurement should receive.
  3. Page 9 of the guide: SBB may be wrong for you if: ‘Per-pupil funding levels are below average vs. peer districts and/or falling to the point where even with added school-level flexibility, resources are so scarce that SBB is unlikely to be a transformational lever.’”
  4. The demands of Federal and State laws will need to allow for wide variance in how schools are organized and perform within a District (something that other Districts in Colorado are now having a problem with).  With every school principal basically able to go his or her own way, district-wide results will increase their variability.
  5. High levels of trust, and skill are required to make the change.  This is akin to converting an one old cargo ship into a series of medium and small size motorized speedboats, and having it done while the ship is sailing from port to port.  Doing it without having the ship sink (the District fall into chaos) or cargo fall overboard (students not getting what they need due to confusion and partial implementation) will be extremely difficult.

Questions that should be asked RIGHT NOW!

1) How much in discretionary funds would be freed up by this process that could be     reallocated to produce greater student achievement? In a school district that has a low funding environment with many mandated programs (via state and fed), how creative/innovative could the district actually be if there aren’t many discretionary dollars available? How many resources are legally locked in their allocation and spending?

2) Are we going to eliminate whole programs to free up dollars? If so, what would they be? Are cheaper programs better? Is this politically feasible, permissible or even smart?

3) This program is designed to improve student achievement by committing more resources to students and schools that need it and fewer resources to students and schools that do not.  Is the current Board willing to see allocations works that way?  Charter Schools will have to be included in this, otherwise a social/economic class system of education would be created.

4) How can the District and its stakeholders avoid having a political civil war trying to decide how much a ELL student gets, an autistic child, a GT child? This system asks us to apply an amount to each need to allocate it around the district.  How do we fairly decide what amount each need gets?

5) If we go with this method, are our principals ready to handle this new responsibility? Are they well trained and ready with new ideas of how to implement? Principal must have a vision. They are going to be tasked with new skills.  Do they even have the time to learn and do all of this and keep up on what is already demanded of them?

6)The SBB Guide says     that disadvantaged schools may get more funding than they do now, while advantaged schools may get less. How will the District handle the unhappy parents, teachers, and students of the schools that see a reduction in funding?

7) ERS emphasized that transparency and trust is essential in this type of transformation. How can we be assured that WNW will give the public the transparency required, given their past performance?

8) Collaboration is also recommended. This flies in the face of WNW’s competition complex.  How will WNW overcome this? competition?

9) A clear and shared vision must be exist for the District.  WNW has not shared their vision, other than platitudes that sound good but specify little.  How can WNW reassure us of their vision if they do not share it?

10) A major limiting factor is the district’s capacity for change.  WNW is already embarked on dramatic changes.  How much change can a district withstand in 4 years before it disintegrates?

11) A lot more data is needed to implement this. Are our IT systems ready?  Won’t this require a big spike in IT spending?

12) If we cannot trust WNW on why the oppose Free, Full-Day Kindergarten, how can we trust them with a change this radical?

Keep researching, keep thinking, keep questioning, and

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!

9/2 – The “Truthiness” of WNW and Brad Miller

Prescription for WNW PoisoningThis Thursday night, Brad Miller’s $90k/year part-time contract with the WNW- controlled Board will finally get some semblance of a public airing.  Mind you this is nine months after Witt said the contract could be discussed any time.  He then tried to prevent the subject from ever coming up again.

Before you go to the meeting and have to listen to WNW+M²’s (Miller and McMinimee) version of “Truthiness”, we thought it would be good idea to review the audio recordings of the January 16th Board Meeting and find out what the recording equipment thought had been said that night.

We downloaded the all the audio recordings of the January 16th meeting and listened to two sections, Agenda Item 7.05 (Administrative Appointments) on hiring a replacement for Alan Taggart and Agenda Item 10 (Develop Next Agenda) when Ms. Fellman made a motion to include in the next regular Board meeting a review of the terms of Brad Miller’s contract.

We invite you to listen to the two clips we excerpted from from the original audio recordings.  The clips are the entire discussions for both items.  But we have one request – listen to the Agenda 10 discussion before you listen to the Agenda 7.05 discussion.  Warning: They are long, especially 7.05…

Agenda 10 Discussion about Miller’s Contract

 

Agenda 7.05 Discussion about Alan Taggart’s replacement

Did you catch the contradiction?  In the Agenda 10 discussion about Mr. Miller’s contract, Newkirk said the only reason that Miller’s contract approval was “accelerated” was because Alan Taggart was retiring and the position of District Counsel was too important to leave vacant, so Miller was needed to cover the gap.  Then both he and Witt threatened to force a review of every professional services contract for the previous three years if this one contract, less than 30 days old, was opened up for discussion.

But in the Agenda 7.05 discussion on replacing Alan Taggart, first Williams, then Witt, and then Newkirk all say that the vacancy is not that important. There is no need to rush because Mr. Branum of Caplan & Earnest is there to provide legal counsel!

Following their alleged logic, Miller was hired to quickly fill a gap that did not exist because there was already legal counsel for the District?

What were they so afraid of that they would threaten to cripple the District Office with needless work if this contract was going to be talked about.  Does the tactic sound familiar?

Unless you believe in Steven Colbert’s “Truthiness”, all of this only makes sense if you see WNW’s arguments as a smoke screen for what they really wanted; Brad Miller working for them at JeffCo taxpayer expense ($60,000 so far).

Why do they need Brad Miller?  What does he do that Mr. Branum cannot or does not?  Those are questions WNW have never answered even partially.

But why was WNW been so adamant to hire him, so sneaky in the way they did it, and so ruthless in stopping any question about him?

We have never questioned the fact that this is a sweetheart deal for Miller. He gets paid the moment he leaves his house in Colorado Springs both time and mileage. According to Google Maps, that would come out to $406.65 per visit.  But what do WNW get out it?

Maybe a back-channel to avoid technical violation of Colorado’s Open Meetings law? Perhaps advice given only to them and not to Dahlkemper and Fellman on how to get the one candidate they really wanted for Superintendent through the selection process? Someone who can try a legal strong-arm tactic on the other two Board Members when they do not fall in line?  Or maybe a protected channel via which WNW’s backers issue their marching orders to Witt?

One thing we do know for sure.  He does NOT represent the JeffCo District, Staff, Students, Voters, or Taxpayers.  His contract says he reports only to the President of the Board.  And Witt is not sharing.

Oh, and one more thing.  Here is a screen shot of JeffCo job listing that closed today.  It was opened on July 1st, McMinimee’s first day:

Job Ad For JeffCo Legal Counsel

Be thinking about all this, and what questions you might have for the Board.  It is not too late to sign up to speak on Brad Miller.  Just click here and put down Agenda Item 1.03 Board Attorney as the subject.  If you cannot attend, then send an email at board@jeffco.k12.co.us.  And of course,

Keep Fighting, Jeffco!


 

9/1: Monday Do List & Thursday Prep

WNW Warning SignWe hope you are having a great Labor Day Weekend.  If you would like to know more about the history of this holiday, Wikipedia’s article is great place to start.  In our case, we should definitely recognize, honor and celebrate the labor of our teachers, district staff, classified workers, volunteers, and everyone else who has worked hard to make JeffCo the state’s best school district.

Blog nitty-gritty stuff:  With the summer break over, our posting schedule is going to shift a bit.  With the Board meetings occurring primarily on Thursdays, with some Saturdays and Tuesdays thrown in, the regular Monday-Wednesday-Saturday routine will go away.  We will still try to have a weekly “do list”, but it may come on Tuesdays, as it did last week.  We will try to have reviews of a Board meetings posted within two days of the meeting, but this will probably slip sometimes.  Likewise, we will work hard to have a pre-meeting brief out at least two days prior to a meeting (earlier when we can).  Saturday posts maybe the reflective type or maybe a review of a meeting the previous Thursday.  Our guiding principle will always be the most important and timely news first.  We do have some new ideas we will be trying out and we look forward to your feedback on them.

Monday Do List:

  1. Read the Thursday Prep notes below, then sign up to speak.
  2. Write an email to the Board, asking them to explain something important to you. (board@jeffco.k12.co.us)
  3. Tell at least three friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, or strangers about what is going on and try to get them to come to a Board meeting (just one time is generally enough for people to see why WNW needs to be opposed).
  4. Put up a sign in car or window, letting people know that you oppose WNW.
  5. Keep Fighting!

Thursday Meeting Prep:

Note:  In an effort to make the posts shorter, we are going to edit down to key information only.  We will include a link to BoardDocs site as well as one to the agenda in a form suitable for printing.

BOE Meeting 2014-08-28 (Thursday night)
Date and Time:  Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
Education Center, 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO

Key Agenda Items (printable version here)

Subject: 1.02 Proposed Model on Compensation
PRESENTING STAFF:
Amy Weber, Chief Human Resources Officer, Lorie Gillis, Chief Financial Officer, Jim Branum, District Legal Counsel
PURPOSE:  To further discuss Board of Education requested information regarding funding of the teacher compensation proposal presented to the Board at its meeting on August 28, 2014.
BACKGROUND: On August 28, 2014, the Board of Education discussed a teacher compensation model changing the method by which teachers advance in salary, and including a component to raise starting teacher salaries.

As the same meeting, the Board adopted a resolution directing staff to provide information regarding funding this alternative teacher compensation proposal as presented and discussed by the Board.

The Board request staff information be presented in the September 4, 2014, work session, if available.

File Attachments: KW comp2014-15 diagram.pdf (28 KB);  KW comp2014 7 points.pdf (43 KB)

Our Comments: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”  This proposal is remarkably sophisticated for something Witt just ‘thought of’.  This makes us very wary.  Ignore the graph.  It is not based on any actual numbers and is simply a marketing gimmick to make you think something really good has been proposed.

There are at least three reasons we can think of that make this a very dangerous proposal:  

  1. It violates the spirit of the agreement between the District and JCEA back in 2012.  JCEA was promised a pay raise without any connection to any evaluations.  This proposal in effect breaks the written verbal contract between the District and the District’s teachers by retroactively tying any pay raise to the evaluations, which are flawed.  
  2. The idea of capping salaries to the ‘market rate’ is badly exposed to mischief and manipulation.  First, it does not define what the ‘market rate’ even means.  Is it the maximum amount that another district will pay?  If so, which district?  Is it the average amount several districts pay for similar experience?  If so, which districts?  There are not many in Colorado with which JeffCo can honestly be compared.  Cost of living alone makes this kind of comparison a faulty equivalence.  
  3. Finally, the whole idea of capping regular salary says to the top teachers, “you need to go elsewhere for adequate pay that will benefit you in retirement, because we will never pay you more than average.

For someone who boasts about running big businesses, Witt has forgotten a cardinal rule:  do not limit the compensation of those who make you successful.  This is a classic mistake IBM made one time.  It limited how much commission a sales person could get, regardless of the amount of sales they generated.  They hemorrhaged their best sales people as a result.

If Jeffco wants to attract and keep top teachers, then it must be willing to pay top salaries, not ‘market rate’.

In short, an analysis of this proposal reveals it to be one that attracts young, inexperienced teachers, and pushes hard for older, experienced ones to leave. That is a recipe for mediocrity.

1.03 Board Attorney Work
PRESENTING STAFF:
Brad A. Miller, board attorney; Dan M. McMinimee, superintendent
PURPOSE: For the Board of Education to discuss the scope of work for the board attorney and past eight months of work with the Board of Education.
BACKGROUND: The Board of Education hired Mr. Miller, of theLaw Office of Brad A. Miller, after a vote of the Board onDecember 12, 2013.  The Board has received counsel from Mr. Miller for the last eight months and in April a request was made to schedule time with the Board to review the scope of work with the board attorney.

Our Comments: So Dahlkemper and Fellman at last get their review of Miller and his responsibilities…eight months and $60,000 (minimum) later.

There two things about this that we do not like.  First, the issue is brought up in the Study/Dialogue section of the agenda.  That means no action should be taken, just ‘talk’.  Second, the presentation is being made by McMinimee & Miller.  On this point, why is McMinimee, who is not a member of the Board presenting on Miller’s work as the Board’s attorney? Miller does not work for McMinimee. McMinimee is not responsible for Miller’s conduct, scope of work, billing time, nor work product.  Strictly speaking, Miller should not say anything to McMinimee without a specific instruction from the Board in the form of a voted upon and recorded motion…which has not happened to our knowledge.  This does not even address the fact that McMinimee has only been working for the District for two months, so he is in no position to render even a casual opinion as to Miller’s work prior to July 2014.

This is another example of Witt & Miller trying to be clever instead of smart. They think they can slide all of this by us while minimizing Dahlkemper and Fellman’s opportunities to point out how outrageous the whole contract is.  We trust that Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman will once again rise to the occasion and point out the foolishness of that hope.

4.02 Public Comment (Agenda Related)
Sign up online here to speak to the Board of Education.  (will be available 10 am Monday).

Our Comments:  For right now, Witt seems bent on limiting comment to one hour and only at regular meetings.  Let’s make it a good hour!  Sign up as soon as you can!  Agenda items you might want to speak on include:

  1. Witt’s compensation proposal and it’s unfairness due to:
    a) breaking the promise to give all teachers a raise
    b) capping the salary of experienced teachers to no more than ‘average’
    c) setting a comp system that will drive away experienced teachers and replace them with inexperienced ones.
  2. Miller’s Review
    a) Why does the Board need legal advice separate from the District?
    b) Why is his billing redacted to the point of being meaningless.
    c) Why did WNW know about this long before Dahlkemper and Fellman (the first of Witt’s ‘surprises’)?
    d) In May 2014, why did Miller threaten Fellman for not voting the way he wanted?
    e) How is what Miller does not able to be done by the District’s law firm?
  3. The two charter school applications
    a) Why were the actual application documents not included in the agenda attachments?
    b) Items about the applications you want the District staff to scrutinize very carefully.

…we could go on, but we are sure that many of you have your own list.

5. Consent Agenda
Our Comments:  
Normally we skip over the Consent Agenda as it generally contains just run-of-the-mill items that need Board approval and do not indicate any specific direction.  This time, however, we found at least two we felt you needed to know about.  

Charter School Application – Golden View Classical Academy (EL-13)
Recommended Action: to accept for study the charter school application for Golden View Classical Academy
File Attachments: CAES Charter App Study GVCA.pdf (340 KB)

Our comments: Golden View is an effort to place a “Classical Education” charter school in Jefferson County.  It is ‘partnered’ with “The Barney Charter School Initiative” which is a ‘project’ of Hillsdale College, of Hillsdale, Michigan.  Hillsdale college was described by the conservative National Review as a “…citadel of American conservatism.”  Hillsdale’s stated mission is to be “…a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture…”.  Their “Barney Charter School Initiative” is an outreach of the College with the goal:

“To advance the founding of classical charter schools, Hillsdale College works with school founding groups of parents and local citizens who care deeply about education, who plan to apply for a charter, and who are interested in an association with Hillsdale. As a relationship forms with a group, Hillsdale will assist in creating and implementing the school’s academic program.”

In short, this is an application from a group that is fronting for an extremely conservative college that has the goal of establishing a series of franchise-type charter schools pushing it’s own brand morality, economics, and social structure.  And they want to pay for it with JeffCo tax dollars.

At this point, we do not know where they plan to try to locate this charter school, nor how many parents have indicated interest (their Facebook has 459 likes, but it is unlikely that all of them would have children to go to the school).

Charter School Application – Alexandria School of Innovation (EL-13)
Recommended Action: to accept for study the charter school application for Alexandria School of Innovation
File Attachments: CAES Charter App Study ASI.pdf (339 KB)

Update:  We have since learned that STEM Ventures is in fact registered with the Secretary of State’s office as a for-profit Charter Management Organization (CMO).  It makes money by providing management for charter schools.  This then would make their efforts to spawn a new charter school in JeffCo just as much a ‘franchise expansion’ as the Golden View application is for Hillsdale.  We have modified our comments below appropriately.

Our comments: The Alexandria School of Innovation would be the creation of non-for-profit organization called STEM Ventures. Their website, while great looking, is strangely absent of hard facts.  There is no “About” hyperlink on the site.  After looking through almost every option, we finally found references to the founders under the “K-12 School” “Staff” tab. From this, it appears STEM Ventures is run by a man named Barry Brannenburg and his wife Judy.  

Of the other people mentioned: Cindy Williams currently is a consultant to mining companies and formerly was a VP with Newmont Mining.  She does not list STEM Ventures on her LinkedIn page. Maureen Moore Roth apparently works for Maptek full-time and part-time for STEM Ventures.  She also used to work for Newmont Mining. Diane Phillip is something of a mystery.  The only information we could find on her is on the STEM Ventures site. Carmel Connolly is apparently the organizations’ administrative assistant.

We found no actual teaching experience on any of the staff they listed. The Brannenburgs seem to have no history outside of STEM Ventures. There is no list of Board Members other than one reference to a Walter Berger.

According to an article in the Lakewood Sentinel, STEM Ventures originally applied for a charter for their Alexandria school in DougCo, but DougCo had ‘questions’ that would force them to re-apply next year, delaying the Alexandria project for a year.  The Brannenburg’s did not want to wait, and so they applied to JeffCo instead.

The funny thing is, we cannot find any reference in the DougCo Board minutes of their application or the ‘questions’ DougCo had.  It is very possible we are simply not familiar enough with the DougCo website to locate them.  If anyone can locate the original application and the minutes of the Board meeting where the application was turned back for additional information (STEM Ventures would have had 15 days in which to respond), please send us a link to them.

Another interesting thing is that STEM Ventures takes credit for creating the DougCo STEM Academy in the article, but not on their website.  From people we know in Douglas County, STEM Ventures was removed by DougCo as the administrator for the STEM Academy.  One parent told us that the school was highly disorganized, the teachers underqualified, and much that had been promised remained just promises.

In fact, the STEM Venture website lists no charter schools at all, much less ones that they have created and/or run.  As we stated above, they have no one on their staff list with actual educational background in any professional capacity.

Our reluctant conclusion is that at best STEM Ventures is a well-meaning two-person organization for-profit company that simply does not have the experience or expertise to actually start up and run a successful school.  They were rejected by DougCo (if they indeed submitted an application) and are now trying their luck here in JeffCo with our new “positive atmosphere for charters” or, perhaps, a greater gullibility than DougCo?

Final comments on the Charter applications:  In a sense, we are seeing the two extremes in the charter school movement applying at the same time.  In Golden View, we have a non-profit arm of a politically conservative college trying to extend their franchise reach into our District. In Alexandria, we have hapless amateurs would-be entrepreneurs thinking that earnestness a cool marketing plan is an adequate replacement for actual ability. The ‘choices’ these two bring to JeffCo are political indoctrination or mismanaged highly idealistic optimism business opportunism. How about a third option? Well managed public schools with integral STEM and GT programs that are not focused on extracting profits and leave the political education to the parents?

6.01 2015/2016 Budget Development Process
File Attachments: Presentation Budget Development Process 09 04 2014.pdf (671 KB)

Our Comments: You better stick around for this one. Slides 4 & 5 list “Student Based Budgeting” as something that is going to be explained to the Board. The slides doing the actual explanation are not included yet. But we have done some preliminary searches and found that this is a program/concept from a non-profit called Educational Resource Services (ERS). Here are two links on the subject: SBB Webinar, SBB-guide.pdf. One is a recorded webinar that explains their ideas, and the other is a pdf guide. Watch and read through them, then formulate your questions for Thursday night. The Board will have a study session on Student Based Budgeting on September 18th.

7.01 Colorado Association of School Boards Resolutions and Delegate Selection (GP-1)
Recommended Action: to appoint a member to represent Jeffco Schools Board of Education at the CASB Fall Conference and Delegate Assembly in September and the CASB Annual Conference in December.
File Attachments: 2014 CASB Resolutions.pdf (1,763 KB)

Our Comments: We expect either Newkirk or Witt to be named delegate. Williams has an outside chance, but very small. Witt feels he cannot trust her mouth out of his sight. There is only an infinitesimal chance of Dahlkemper or Fellman getting the position.

9.01 Public Comment (Not On Agenda)
Sign up online here to speak to the Board of Education.(will be available 10 am Monday).

Our Comments: Here is your chance to speak to the Board about anything not on the agenda.  There are plenty of topics.  How about allowing public comment at study sessions, as is indicated in the District policies?

10. Develop Next Agenda

Our Comments:  This one is always worth hanging around for.  It’s when WNW+M3 try to sneak in their next pet project without anyone noticing.

So be around to notice!

11. Adjournment

Sorry for the length, but things are heating up again!  So make your plans, sign up for comment, send emails, tell your friends, and…

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!


 

8/30 Saturday Post: Who Needs the Game of Thrones?

art_game_of_thrones

Thursday night’s Board Meeting involved one person staying bought, another person trying to act clever, a third succeeding in acting pompous, and a fourth feeling bewildered and possibly betrayed. Two other people were not surprised by a surprise, more meaningless work was dumped on the staff, and a group of newcomers who expected triumph had the rug pulled out from under them.

Along the way there were misleading statements that misled no one, but gave three people an excuse to do what they planned on doing anyway. A fierce debate raged where many of the people arguing did not even understand the facts, and the word ‘opine’ was over used for the first time in decades.

No one in Jefferson County needs to watch GoT. They can get their ration of treachery, deceit, and dirty deeds at a WNW+Miller hosted School Board Meeting. Live, and in person.

We will provide a short summary of the events of this meeting below, but that is not the primary purpose of today’s post. In today’s post, we are going to step back and take a longer and broader view. But first the summary:

Item 1.01 – JCEA Negotiations and the Fact Finding Report

This was supposed to be held in Executive Session, but no vote was ever called for, probably because WNW know they won’t get the needed fourth.  So WNW+Miller’s dirty deeds were done in public. After deliberately misreading the report (copy of it here), WNW kept harping about how it would allow ‘partially effective’ teachers to get a pay raise and how Western Civilization would fall if that happened. Of course the truth is that the wording in the report says that if a teacher is rated ‘partially effective’ but that the rating process was not followed correctly (i.e., the principal or vice-principal screwed it up) then that teacher would get a pay raise.

But when the truth, as has happened since November of last year, would not give WNW+Miller what they wanted, the truth was broken apart, twisted, partially melted, and then hastily painted to vaguely resemble the excuse WNW+Miller wanted to justify their already decided upon action.

Witt then pulled out his first surprise of the evening. He claimed to have just come up with a new idea on teacher compensation that he just happened to have a graphic for. He did not even want to share the written idea…until Lesley Dahlkemper forced him to email it to them right then and there. But he was angling for a vote on it. Now Lori Gillis will have to work up the impact of that ‘spontaneous’ idea and present it at the next meeting on September 4th.

Is anyone really surprised?

Item 4.01 – Correspondence

There were over 350 emails or letters to the Board since June. Going over the topics listed we find 41 on Board meetings, concerns, actions, majority, etc., 40 on Charter Schools, 18 on full day kindergarten, Seven on Julie Williams, 78 on the new Superintendent, McMinimee, 18 on teacher evaluations & salaries, and then a range of other subjects. A number of you wrote in several times, with the record being six, but the vast majority of letters were by authors who wrote only once or maybe twice.

If anyone tries to tell you that JeffCo residents are unconcerned about their district, you can point them the stack. We have not had time to read them all but the sampling we did do can be summed up by the Chris H.’s missive:

“After attending a few board meetings, I have one simple request
STOP LYING TO US!”
(document c-14-842).

We have posted a pdf file with the correspondence list sorted by subject. We also have it in MS-Excel format, so you can do your own sorting. To read the actual documents, please follow this link and then scroll down to the bottom (it’s a LONG ways). You can then click on the document number of the letter/email you wish to read.

Needless to say, WNW had no comment on this other than there had been a lot of mail.

Item 6.01 – Fact Finding Report Resolution

WNW, citing their perverse interpretation, voted to reject the report.

Is anyone shocked?

Item 6.02 – State Ed Funding Resolution

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Unanimous vote in favor of the resolution, asking that the ‘negative factor’ be eliminated and that the state legislature to not give unfunded mandates to the Districts. Now if WNW will do the same for our principals and teachers….

Item 6.03 – PARCC Testing Resolution

This got interesting. First, this topic is one of Julie Williams passions. She has been trying to bring it up since spring, and got her South JeffCo Tea Party cronies to show up in support. A wide ranging debate ensued. One speaker in favor of Common Core and PARCC spoke and two opposed it. Witt, Newkirk, and Williams showed their either deliberate or natural ignorance by constantly confusing standards with curriuculum, and curriculum with testing. Then Witt pulled another surprise, and voted with Dhalkemper and Fellman in tabling the resolution.

The rest of the meeting was pretty much an anti-climax with routine work.

The next Board meeting is this coming Thursday. We will put out our usual analysis of the agenda in the next day or so.

The Big Picture – WNW’s ‘Game of the Board’

If you want some more of the gory details on how WNW continue to screw over JCEA, you can read the Denver Post’s article or Chalkbeat’s. In short, under Witt’s instructions, the District poured tax dollars into a report he knew he would never accept. The reasons that he, Newkirk, and Williams gave for rejecting are either tied to a bizarre fantasy view of the world or are transparently false to anyone who actually read the Jeffco-Fact-Finding-Report.

There was never any chance of the report being accepted because that is not what WNW+Miller want. In the meantime, Dan McMinimee, who may have several character deficits, showed that he has at least have one virtue – loyalty to those who raised him up beyond anything he might have accomplished on his own merits. He did what his puppet-masters wanted and recommended that the Board reject the Findings of Fact. But of course, Witt has already tried to undercut him once (see Tuesday’s post), and we expect him to try again. Will McMinimee continue to rebuff these efforts? If so, will he finally get tired of the strings Witt loves to pull?

But that is Witt, through and through. Constantly, when given the option of being smart or clever, Witt chooses the later. He not only did it with McMinimee’s position last Tuesday, but Thursday night, he did it at least twice.

The first time he tried to be clever was when he pulled a ‘surprise’ employee pay proposal, that according to his email, he whipped up while at the meeting (graphics included), instead of circulating it amongst the other Board members ahead of time…at least Dahlkemper and Fellman had not heard or seen it before.

Amazingly, given that Witt’s plan involves $18 million dollars and consists of one paragraph, Newkirk and Williams seemed to have total confidence in it, and were ready to vote in favor of it (their idea of fiscal responsibility).

Witt seems to be in love with the idea of ‘surprise’ proposals, not realizing that we are no longer ‘surprised’ by their occurrence and only barely by the topic. While the non-surprise ‘surprise’ might be clever, it is not very smart. WNW controls the majority on the Board. They could play completely by the rules and still get what they want through. Instead, Witt tries to sneak things by everyone. No one is really fooled. All he is really doing is looking sneaky and reinforcing the distrust everyone already feels. He is like a child who deliberately misbehaves and thinks that saying “sorry” fixes everything. It will come back to haunt him one day….

The second ‘clever’ maneuver he pulled was when the topic had shifted to Common Core. While Newkirk set a new personal record for public hubris (paraphrasing Ronald Regan, “Mr. Hickenlooper, don’t build this wall”), Witt tried to appear “reasonable and thoughtful” on the subject. So he voted with Dahlkemper and Fellman against the resolution.

This was not smart.  This one action will not make anyone think of him as reasonable or thoughtful …and in the process he betrayed his supporter, Julie Williams.

We do not agree with Ms. Williams on almost anything, but we have to give her credit for the honesty of a number of her passions (misguided though they may be).  Common Core/PARCC has been a passion for her for sometime. She has been trying to bring it up for more than six months. Then Thursday, she was finally able to bring up a discussion and resolution on it. She even rallied her South JeffCo Tea Party compatriots to came out to support her…and to see her victory. This was her moment.

Then Witt stabbed her in the back.

Witt, who undoubtedly has ambitions beyond JeffCo, probably thought this was a great opportunity to win over ‘undecided’ community members. On the surface that might seem like a good strategy, but what if the cost is the trust and faith of not only a fellow Board member, but the one that gives you a majority?

The resolution, as far as impact goes, was meaningless. The decision on whether or not the state will halt PARCC will be fought by people far above Witt, Newkirk, Williams, and even Miller. Witt should have given Julie her day in the sun. Instead, he rained on her parade. She may forgive him, but she will never forget, either.

And she shouldn’t. Because it will happen again.

After having watched this Board majority now since January, we have come to one definite conclusion, that Witt has no genuine interest in education reform, only in the power he can gain by exploiting it.

Newkirk wants to bring back a glorious past that never was, proving at last to his father that he is worthy. Williams is a person of passions, desperately trying to fit into a politically powerful family. And Witt craves power and the exercise of power.

None of which help better educate our children.

So what is our role? Can we stop them?

The answer to the second question is “Yes, but it will take time.”

All of us wish we could wave our hands and that WNW would see the error of their ways and either mend them or resign. It is possible, but we would not bet money on it. We will succeed in throwing them out.  Whether this year or another, it will happen. But for it to happen requires us to fulfill our vital role right now – that of speed bump.

Not very glamorous, it it? But a speed bump is what we need to strive to be right now.

Speed bumps slow things down. They make drivers proceed more cautiously, or bottom out their car if they move to fast. And that buys us time.

Time to mobilize more people. Time to get the media to realize the craziness of the existing board. Time bring more attention to their insanity. Perhaps most importantly, time to get more kids through JeffCo before WNW and their supporters ruin their educations.

That is something worth fighting for.

 

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

 

Note on Common Core & PARCC

Common Core/PARCC is a very hot topic at the moment. It is so divisive that it threatens to split existing groups, including us at JeffCo Board Watch. WNW would love for everyone to begin fighting about Common Core/PARCC because that would take the focus off of them.

For that reason, we have not, are not, and will not take a position on it. For clarification purposes only, we make the following observations and suggestions:

1) Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum. Districts can either buy textbooks and systems that are designed to meet the Common Core standards, develop their own, or a do a combination of the two.

2) Colorado adopted the CAS or Colorado Academic Standards in 2009. Common Core was created in 2012. Since Colorado’s CAS meets or exceeds the Common Core standards, Colorado is called a ‘Common Core’ state, but technically, it is not a state that adopted Common Core. Rather it’s CAS already surpassed the Common Core minimum standards. So it meets Common Core requirements.

3) What most people are actually concerned about is the heavy emphasis on testing in general, and the PARCC test in particular. PARRC is a test designed to evaluate how well Common Core curricula has been mastered.

4) There is a LOT of hyperbole, misconceptions, and myths being promolgated on both sides. We strongly recommend that you do a lot of in-depth investigation before you come to an opinion on this subject. We would recommend avoiding making a decision based on the sound bites from either side.


 

The Top Ten Reasons to go to tonight’s Board Meeting*

top-10*with apologies to Dave Letterman

Number 10: You have a bet with your neighbor on how many times Julie Williams is going to get that “deer-in-the-headlights” smile.

Number 9: You enjoy seeing techs tear their hair out when the sound system starts it’s “JeffCo Board Room Hum”.

Number 8: You wonder if McMinimee’s great idea to save costs involves a ‘corporate inversion’ and selling JeffCo the Calgary, Alberta school district in Canada?

Number 7: You heard rumors that Witt has decided that Colorado Climate Change is caused by the JCEA contact, and he is demanding in the contract negotiations that they stop it.

Number 6: You decide to find out if it is true that if Beauprez is elected Governor, that Witt plans to ask him to deploy the Colorado National Guard to stop teachers from fleeing across the District’s borders to Littleton and Cherry Creek.

Number 5: Rumor has it that JeffCo Executive Chef Yuri Sanow is handing out samples of his award-wining sweet potato dish at the meeting as part of the Taste of Colorado festival.

Number 4: You had a dream where Laurence Fishburne dressed in black is offering McMinimee a choice between a red pill or a blue pill…and you want to see which one he chose.

Number 3: You find out that when Newkirk heard that rabbit fever had been found in Colorado, he put together a motion to remove “Peter Rabbit” from school libraries as a health measure.

Number 2: After Jane Barnes’ facilitation efforts at Saturday’s meeting, Witt decided that every Board meeting ought to start by the members holding hands and singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends“…and you really want to see that!

and the top reason to go tonight is:

Number 1: You hear that Witt has hired Texans strong safety D.J. Swearinger to rush Dahlkemper & Fellman the next time one of them votes ‘No’ on an Executive Session motion.

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If none those persuade you, how about attending for your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors children, and all the rest of the children in JeffCo?

Tonight, 5:30 p.m. at the Education Center, 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, 4th floor Seminar Room.

Show up and…

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!