9.1.15 Notes from the Aug. 27 BOE meeting

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

JCEA contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPAC and board committees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facilities (the NW Arvada question)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where the conversation got interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.

Other agenda items for this Thursday’s meeting

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

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

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

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

Keep watching and keep fighting, JeffCo!