A Busy Week Ahead – Mark Your Calendars!

We know this is a long post, but this coming week is very full of important meetings and activities. Please review the list below and attend as many as you can! Your voice counts!

WNW+Miller are already having to adjust what they are trying to do because of your actions. They know they are under a public microscope, and it is constraining their moves. They now know that any capricious act will be reported and suffer from a political backlash. The Budget Survey results are a great example.

More than 13,000 of you responded, and the results were not what they had hoped! They have tried to spin overall response by saying that many people must have filled out multiple surveys, but their own statistician validated the results, finding only one IP address that completed a survey more than once. This means that if they go ahead with an aggressive charter school funding program at the cost of the priorities you gave them, it will be a blatant disregard of the public. They may do this anyway, but they will not be able hide their agenda behind a false “will of the public”.

We need to keep the light of public awareness on them. The best way of doing that is by showing up at every public meeting you can!

This week there are three nights with Budget Forums being held at six local high schools. There is also the regular Board Meeting at 6:30 p.m. after a Special Meeting for teacher negotiations at 5:30 p.m. Please review the meetings below and go to as many as you can.

Board of Education (BoE) Budget Forum Nights

We do not have any explicit material or information on how these will be run, however it can be assumed that much of the presentation will be pulled from the Budget Review information provided to the Board by the staff at the Feb 27th meeting last week. To review that information just click on the summary you want to see: 114 Slides (original), 76 Slides (condensed by JeffCo), or 27 Page Summary (abbreviated by JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch).

As we understand it, after a the budget summary presentation the attendees will break into small “work groups” to review it in greater detail(?), with each group then reporting to the meeting as a whole. Summaries of each forum will be given to Board. This is the place where you can really make your voice heard! It is also the time when WNW hopes to ‘salt the mine’ with their own positions. If they can get enough of their supporters there to regurgitate WNW’s agenda, WNW could then proclaim it as ‘the true desires of the District’ and not the Budget Survey. Do Not Let This Happen! Go to the Forum nearest you!

It would also be great if you could email back to us what your individual group decided. That will allow us to compare what WNW says went on with what you actually heard and said. (You can send those summaries to jeffcowatch@gmail.com, please put “Budget Forum Report” in the subject line.)

The forums are held Monday/Tuesday nights, and Saturday morning with two forums each day. Click on the name of the school for a Google Map to it:

Monday 6:00-7:30 p.m. – Standley Lake High School and Evergreen High School.

Wednesday 6:00-7:30 p.m. – Chatfield High School and Arvada West High School

Saturday 9:30-11:00 a.m. – Dakota Ridge High School and Lakewood High School

Thursday – Board Meeting 5:30-6:30 p.m. – Executive Session (at Golden High School)

The Board will meet in Executive Session to discuss the upcoming negotiations with JCEA (they begin Monday, March 10th). The public will not be allowed to view the Executive Session. Click here for to read the JCEA letter sent to the District on Feb 20th.

Thursday – Regular Board Meeting 6:30 p.m. (in the Board Room, 5th floor, the Golden High School)

There is a lot going on that night!

3.02 Public Comment (Agenda Related) – Click here to sign up to comment on an agenda itemItems someone should speak out on include:

  1. 6.05 Loan for Charter School – Mountain Phoenix Community School Another Charter School in financial trouble wanting a loan – this one for $250k (see below for more information)
  2. 7.01 Direct Reports Update
    The Board did not appoint an interim Superintendent at the last meeting. Instead they are meeting with four ‘Direct Reports’, in apparent violation of Board Policy BSL-01 Global Governance-Management Connection. The Board is now in a position to micro-manage the District. This is also the height of management folly. You do not effectively run a billion dollar organization by the whim of a part-time, amateur committee (which is what the Board is). WNW is courting serious problems with this approach. (see below for more information)
  3. 8.01 Policy Review: GP-05, President’s Role
    The Board President is not an executive position. It is better to say, he or she is first among equals. The duties are primarily to make sure the meetings run according to Robert’s Rules of Order and to provide a single point of contact for the Superintendent when it comes to issuing policies to the District. If WNW changes this, they will fundamentally change the nature of the Board. And the Board is a part-time, amateur group, ill-equipped to run a billion dollar corporation! (see below for more information)

4.0 The Consent Agenda – includes approval of the Minutes for five previous meetings, going back to January 30th. The minutes from last Thursday’s meeting is not included. A number of Contract Awards and renewals are on the list, as well as a number of positions to be filled, resignations to be accepted and three terminations. This should be routine, but with WNW…?

5.1 Progress on Board Goals – Literacy Instruction (Ends 1-2) –

Dr. Beck (who will be leaving this June to become Superintendent of Lake Oswego schools in Oregon) will make a presentation to the Board about the District’s literacy plan and what resources are needed.

6.01 Superintendent Search Update –

A representative of Ray & Associates will update the Board.

6.02 SPAC budget presentation –

The Strategic Planning and Advisory Council put together a set of budget recommendations for the Board. We understand a minority report is also being written. The majority report is not posted yet. We will post an update when it becomes available.

6.03 Expansion of Choice Update –

A presentation (click here for posted copy) updating the Board on the Choice committee’s work. A large majority of the members felt that the process of choosing is fairly easy, but there is not enough information about the different options. A large majority also feels that the District cannot currently measure well the demand for different schools and why those schools are in demand. The Committee is evenly split on whether there is enough choice or not. A large majority do believe that choices could be better distributed around the District. The Committee’s next meeting will be to prepare a set of initial recommendations.

6.04 Teacher Dismissal Matter –

Dr. Stevenson proposed that a teacher be fired for cause. A hearing has been held and the hearing officer has issued a report and recommendation (we do not know what it is). The Board must now review the recommendation and enter a written order either firing the teacher, putting the teacher on a one year probation, or the teacher be retained.

6.05 Loan for Charter School – Mountain Phoenix Community School

Mountain Phoenix was originally loaned $93k in 2008 to be paid back in three payments starting in 2009. In 2009, Mountain Phoenix asked for the payment schedule to be delayed by a year and extended from three to five years. The Board agreed. The first four payments were made, but the last payment, due this year, has not made.

Mountain Phoenix began constructing a Middle School last year, and the costs ran higher than they expected. They currently owe the construction firm $163k and do not have the money. They had lower than expected enrollment in October, which reduce their funding by $188k. They cut their budget, but will still be $84.5k short, not counting the $163k owed to construction firm.

They are asking that the $19,800 loan payment be pushed off till 2015 and that the District extend the loan by $230k to $250k to be paid back over five years. (click here the formal Loan Request and Summary documents).

We really hope a number of people speak out on this one! We are not opposed to Charter Schools, but we are very opposed to poorly run Charter Schools! This is the second charter school in three months that has come to the Board, hat in hand, begging to be rescued from their own financial mismanagement. WNW approved $400k for Collegiate Academy in January under very similar circumstances; i.e., poor estimation of actual costs by the school’s board and management got them into a hole. Then a drop in enrollment occurs that makes everything worse.

Charter schools were originally touted as doing four things better than the general public school:

  1. Pioneer new and innovative teaching techniques more quickly than public schools.
  2. Reach challenged and low-income communities with dedicated, experienced teachers.
  3. Do all this for less money because they would not be “shackled” by district bureaucracies.
  4. Schools that do not achieve the first three would be closed quickly, so as to allow students to go to better schools.

The results are less than spectacular. In both the Collegiate Academy and Mountain Phoenix cases, the problems are of their own making. No regular public school would have been allowed to build up hundreds of thousands of dollars in irresponsible obligations. The District’s financial management teams would have swooped in long before anything got 1/10th that bad. Also, the academic performance of both schools has been somewhat underwhelming. Neither school rates any better than nearby schools, and often are rated worse by GreatSchools.com.

As of the last quarterly audit, the District already had over $840k of exposure to these two schools plus two more. The latest ‘loan request’ from Mountain Phoenix, if approved, would push that to almost $1 million! That is enough to staff a regular elementary school with 20 experienced teachers with Master’s degrees.

And there is no assurance these schools will not be back again in a few years, pleading to be rescued again.

Wall Street had “TBTF” or “Too Big To Fail”. Do we have “TCTF”. “Too Chartered To Fail”?

7.01 Direct Reports Update (EL-11)

The Board refused to name an interim superintendent. Instead the four top executives of the District will meet with President Ken Witt and Treasurer Jill Fellman once every other week to review any action needing Board direction.

This is foolishness beyond anything we had expected!

First of all, this appears to be in direct contravention of Board Policies BSL-01 and BSL-02 (click to go to the policy), which specify that the Board does not interact directly with District personnel. All Board direction is to go through the Superintendent. Also, neither Witt or Fellman can actually give the District direction on their own. In fact, under BSL-02, it appears that the four direct reports would be within policy to reject any request coming from anyone Board member or any group of Board members.

This is also extremely foolish from a practical standpoint. JeffCo Schools has an annual budget of almost a billion dollars year, employing over 14, 000 people, and daily affects the lives of a quarter or more of Jefferson County’s population. If it were a private corporation which had just lost unexpectedly it’s CEO, shareholders would be horrified to find out that it’s Board was not going to appoint an interim CEO, but rather have the senior Vice-Presidents report directly to the Board. Stock shares would plummet. Shareholder lawsuits would almost be guaranteed. This is not just taking the District in a direction we disagree with. This action, or rather, lack of action, could very well fall under the category of serious malfeasance.

Witt and Newkirk are supposed to be experienced business people who promised to run the District with no-nonsense business accumen, but they are acting as if JeffCo Schools was some kind of kid’s summer lemonade stand!

8.01 Policy Review: GP-05, President’s Role (click to read the policy)

At the Feb 18th meeting, Ken Witt tried to send a letter to all District personnel, promulgating WNW’s view of Dr. Stevenson’s departure. Jill Fellman stopped the letter by pointing out that the Board President does not have that kind of authority. Witt tried to cite the last line of GP-05 as giving him authority, but Fellman quickly quoted from the policy, “The President may delegate to other members the responsibility of making statements to the media when appropriate. which, of course, does not give Witt the authority to directly communicate with District employees.

In fact, there are several Board policies that explicitly forbid direct communications by the Board with the District. It is also supposed to go through the Superintendent…which they have failed to appoint.

Now the Policy is up for “Review”. The only real question is whether or not WNW will blatantly change the Policy giving Witt the authority to do what he wants. If they do, then it is a naked power grab by WNW.

8.02 Policy Review: GP-11, One Voice Commitment (click to read the policy)

We expect WNW to try to use this to bludgeon Dahlkemper and Fellman into silence. Specifically, we expect them to cite section 1.a.1. which states, “Individual Board members may express in public that they did not vote with the majority, and the reason(s), but may not direct their differences of opinion in a manner which creates polarization or undermines a decision of the Board majority.

The key here is the phrase “in a manner which creates polarization or undermines a decision of the Board majority.” We expect WNW to take the stance that any expression of dissent after a vote ‘creates polarization’ or ‘undermines a decision’ WNW makes. Of course, there is a little thing called the 1st Amendment that trumps this, but more to the point, WNW, by making little or no effort to compromise with the minority, is the one creating the partisan, polarized environment.

We are puzzled a lot by their roughshod behavior. They do have the majority. What would politeness, and some magnanimity cost them? Instead, they act as if they are a minority that has somehow seized temporary power and they must make the most of it while they can, ‘come hell or high-water’.

In doing so, they create suspicion and opposition where there had been none.

9.01 Public Comment (Not On Agenda) – click here to sign up for a non-agenda comment.

10.01 & .02 – The Board has scheduled Special and Regular Meetings for March 13th, 20th, and April 3rd. The Board will decide what to put on each meetings agenda.

We know this will be late in the evening, but Witt has a habit of trying to quietly slide highly controversial issues during this point of the meeting. So stay there and stay alert!

15 thoughts on “A Busy Week Ahead – Mark Your Calendars!

  1. Is the budget meeting at Dakota Ridge Fri night or Sat. morning?

    • The Dakota Ridge and Lakewood High School meetings are on Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

      Thanks for catching the mistake!

  2. Is the BOE meeting Thursday at the Ed Center or Golden High School?

  3. Two questions on the Mountain Phoenix money that need to be answered:

    1) What percentage of the total cost of the new building is that overage? In other words, were they 5% over budget? 10%? 50%?

    2) How does that percentage overage compare to other recent construction in the district?

    I’m all for accountability, but I can’t call a construction overage evidence a school is “poorly run” unless the answers to these two questions indicate it. Does anyone have answers?

    • Those are good questions. Part of the problem is we do not know. The request Mountain Phoenix sent in did not detail how much over the original budget the Middle School construction was. Without that, there is no way to compare.

      This points to the problem with how Charter Schools are currently set up under State law. Once the charter is approved, the District has very little visibility into the school, including finances.

      • A follow-up: The only detail Mountain Phoenix has currently given the district is in this memo. In there, they detail where costs exceeded their budget:

          Unforeseen Project Costs / Expenses

        Water Tap Fee – $83,000
        Xcel Energy – $55,692 ($15,000 budgeted)
        Data / Telephone Infrastructure – $8,223
        Bank (Bond) Administrative Fees – $30,000
        Total Costs exceeding established Funds – $161,915

        The one item that had a budget figure, Xcel Energy, shows an overage of 370%. The Water Tap Fee and Bank or Bond Admin fee appear to be unbudgeted items, possibly also the Data/Telephone wiring. These are normal costs that should be anticipated and correctly estimated by people experienced in building construction. The problem is that Charter school construction projects are generally not overseen built by experienced school professionals. Instead, they rely on people who come from other backgrounds, and for whom construction management is a one-time experience. Inexperience can lead to costly mistakes.

      • I answered my own question in part, thanks to Google; it appears the building itself was a $1.68 million project, the overrun works out to about 15% — not Stapleton-level-terrifying, but not insignificant either.

        Any ideas on how to find out other schools’ construction experiences?

        • Thanks for the information on the total project.

          We have not really looked into the construction aspect of the District, so we really cannot point you to anything specific. It is possible that some of the quarterly reports would give some information. You may also be able to look at the contract awards at specific meetings. The hard part might be finding true equivalents. We are not aware of Jeffco building a new middle school in a while. We think most of their construction work has been renovation and expansion of existing school buildings, which have a very different cost base and challenges from a ‘green-field’ construction project.

          Good luck, and let us know what you find out!

  4. I have a question. When these mismanaged charter schools fail with outstanding debts (the construction company who is owed $163k), who ends up paying those debts? Would they sue the charter school or the Jeffco School district to collect? I’m assuming that it will eventually fall to us taxpayers.

    • We do not know. What we can say is that in the memo sent by Mountain Phoenix on Feb 26th, they state, “$165,343.20 is to rectify the statement of claim filed by Himmelman Construction with Jefferson County for the balance due from the construction of the Middle School.”

      So it would appear that Himmelman Construction certainly feels the District can be held accountable for the payment.

  5. Your budget forum dates are incorrect.

    • When the post was first made, several people quickly brought forum date and time errors to our attention. We thought we had gotten them all, but at least one of the edits did not seem to “take”. We think everything is correct now. Sorry for the errors! jcsbw

  6. Regarding the budget survey–it is unscientific and poorly designed. You wouldn’t want policy decisions made based on this if the shoe were on the other foot. Also, 16% of the surveys were filled out from the district’s IP! That skews results right there. If these 16% of respondents then went home and did another survey, you’d get even more skew. It’s obvious you’re happy with the results, but at least try to be objective about what they really mean.

    BTW, why are you banning people from your Facebook page? I know of 2 personally who have not engaged in offensive behavior (unless you count disagreeing with you intelligently to be offensive) and were suddenly banned. Of course you can do what you want with your page, but if you really want transparency, you should welcome vigorous informed debate. If these folks were so wrong, allow them to figuratively hang themselves with their own words. Banning them is cowardly and speaks volumes about your organization.

    • Ahh! We have been expecting the attack on the the budget survey.

      1) Was the budget survey scientific? No. We have never pretended it was. But it was a measure of the priorities of people who cared enough about visiting the site. Sort of like an election. So in that sense, it is valid. It shows the desires of the people in JeffCo who really care about education.

      2) 16% of surveys with district IP addresses. Does that skew the results? No. First of all, as you noted, those 16% are very likely JeffCo residents, parents, and tax-payers. Their thoughts are as good and valid as anyone else’s. Secondly, your assertion “then went home and did another survey” is without foundation. Do you have any proof to offer? As you say, let’s be objective. Without any substantial evidence supporting your assertion, it falls into the category of suspicion at best, and a non-sequitur fallacy at worst.

      3) Banning people. The point and purpose of this blog site and it’s related Facebook page is to keep people informed as to the actions of the Board in general, and WNW+Miller specifically. We find their motivations, pronouncements, and actions very worrisome and concerning. We are open to good, sound, logical debate. What will not be tolerated is the casting of aspersions, name-calling, or unthinking polemics. It is not freedom of speech when one person or group attempts to drown out the other side by sheer volume. We have prohibited people from posting on our Facebook site and this Blog when their actions are deceptive, bullying, disrespectful, or simply unthinking and repeated ranting. They may have the right to shout. We have the right to chose not to listen to them. They can shout all they want from their own blog site or Facebook page.

      The fact that you cast aspersions (“is cowardly and speaks volumes”) and have made spurious arguments without foundation has, frankly, placed you on the path for being banned as well. In fact, it was only your subsequent post, that has stopped us. So long as you keep your posts to being as informative, thought-provoking, and factual, you will be welcome here. If, on the other hand, we see mainly posts such as your second paragraph then, yes, you will be prohibited from posting as well. Please do not let that happen. We do enjoy your posts when they are like your one on the origins of the American Education system.

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