BOE 3/13 Summary – The Expected & Unexpected

As recent JeffCo Board meetings go, this one was relatively quiet.  Mr. Witt and Ms. Dahlkemper did have a couple of small clashes, but things went pretty predictably with one exception, the issue of the court case on the 2090 Wright Street land dispute.  Attendance was light compared to recent Board meetings, probably close to 50 people at it’s peak.

Agenda Items

2.01 Budget Development – This one was a bit hard to follow as the Board and Ms. Gillis, the Chief Financial Officer were going over a spreadsheet that only they could see.  Most of the overall budget was quickly approved, with Board members giving ‘thumbs up’ on individual items.  A few items will be covered in a later meeting.

Some of the numbers and issues that caught our ear included:

  • $11.7 million (Estimated 2.5% increase in employee compensation.)  The actual number will be determined in the negotiations with the employee associations.  This number, Ms. Gillis stated, represents an approximately 2.5% increase in the pay rates in the District.
  • $600,000 for 13 full-day free Kindergarten classes at elementary schools that have 35% or more students on free or reduced lunches (commonly used as a measurement of poverty amongst school children).
  • An additional $1.7 million if the free full-day Kindergarten classes are expanded to include school that have 30% or more students on Free or reduced lunches.

A disagreement arose between Witt and Newkirk on one side and Dahlkemper and Fellman on the other.  Fellman said she thought this was a great start, and that her vision was eventually having free full-day kindergarten (FFK) in every JeffCo elementary school. Witt said that he had real problems with this item if it was part of a longer term plan to expand FFK to the entire District.  Dahlkemper and Newkirk quickly jumped in.  Dahlkemper stated that since the Board established enhanced literacy test results as part of their goals, then FFK was an essential element in achieving that.

At this point, Ms. Beck, the Districts Chief Academic Officer (and soon to be Superintendent of Oswego Lake Schools near Portland, OR) was asked about the benefit.  She agreed with Dahlkemper’s assertion.  Witt immediately retorted that there were studies that showed any increase effect due to early childhood education was lost later in life and wanted to know if Beck had seen those.  Beck responded she had not seen any study that concluded that.  Witt told her he would send her the information.

Note:  We did a quick google search of the efficacy of both early childhood education and kindergarten education.  The results turned up uniformly positive results for both early childhood education and kindergarten education. Results were from a wide range of formal research institutes and universities and were published in peer-reviewed journals.  The only material we found arguing against this was from the libertarian organization, Education Liberty Watch, which includes in its Mission Statement that it believes:  “9. …universal preschool is a dangerous expansion of government power over families.

  • GT and At Risk Programs – Witt & Newkirk want more information on what this involves.
  • Virtual Academy Expansion – This actually generates revenue.  It breaks even at 100 students.  The expansion anticipates getting 120.
  • Charter School “Equalization” – Every $100 per student of additional charter school funding adds up a $630,000 impact on the District.
  • Repurposing Martensen Elementary (now closed) for Special Education – Part of the effort to rein in growing Special Education costs.  The proposal made last fall expects approximately 100 students.  The hope is to reduce out of district placements and private placements which currently cost the District money, and possibly bring money in by attracting students from other districts.  (Summary from 2/18/14 Choice & Enrollment Steering Committee here.)  Ms. Gillis stated that a lot of costs involved were still undetermined, and a August 2014 start date does not leave enough time to come up with a final estimate.   The Board then voted 5-0 to postpone any scheduled opening until the 2015-16 school year, while planning and local public out-reach continue.
  • 3A/3B Commitment – As was expected, this drew some fireworks.  Witt said he wanted to make sure that the 3A/3B promise was kept, but he interpreted the “promise” as reducing class sizes, increasing employee compensation, and keeping electives classes.  Dhalkemper retorted that the ‘promise’ was to use the money to keep up funding of existing programs, not creating new ones.

(At this point, a group of about 15 Charter School supporters in the audience began acting as a block.  Whenever something was said about providing more money to Charter schools, they would wave their hands in the air, silently.  When a few people opposed to this use of 3A/3B funds, would silently raise letter-sized signs that read “3A/3B Keep The Promise”.  Security told the sign holders to stop or they would be removed.  Nothing was said to those who waved their hands.)

Witt then said that the 3A/3B funds would be used as part of the $11.7 million for increased employee compensation, but that included the District’s increased PERA and health coverage costs.  Dahlkemper and Fellman disagreed and argued that PERA & health care should not be part of any ‘compensation increase’, but accounted for separately, keeping all $11.7 million for actual salary increases.

Sidenote:  PERA is often misunderstood by people not directly connected to it.  As this is a major point in a lot of anti-teacher association arguments, we plan on doing an in-depth post on it in the future.  For now, please realize that PERA is not a traditional ‘pension’ fund as many people believe.  It is instead a replacement for Social Security.  Teachers and other public employees in Colorado do not pay FICA, but instead pay PERA.  When they retire, they will not receive any Social Security payments for work they did under PERA.  Instead they will receive PERA payments.  There are currently 15 states, including Colorado, where state and local employees (plus teachers) are not covered by Social Security.

Just as Social Security has an employee payment portion and an employer payment portion, so does PERA.  The amount of money the District pays into PERA is the employer portion, and is the equivalent of the employer portion of FICA.  This is the money that Witt and Newkirk want to have counted in any compensation discussion.

  • $4.5 Million for Mobile Infrastructure – This concerns creating wireless capability in each school building. Most of this is a one-time cost, but there will be recurring costs about equal to this due to ongoing support and maintenance.  Witt and Newkirk put this one on hold until Gillis can provide more information about exactly on what this money will be spent.
  • Primary Literacy Improvement – This is money for one of the Boards’ goals: increasing 3rd grade literacy rates from 80% to 85%.  Witt wants more detail on how the money will be spent.  Williams wants to know ‘how  will out of the box students’ be handled (i.e, Special Ed, GT, At Risk).  They want a presentation from Beck on this later.
  • Elementary School Math Improvement – This is money for another one of the Board’s goals, increasing 4th grade math scores from 77% to 80%.  Witt said he did not want to approve this yet.  He wanted more information.  Gillis stated that a decision was needed now because of the deadline for ordering new textbooks for the 2014-15 school year.  This line item was approved 3-2 with Williams joining Fellman and Dahlkemper. Witt and Newkirk voted no and looked surprised and disconcerted with Williams.

Not all of the budget line items were covered and various members of the Board wanted more detail on some items before they would approve them.  Additionally, Witt stated he wanted the staff to present a multi-year plan to increase funding to Charter schools, with a target of $3.5 million the first year (2014-15).  He also wants a presentation on Charter schools.

The Board then took a five minute break, during which the 15 or so Charter School supporters left the meeting and did not return.

2.02 Legislative Update – The Board received an update on the actions of the state legislature that are of interest to the District from Mr. Bowditch, the District’s lobbyist.As noted earlier, the Executive Sessions bill died this week.  Two funding bills look like they will be combined, but the legislative session is only half over, so too much is still influx.  The Average Daily Attendance bill is still alive, but a lot of changes can be expected before a final form appears.

2.03 Selection of Community Representatives for the Performance Evaluation Council (1338) – The District provided a list of people who had expressed interest and submitted resumes for the parent and community member (no children in school) participants on the Council. Also on the list were District Administrators who had expressed interest, as well as the two JCAA-appointed members.  The JCEA had not yet appointed their members.

Witt proposed that two people each from the parents, Community Member, and District Administrators pools be selected to serve on the committee.

Most of the discussion/debate revolved around the second choice for the Community Member.  Everyone (except Fellman who wanted Bob Bottoms) agreed on Mary Everson as the first Community Member.  Newkirk and Witt wanted Paula Noonan, former Board member, as the second.  Dahlkemper and Fellman wanted Dr. Lynn Fritz, Dean and Professor of Education at University of Colorado – Denver.  Williams wanted Caryn Boddie, chair of The Foothills Republican Club.

In response to Dahlkempers’ point that Dr. Fritz had been studying K-12 education for more than twenty years and was an expert on it Witt said he wanted “community members not entrenched in the long view.”

???  Isn’t the long view generally the best one and the one we want government, organizations, and people to take?

Fritzs’ nomination was voted down,  2-3 by WNW.

Then came one of the surprises of the night.  Williams candidate, Boddie, was voted on next.  Williams cast the first vote, saying ‘aye’.  Then Dhalkemper surprised everyone by also casting ‘aye’.  Newkirk and Witt, looking startled, also said ‘aye’, and so Caryn Boddie became the second member.

For the Parents members, WNW voted in Dave DeMott, an IT Systems Admin, Witt Elementary PTO president,  and former candidate Westminster City Council.  WNW voted down Tammy Kerr because her husband is a teacher. The Board then voted 5-0 to put Pam Buckley, a Research Assistant at CU, on the Committee by 5-0.

The Board then moved onto the District Administrator selection, from which the second most interesting statement was made, again by Witt.  In response to Dahlkempers’ nomination of Todd Engels and her citing his close involvement, Witt said he (Engels) was, “too close to the question for too long.”

??? You do not want someone with a lot of knowledge and experience dealing with a complex issue?

The Board then recessed from the Board Room for an executive session discussion of the employee association negotiations and what was described as legal issues involving 2090 Wright Street. (This is the originally proposed location of the Rocky Mountain School for the Deaf – see our post “Update:…” for details on this issue.  You may also want to go to the 2090 Coalition website here for more in-depth information.)

We learned that sometime during the first week of March, JeffCo’s law firm, Caplan & Ernst, had filed a Notice to Appeal just before the deadline for appeals ran out.  According to members of the 2090 Coaltion who were there, this Notice of Appeal alone probably cost the District around $5,000.  According to the 2090 Coalition website, the District spent around $250,000 on the original lawsuit.  Knowledgeable people say that a full appeal alone could cost the District between another $25,000-$50,000 depending on whether oral arguments are included and how many exhibits are involved.

What is unknown is, who authorized the filing of the appeal?  We are not aware of any Board motion or agenda item on the subject.

Even though the modified agenda said the Board would reconvene in public session to discuss this issue, that did not happen.  After about an hour and a half of closed door discussions, the Board adjourned while in Executive Session.  Dahlkemper, when pressed by members of the 2090 Coalition, said that there was no motion to discuss, so there would be no discussion session.  The rest of the Board was even more closed mouthed.

2 thoughts on “BOE 3/13 Summary – The Expected & Unexpected

  1. A couple of comments. First, one thing to keep in mind when you write about PERA at length in the future is the fact that the state legislature sets the rules around PERA. Some of the BOE members seem to be under the impression that the employee portion of PERA (the SAED portion) can be negotiated or even delegated so that the SAED portion would be deducted from the paycheck as opposed to the current state where it’s included in the budget from money that would otherwise be available for salaries. Various bills have been introduced that would make it possible to deduct the SAED portion from paychecks for a limited time but none have passed. Similar bills for other state employees have passed in previous years; I believe all of those have currently expired. It seems to me that if any of the BOE members wanted to take the issue seriously, they would talk to their legislators and PERA about what they can and can’t do, and about having the law changed so that they would have the option to negotiate having the SAED portion deducted from paychecks. The fact that they’d prefer to argue with Lorie Gillis makes me wonder whether they’re really so incompetent that they can’t ask the appropriate people (this was also a problem with Laura Boggs, despite the fact that she was told several times in public comment by Jeffco parents that she needed to take that issue to the state), or whether they just like to make a big deal of it for no apparent reason.

    There is a summary of how PERA currently works on the 2012 3A 3B campaign site that might be worth looking at, as it contains a number of links to back up its statements, and a great deal of detail: http://www.supportjeffcoschools.com/3a-and-3b-faq/the-truth-about-pera/

    Second, regarding the 2090 Coalition: my understanding is that the court’s ruling on this property also affects other district properties. The 2090 Coalition has all sorts of claims, but many of them are also rude and blinded to reason, so I wouldn’t believe anything they say unless you can find proof of it elsewhere. As far as the ruling affecting other property, one example I can think of is the site of the former Zerger Elementary School in Westminster. I’ve read that the property Zerger is on was a joint venture with the City of Westminster, who built a pool and associated building and park on the south end of that property. One of the Jeffco Head Start sites was there until 2010 or 2011, when it moved into a different site and the city decided they couldn’t afford the costs for necessary maintenance to the pool and building. The pool was torn out and the building was razed; some new play structures and a skate park have replaced what was there. Zerger closed that fall. I believe Zerger is up for sale, but if it turns out the 2090 property can revert to the city (as the court ruled), then perhaps that’s true for Zerger. If the district can’t sell that property–or indeed many others that it’s been holding for a future school–then that’s a lot of lost income and a lot less money for our students that everyone has assumed is there.

    The most reasonable solution I heard was for Lakewood to buy the property from the district, which would allow the district to buy property elsewhere, but the 2090 Coalition begrudges students even that little bit of money. It’s a ridiculous situation, IMO, in which the district and Lakewood both understand and believe the property belongs to the district, but one small and loud group of mostly older people without students is willing to spend tons more taxpayer dollars so they can continue to have an empty field–all the while yelling about how taxpayer dollars are being wasted. If they would just agree that Lakewood could buy it and keep it as a park, it would solve the problem. Why they can’t see reason is beyond me, but I could very easily see Zerger or land owned by district that hasn’t yet had a school built there falling prey to the same problem.

    • Lisa,

      Thank you for your very informative comments. We did not actively follow the court case and cannot really comment on what really went on.

      The PERA reference is excellent! We encourage everyone to go to that URL.

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