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

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

Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffco Proud!

 

Story #9 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Against Policy, Witt Repeatedly Withholds Information and Forces Surprise Votes

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure. We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #9:

What Happened: First, check out the two videos here, courtesy Support Jeffco Kids and Transparency Jeffco:

Support Jeffco Kids | Facebook

One more small clip. What is the rush? Why not thoughtful discussion? Why not follow policy? They already have the votes to do anything they want to do,…

Board of Education 12-12-13

This is video from the December 12th, 2013 board of education meeting and study session. In it, the board discusses hiring an attorney solely to represent the board.

If these were the only two instances of last-minute information sharing, surprise motions, and violations of “Sunshine Laws,” that would be troubling enough. Rest assured, these videos from September 2015 and December 2013 are just the bookends of a long string of such instances. For strategic reasons, maybe not wanting community criticism, Ken Witt hides as much information as possible from Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. Dahlkemper and Fellman protest that they have not had enough time to review the motion at hand or the relevant background information. They have also not had enough time to ask appropriate questions. Sometimes they (correctly) allege that the late information sharing and surprise vote-taking go against stated board policy. Witt goes ahead and holds the vote anyway. John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have obviously been apprised of the background information, go along with Witt and create a 3-2 vote.

Why It Matters: Trust and good governance. The linchpin of our democratic republic is informed decision making, first by voters about candidates, and then by elected officials about the things they’re voting on. Ours is a country, and a community, that is fine with being in the minority of opinion, if we feel like the issues have been thought through and discussed by the officials we’ve elected. Dahlkemper and Fellman, over and over, could not make informed decisions, because Witt consistently didn’t allow them to be informed in a reasonable manner. Voters see through that. It’s as if everyone that voted for Dahlkemper and Fellman was being disenfranchised every time this happened. People expect better from our public officials.

Furthermore, the pubic deserves to hear spirited debate and a critical back-and-forth about the tough issues facing the school district, even if the discussion still results in a 3-2 vote. Short-circuiting such discussion is the purview of despotic leaders. It’s fear-driven. For a “leader” who claims a “mandate” from the voters, to then hide so many discussions about his decisions, there’s a level of hypocrisy that’s obvious to anyone that’s fair-minded.

As was pointed out many times: they had the votes, why did Witt keep doing this? Was it to not allow critical discussion? Was it that their invisible handlers were impatient to keep WNW on a certain timeline according to their playbook, so they didn’t want to have votes spill over or tabled until the next board meeting? Was it just clumsiness and a Nixonian above-the-law arrogance? Perhaps all three of those things? We’ll never know, but we do know that the frequency with which this happened made a lot of people take notice, and that it further eroded whatever trust this board had.

With that, your new daily reminder to vote Lasell, Stevens, Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, a decidedly competent and independent-thinking group.