One More Board Meeting to Stand Guard…And Some Big Decisions

dignityAs much as we want to (and have) celebrated a clean slate thanks to the amazing Jeffco community, we still have work to do.  The new board will not take office until November 19, so we have to put away the confetti and get back to business.  Tomorrow, on Thursday, November 5, WNW will reign over one last board meeting.

There are 3 items to highlight for this meeting.  The first comes in the consent agenda.  The ratings are out and overall McMinimee is PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE.  With 12 goals he was rated Highly Effective in 2 areas, Effective in 3, Partially Effective in 5 and INEFFECTIVE in 2.  Using the simple 4 point elementary grading system that works out to a 2.4  (keeping in mind being Ineffective gives you a 1 from the start).

This brings up a few questions.  Is McMinimee, with no experience leading a large school district, in over his head?  Was he truly the best candidate WNW could find? (That’s rhetorical). Now that we are saddled with his contract, what will the clean slate do?

Bothersome is that PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE will result in $9,500 in bonuses.  That is 4.3%.  In a year when EFFECTIVE teachers will see less than a 1% raise and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE will see just over a 1% raise, McMinimee will be awarded a 4.3% bonus.

Knowing that DR. Stevenson chose to forego bonuses in times when teachers saw no raises, will MR. McMinimee choose to follow her example of leadership?  Or will he take the 4.3% bonus?

Doral Charter Application

The next questions for Thursday night, will WNW continue to ignore the community? Will they go out with the same disrespect they have reigned with?  Or will they make a mature, graceful decision?

Before them is the Doral Academy Charter Application.  Doral presented virtually the same application to Cherry Creek last month and it was unanimously rejected.

Here are our concerns with this application:

This would be the first charter school in Jeffco to be run by a Charter Management Organization (CMO).  And not just any CMO.  This CMO is Academica.  Academica is currently under federal investigation for financial conflict of interests. So it is particularly troublesome that according to the charter “Academica will be responsible for the DAC’s bookkeeping and financial reporting. Academica will also be assigned by the Board to bid out third-party services that the school requires …”

(For more information on who profits from these deals, we recommend you read this article.)

Another concern is the misrepresentation of this school as an arts school.  The curriculum clearly states it is an arts integrated school (meaning kids learn using songs, like children learn the presidents in their neighborhood schools).  However, in an effort to make a case for the school at the last presentation, Newkirk repeatedly tried to draw parallels to the Denver School of the Arts – which the charter panel never denied.

DSA is a wonderfully successful program, but it requires auditions and focuses on the arts.  It is not arts integration.  Would it be great to have an arts option school in Jeffco some day? Yes, but Doral Academy is NOT an arts school.

A third concern raised by the charter review committee was fiscal feasibility.  With 285 students needed to break even and 121 letters of intent, Doral is far from reaching that number.  Even then, the committee pointed out the budget was lean on staffing, infrastructure and food services.

As a parent though, the seating of the board is the most concerning element of the application.  The board terms are FIVE years (and a member can serve 2 terms), which seems lengthy.  The original board is formed from the founding committee with staggered terms (nothing unusual there).  However, as the terms expire the BOARD votes for their OWN replacements.  A self-perpetuating board DENIES any voice from the school’s community in their board.  Furthermore, with a board as large as possibly 9 members, there are only 2 seats allocated to parents.

This is far from the grassroots charters that thrive in Jeffco, and it is very far away from the community/parent voices this election advocated for.  When you add Academica in the mix – where school board members for one of their schools was none other than the President of Academica, the seating of the board becomes a vital issue.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: Our ideal would be that this contentious issue be tabled for the new board to vote on since they will be left with the fallout of the decision either way.  Unfortunately, state statute requires a response within 75 days, which may not be possible given the timing of the application submission.  Barring tabling the vote, our recommendation is that the application should be denied at this time due to: the fiscal jeopardy from lack of interest, the association with the troubled and beleaguered Academica, and the overly self-perpetuating structure of the board.

Public Comment Proposal

We commend Jill Fellman in this last act.  She has proposed that in study sessions that have 2 or more action items requiring a vote, that public comment be allowed.  Thank you, Jill, for being open to ALL voices.

District Accountability Committee (DAC)

Finally on the agenda are the revisions to the DAC.  Our hope is merely that when the Clean Slate takes office they will revisit this committee, returning the voices of PTA, parents, faith leaders, etc.  We also hope that the application for these positions in the future will include more than name and child’s school so that the candidate can be vetted properly.  Our final request is that a new policy would also include appointments from all members, rather than a majority vote that silences the minority.

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THIS IS NOT FAREWELL: A PERSONAL NOTE FROM JEFFCOFACTS, ONE OF OUR WRITERS

A little over a year ago I met the founder of Jeffco School Board Watch for coffee.  I had never been involved in politics and had no desire to be.  But I was appalled at the actions of WNW and had been so for months.  As coffee progressed I heard more about the agenda of Americans For Prosperity and WNW.  At first, I honestly thought – conspiracy theory.  But I agreed to write on occasion for Board Watch.  I chose the moniker JeffcoFacts, because I wanted to present a fair analysis based upon facts, not theories.  With time there were days that my emotions did ride high – when I saw the disrespect to students, teachers and board members.  When I saw the complete disregard for community surveys.  Some days JeffcoFacts and the Jeffco parent in me could not be separated.

Today we celebrate the end of the reign of terror.  And today in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give thanks to the many community leaders that stepped into the fray – too many to name.  And I thank the passionate founder (turns out he wasn’t a crazy conspiracy theorist) that gave me a voice here.

This election is not farewell.  I have learned so much about what makes great schools and what a true reform movement within a community can look like, that I can’t go back to the cocoon of inattention.  For the sake of not just the children of Jeffco, but for the schools fighting this battle in Thompson, DougCo and throughout the country.

What does the future of Board Watch look like?  It is too early to know.  But I can say that even the Clean Slate of candidates knows we are watching and we will always fight for our children, regardless of who is in office.  To do anything less, would be disingenuous.

Finally I want to say thank all of you – our followers.  I never thought I could do this.  And there were days I seemed so unqualified.  But then on occasion a comment would come in on an article and it lifted me up.  Or I would see the number of reads and I knew you were listening and sharing.  You are the reason the recall was successful.  Thank you for that and thank you for supporting us.

BOE Agenda for 5/7/15 – Or should we say Hidden Agenda?

The school board will meet in regular session on Thursday 5/7/15. Here’s the link to the live stream: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

After public comment is complete and Julie Williams is properly chastised for her Day of Hate post, the meeting will discuss many issues.  Among the more interesting consent agenda items is a delay, after 90 days, for an additional 30 days to extend the charter for four charter schools:  Free Horizon Montessori, Lincoln Academy, Montessori Peaks Academy and Rocky Mountain Deaf School.  Why the delay until June?  We will only know in June!  Is this a classic attempt to move it out of the public spotlight?  Especially since the chief financial officer raises some Yellow Flags on some of these schools?

One of the main agenda items is a review of the fiscal third quarter. Thanks to so many people leaving the district and unfilled positions, there are actually savings being realized in the expenditures due to staffing holes.  Despite this, in  five places in the presentation, the chief financial officer may be asking for supplemental appropriations for COPs, Building Fund, Debt Service, Activity Fund, and Enterprise Funds (Food, Childcare, Property Management).

There is a discussion item on Ends goals.  But no supporting documents as of Sunday May 3rd.  Why?

There is a discussion of the tabled motion on Facilities.  The board has heard repeatedly from district staff that there needs to be building in the north part of the district.  Again there is to be a presentation to the board on this.  Will they listen this time?  Who knows.  Meanwhile, there is no presentation available again on the day the agenda is posted.  Meanwhile, read about a conflict of interest for Witt elsewhere around building schools.

One of the normally sleeper topics, review of board policy is interesting.  This document EL-02, covers Treatment of Parents, Guardians, and Community. Reference to another document posted here, is being removed and replaced with a generic statement about cooperation of the superintendent with the public.  Why the fear of having a well-defined process?  Afraid of accountability?  Who knows?

With this BOE, the mysteries just grow and never really get solved. Sure, they could argue that the policy should stand on its own and not reference another document. But what is left has no appeal process.  Yet another way to close the public out of the debate about what is best for kids.  Here are parts of a brochure describing the policy.  All of this will be rescinded with the change proposed by “district staff.”

How do you feel you have been treated so far?  Expect worse.

A couple of other housekeeping notes:

1. Have you written to the BOE and/or the district and received a dismissive, demeaning or otherwise unprofessional response? If so, we encourage you to reply and copy board@jeffco.k12.co.us. Note that your question was not addressed, even though someone clearly had the time to respond. This will ensure your response gets into BoardDocs and the public will be able to track the number of unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate responses to JeffCo parents and community members.

2. A number of people have been surprised by the public comment rules, which are definitely confusing. Here’s what you need to know if you want to speak to the board at Thursday’s meeting:

  • Signup time is limited! It opens at 10 am on Monday, and closes at 3:30 pm on Thursday. Don’t wait!
  • If you are speaking on an agenda item, sign up for Part 1 of public comment. If not, sign up for Part 2.
  • The amount of time you are allowed to speak varies, and you won’t know how long you have until you’re at the meeting. In general, there are enough people signed up for public comment that individual speakers are limited to 1 or 2 minutes while groups of receive 5 minutes. Play it safe: plan to speak no longer than 2 minutes, and have a 1-minute version you can use just in case. The way it works is based on the number of people who sign up:
    • 0-20 speakers = individuals 3 minutes, groups 10 minutes
    • 21-30 speakers = individuals 2 minutes, groups 5 minutes
    • 30 + speakers = individuals 1 minute, groups 3 minutes

 Keep watching, keep fighting JeffCo!


 

5.3.2015 Questionable Reform

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In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins, frustrated by the emotional outburst of his protégé Eliza Doolittle, laments in song to Colonel Pickering, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Today, there is a reform movement in education that is singing a similar tune: “Why can’t a school be more like a business?”

This reform movement is known as market-based or market-oriented education. The Douglas County school board, despite a contentious relationship with many teachers and citizens, has embarked on a crusade to bring this business-oriented reform to the Denver area. Jefferson County, having elected three board members who favor market-based education, is poised to follow in Douglas County’s footsteps.

The Jeffco School Board majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams and Ken Witt — have clearly demonstrated their voting power as they continue to ignore both the voices and questions put forward by not only fellow board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, but teachers, parents, and community members as well. Their actions make it imperative that the community critically exam the nature of market-based education as these reforms are imposed on Jefferson County Public Schools.

Market-based education is a business model that turns school districts into enterprises, and superintendents into CEOs who manage an array of public and charter schools. A school’s existence and staff hiring is based on market needs and student achievement. Touted as new and innovative for Colorado, MBE is not new to the United States.

While it is too early to see the results of reform in Douglas County Schools, there is a great deal of current research available for citizens to answer the question: “Why can’t a school be more like a business?” Current research shows that the market-centered business model in many schools nationally is not working and is actually detrimental to the education of the students.

An April 2013 report by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, investigates the use of market-oriented education in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Citing information provided by the National Assessments of Educational Progress, scores in reform schools have actually “stagnated for low-income and minority students and/or achievements gaps widened.”

These findings were in contrast to “non-reform” urban schools within the same city that actually increased scores and shrank the achievement gap. The findings also demonstrate that those with disabilities lost ground academically under the business model. The NAEP research concludes that improving education for these marginal students has not materialized through a business model. The report suggests that low achievement may be based on inadequate staffing.

Market-based education argues that effective teachers can be secured through market-need hiring, yearly evaluations, and merit pay. The report, however, states that teacher evaluation, relying heavily on test scores, “thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily the bad teachers.” [emphasis ours]

Furthermore, these districts documented a significant loss of experienced teachers to other districts and other careers. Teachers in those districts averaged only six years of experience. Despite the reformers argument that merit pay rewards good, experienced teachers (or dare we say perhaps because of it?), teachers are leaving the business.

Another major component of MBE is a belief that competition between schools will result in better schools. Parents have the ability to leave public schools and take their tax dollars to a choice of charter schools. The Center for Reinvention of Public Education reports that the effectiveness of charter schools remains inconclusive. CRPD states, “they vary widely and are on the whole, no more or less effective than comparable regular public schools.”

What is problematic however, is the revolving nature of charter schools. Following a business model, if the charter is not effective or financially solvent, the school is closed. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers reported in 2012 that the rate of charter school closures has “ballooned by over 255%.”

For example Kingston Charter Academy in North Carolina and the Solomon Charter School in Philadelphia each closed within the first month of the school year. Parents at both schools had two questions: “What happened to the voucher money?” and “Where do we send our kids now?” Jeff Bryant, Director of the Education Opportunity Network in Chapel Hill, NC asks how this “business churning” of charter schools can be called effective education.

Despite all of these known issues, the merits of market-based education are not being debated openly with the Jefferson County School Board majority. They are being imposed.

 Keep fighting, JeffCo!