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!

 

12.10.15 BOE meeting tonight!

Clean SlateWe’ve been a bit quiet, but like you, our schedules are full of school concerts and other assorted holiday events. (Trust me when I say the above is an understatement!) Also? Not much is happening yet for us to write about.

Here’s what has happened since we last posted:

  • The new board members were sworn in and talked about their priorities. Those aren’t a surprise: employee compensation (for everyone, not just teachers), restoring trust, addressing growth areas in the district, student achievement, managing district resources, testing and assessment, and revisiting the composition of the newly-formed District Accountability Committee to address any gaps.
  • Brad Miller resigned, effective Nov. 30.
  • Board members held a study session on Nov. 30 to talk though how they will do outreach with the community and to map out next meetings.

The study session was basically about process: how they schedule school visits, how they should do community outreach meetings (like community budget forums), etc. You can watch or listen to the full meeting here:  http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310/videos/105904116.

They’ll have their first regular meeting today. The study session starts at 5:30 and is about the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). They’ll likely also talk a bit about projections for the 2015-16 budget cycle, which begins soon.

The regular meeting begins at 6:30 and it looks like public comment will occupy the vast majority of the agenda. The consent agenda largely contains the usual: approval of minutes, approval of contracts for temporary buildings at overcrowded NW Arvada schools, mill levy certification (which happens every year in December), and approval of new hires, staffing changes, and resignations.

The only unusual item is about a reconfiguration of Bradford Elementary from a K-6 to a K-8. According to Superintendent McMinimee and district staff, the change is being driven by parents, students and staff, and those affected have been able to comment on the change at meetings at the school and through a survey. The board members asked about this specific item and questioned whether it should be on the consent agenda at their Nov. 30 study session, and the advice they were given was that this decision is being made with support from that community.

The board will also work on the calendar and agenda for upcoming meetings.

The last item on the agenda is listed as a two-hour executive session to “receive legal advice on the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials, and relevant board and district policies related to the same.”

The fact that it’s listed as an executive session has already drawn fire from the usual players, including one who ironically commented that the public deserves to know why the board might need its own counsel. Guess she finally caught on to what JCSBW has been saying for two years – not to mention parents, students, community members and the two members of the board minority. We will also note, however, that unlike two years ago, the agenda item is to merely to receive information.

We’ll also remind readers that former BOE attorney Brad Miller required such the board members to meet to discuss what legal counsel the board would need. That requirement was in his original contract and was mentioned again in his resignation letter:

Please note that upon receipt of notice of termination, the Board agreed that it immediately will make a good faith effort and take all necessary steps to obtain any needed new counsel.

We applaud the efforts of the new board to immediately learn what they need to do to be fully compliant with both Colorado open meetings laws and the Colorado Open Records Act. That was very clearly a problem for members of the old board, as we noted in the past. Should this agenda item also be conducted in open session? Perhaps, though receiving legal advice on specific legal questions is a protected use of executive session:

State and local public bodies (including college and university boards) may use executive sessions to receive advice from an attorney on specific legal questions.

It’s also possible that board members may choose to conduct some of the agenda item in public before moving to executive session to request legal advice about other specific questions they may have. In either case, moving to executive session requires a vote, so we’ll see what they choose to do.

You can watch the fun here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

And as suggested by a reader, we’re going to start ending our posts with a new phrase:

JeffCo Proud!

Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll update about tonight’s meeting, unless the pile of holiday preparations awaiting buries us until January.