8.27.15 BOE meeting tonight!

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Yes, it’s that time again. It would appear the Jeffco School Board has finally finalized the meeting agenda, which has been modified more than once in the past few days. Here’s what you have to look forward to tonight:

 

– 2.01 Resolution: Negotiated Agreement–Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) (EL-3)

JCEA’s membership ratified the agreement, so now it goes to a school board vote. Based on what we’re seeing further north in the Thompson School District, there’s plenty of good reason to suspect that Witt, Newkirk and Williams (WNW for those new to the school board majority shenanigans this year) had no intention of working out a tentative agreement, much less approving one. With the recall mechanisms in motion, however, perhaps they’re more incentivized than usual?

There’s a lot to not like (i.e., a ridiculously short 10-month contract and the money that will be spent to negotiate another contract next year). And yet there are some protections for class sizes and other important issues in place–which is always important for a group of ideologues who are convinced that 40 or 45 kids in a classroom is actually an ideal situation for kids.

2.02 Review of Board Committees (GP-12, 13)

This appears to be more monkeying around with SPAC, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council, who WNW appear to have been targeting since they took office. SPAC has been functioning as the state-mandated district accountability committee and the district’s lawyer and Superintendent McMinimee have confirmed that it meets the law’s requirements. Nevertheless, WNW want that committee under their thumb and this may be another move in that direction.

2.03 Facilities Planning Preview (EL-8, 11)

This item was listed on Monday morning without attached documents, removed, and since has been replaced on the agenda. (We know!)

This is one of multiple presentations the board has heard since August 2014 about the growing population in north Jeffco. It’s an issue that primarily affects the northwest Arvada area but is also affecting nearly all the Jeffco Schools north of I-70, as Steve Bell pointed out in one of his presentations last spring–and to which north Jeffco parents can testify.

The issue is due to a couple of factors, including the number of new housing developments: Leyden Rock, Candelas, Whisper Creek, and also smaller amounts of construction on what used to be small farms around Arvada, like the area just to the east of Majestic View Park near 72nd and Kipling.

A second factor is that Sierra Elementary in Arvada was due for phase 2 of a remodeling and expansion project, but the bond to move that project forward was on the 2008 bond referendum, which failed. Sierra families have brought this issue to the board repeatedly in past years, but WNW have ignored them. Completing phase 2 would add more seats to the area, but there are no plans to do that.

The third factor is that two schools in the Arvada/Westminster area were closed in 2012 as the district grappled with budget cuts. One of those now houses the Head Start program–and that will continue because Westminster tore down the building that Head Start had been using (also due to budget cuts which meant a lack of money to do the necessary maintenance and repairs to the aging structure). The other was Zerger Elementary, which remains unused. It has been suggested repeatedly as a possible option to deal with the growing number of students, but Bell said the building was stripped when they closed it down.

Reopening Zerger would require replacing not only the usual classroom furniture, but also chalkboards, projectors, and more. The school is also located about six miles away from Candelas, so if the plan was to send children from the area to Zerger, they would have a lengthy bus ride–assuming that parents chose to fork over the $150 for bus service.

Suffice it to say that no one is championing reopening Zerger, temporarily or otherwise, including Williams who continues to suggest that the district use an empty retail building, like a grocery store as a new school. (Fact check: the Leyden Rock and Candelas areas were empty fields before the housing developments were constructed. There are no empty grocery stores nearby, so it’s not exactly a feasible plan.)

What we do know: the board set aside $18 million to build a school, and it’s unlikely that WNW will budget from that number no matter what. We’ll try to post a review of the Certificates of Participation and construction costs issue in the district in the next couple of weeks.

2.04 Montessori Peaks Academy (EL-10, 13)

Last spring, a Jeffco family brought a number of issues regarding Montessori Peaks to the attention of the board. This item revisits the district’s investigation into the matter.

The meeting will be streamed, and the district is telling us this is the link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

The meeting starts at 5:30 pm in the board room on the 5th floor of the Education Building (1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO). If you can’t be there tonight, please join us virtually on the live stream.

Don’t like what you see tonight? Write the board, sign up for public comment at the Sept. 3 meeting, and never forget:

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

8.27.15 Salary Increase – The Superintendent’s spin on almost no increase

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Everyone can look at data and interpret it how they like, and the communication from the superintendent’s office today about Jeffco teacher salary certainly was one way of looking at the data about salary increases.  Here is another.

Italics denote the communication from McMinimee’s office.  Bold words represent one teacher’s perspective on this issue.

Teacher Compensation Increases in Jeffco Public Schools

Jeffco Public Schools values the efforts and dedication of its teachers and wants to attract, retain, and reward those who help students succeed and make classrooms soar. That’s why over the past two years, compensation for effective and highly-effective teachers has increased.

True, it has increased…but read on.

“Research has demonstrated that more effective teachers can produce bigger gains for our students, year over year,” said Amy Weber, Chief Human Resources Officer. “We want to be a district that hires and retains effective teachers and compensation is a part of that.”

This has been stated repeatedly, but with little actual evidence presented. Not to say it isn’t there, because here is a good study.  More evidence exists, however, for tying student performance to socio-economic conditions.

For the 2015-16 school year, the Board approved $15.6 million in compensation increases from $19.5 million in state funds. Compensation increases this year represent 80 percent of new money from the state. Included in this compensation are increased Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) costs, which represent an increase of $3.7 million in 2014 and an expected $3.2 million this year. PERA is a state requirement that provides a retirement plan to Jeffco Schools’ employees. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act is mandated and ensures that all eligible Jeffco employees are offered healthcare coverage. Compliance with ACA also uses dollars that would be otherwise available for compensation.

True, but not all of this goes to teachers.  The compensation to just teachers was about $5.3 million directly.  Compliance with ACA means we may pay a penalty because the health care coverage offered by the district exceeds the mandate, so it is the penalty for getting a “Cadillac” plan. This should be negotiated with all the employees in the district.  The main problem with the statement above is that it implies $15.6 million is going to teachers alone, and clearly it is not.

“We made some difficult decisions around budget this year given competing budget priorities,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “Jeffco has dedicated the maximum dollar amount to compensation from money from the state without sacrificing resources for students and for building needs for increasing the capacity of the school district.”

Well yes, they decided to fund charter school equalization, which was not requested by many Jeffco residents, while refusing to use Certificates of Participation (COPs), to fund a K-8 school in north Jeffco. It may be all the money they freed up, but that was not their only option.

Due to the level of state funding and budgeting priorities, the performance-based compensation increases for 2015 will be, on average, one percent. Although this is lower than last year’s increase, it is the second year of increases following several years of salary freezes.

Yes, but certainly not in line with promises made when 3A passed (the 2012 mill levy override).  And while the average is 1%, is it worth mentioning that the district staff told the board that the Denver Area CPI was 2.8%?  So this represents falling behind inflation, in just one year, by 64%.

In real dollar terms it is a decrease.  In real emotional terms it is a kick in the teeth.

Implemented in the fall of 2014 by the Board, compensation in Jeffco for teachers is now tied to overall performance in the classroom, as measured by an evaluation rubric developed collaboratively with the District, staff, and Jefferson County Education Association, to ensure that all students have an effective teacher in every classroom. In the fall of 2014, “highly effective” teachers received the highest ongoing increase at 4.25 percent and “effective” teachers received a 2.43 percent on going increase last year.

The evaluation rubric was found to be untested for the basis for compensation increases, was found to have no reliability across schools, or even within schools, and a federal mediator recommended it not be used for evaluation, especially in a “hold harmless” year.  The biggest problem with this paragraph is its misdirection.  This happened last year, still did not catch up teachers from the pay freezes and inflation, and is used to get people to forget the prior paragraph.  Teachers will see on average 1%, but the majority will receive less than 1%.

“Jeffco Schools always wants to be able to reward its employees with greater compensation.  Obviously, a one percent raise is not as much as we would like to give, and we recognize that cost of living in Colorado has increased,” said Weber. “To ensure we keep our most effective employees in our classrooms, we are continuing to find ways to increase pay moving forward.”

Then when you bring a compensation plan forward to the board, put some real money behind it.  Regardless of who the board is, if the staff thinks there should be more money for compensation, then ask for it!

After research showed that Jeffco Schools was not as competitive in compensation with surrounding districts, Jeffco Schools also raised starting teacher salaries to $38,000 per year to attract the best teachers for its classrooms. As a result, and to make compensation more fair, compensation for hard-working, veteran teachers also increased to equal levels of new-hire pay, which was something that was not previously done. This means that many Jeffco Schools employees will see raises above the one-percent performance raises.

True, but the pay equalization only came after a hard fought battle in court, which the district lost, and negotiation with the teachers’ association.  Of course, the current communications contractor (Novitas) is not going to bring this up.  We just wanted to make sure our readers know that this came about after pressure, not as a gesture of good will.

The hard work and dedication of Jeffco Schools’ teachers and staff continue to make a huge impact on the lives Jeffco’s students, and Jeffco Public Schools is doing everything it can to reward those who make a difference in the classroom.

Editorial comment: they are doing everything they can to APPEAR that they are doing what they can to retain teachers.  But they are certainly not backing it up with actions.  The board is not required to submit its final budget to the state until next January.  If they really cared about retention, they would open compensation discussions immediately upon being seated after the election.  That would be a way to make a statement about change.

 Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

7.9.15 In Her Own Words

Recently Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee sent a communication to parents in which he denigrated teachers, saying that “dedicated teachers” were staying, indicating that he thinks teachers who leave are not dedicated.  Let’s hear some factual information instead from an extremely dedicated, highly qualified, and highly effective teacher from of Jefferson County’s excellent high schools.

I am a veteran science teacher with a degree in my field, over 10 years of experience, and a highly effective rating.  I chose to leave Jefferson County because I do not support the direction or the methods of Witt, Williams, and Newkirk.  I left for a district that values and supports its teachers, students, and community members.

The new pay scheme that was introduced by Witt, Williams, and Newkirk does not support the achievement of all students.  It makes it more difficult to teach at high poverty schools and to teach courses offered specifically for struggling students.  It gives teachers no incentive to continue their education.

Teachers need to learn from each other.  The new pay scheme pits teachers against each other to compete for the top scores on their evaluations.  It makes the relationships between teachers and administrators combative when it should be collaborative.

Witt, Williams, and Newkirk chose not to help our neediest students at the point in their schooling when it could make the greatest difference. They chose not to completely fund full day kindergarten to needy kids across the district.  They do not want to invest in our kids.

Due to their interest in a review of the AP US History curriculum, I am worried that Witt, Williams, and Newkirk will try to exercise more control over science curriculum.  I expect that they will try to impose their radical views on the teaching of what they consider to be controversial topics in science:  evolution, climate science, geology, and vaccinations.

Last year, Witt, Williams, and Newkirk showed that they have no intention of working with the teachers to come to agreement over the working conditions in schools.  They rejected the findings of a mediator and instead unilaterally imposed a compensation scheme on the teachers.

I am worried that future changes to the teachers’ contract will cause class sizes to increase.  I am worried that future changes to the teachers’ contract at the high school level will be expected to teach more class sections.  This will leave teachers with less time to work with individual students, develop engaging lessons, and provide feedback to students.

The propaganda machine at the district communications department will do its utmost to spin the facts.  Don’t let them bamboozle you.  Listen to the voices of the people who make up your child’s learning environment.

Note: To minimize retaliation against this teacher we are choosing to allow her to remain anonymous.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

6.22.15 Late June Jeffco Teacher Negotiations Update

I can no longer tolerate the actions/policies of this school board.  I have accepted a job teaching at Monarch High School.

– Chuck Stephen, former Lakewood HS band & orchestra teacher

From the beginning of negotiations with the district, our Teacher Association, JCEA, has been seeking stability and certainty.  The best way to have a highly qualified teacher in a classroom is to have a career path for teachers that encourages them to develop their skills, live in their communities in which they teach, and impact the “whole child.”  This includes not just teaching core subjects, but also electives, clubs, sports, and more.  To that end, the association has been negotiating in good faith since March with designated district staff.  Little progress had been made until recently due to uncertainty over budgets. Now that that has been settled (through another 3-2 vote by our WNW triad of doom), here are some salient points:

  • Teachers with less than or 6 years of experience will receive a pay bump so that their salaries are in line with a new salary schedule for new hires that increases starting pay to $38K and increases 2% a year. Details can be found here.
  • Master’s degrees previously earned after 2012, but not compensated for will be caught up.
  • Hard to fill positions will get some additional money to aid hiring.
  • All other employees will see an approximately 1% increase, depending on their performance rating.

This plan is ONLY in place for the 2015-2016 school year, and there is no agreement on anything else going forward.  As for the certainty that the association is seeking, there is still none.

Now that negotiations are down to four scheduled days (June 29-July 2), it is looking increasingly likely that no agreement will be reached unless more days are added to negotiations.  Many of the open items are the ones that impact whether teachers have certainty in their future career options in Jeffco, such as:

  • District-proposed contract expiration of June 30, 2016, an echo of DougCo’s plan to crush their association.
  • No salary schedule or compensation plan beyond the 2015-16 school year.
  • No agreed-upon plan regarding how school principals will decide about displacement if staffing needs to change.
  • No plan for the use of buildings by the association, or even for the role of a JCEA president.
  • Completely open-ended questions on education of the “whole child,” electives, counselors, librarians, etc.
  • Class sizes (which, of course is a big budget driver)

Chalkbeat has posted many of the documents being negotiated, with “red line” versions available too (scroll past the first part of the article to view them).

Given that the board’s plan was to negotiate from a blank sheet of paper, they have done a good job of making clear their priorities. Their only priority seemingly was, up to a week ago, to get their new hire salary schedule approved.  Now that they have gotten what they wanted, it is clear that any other contract terms are going to be hard-fought for the association.

If we want teachers to not quit the district (more 600 last year, and more than 700 already this year), we need a contract that gives them reasons to stay, with reasons including everything from salary to professional development to respect for what they do for the community.  It is in the interest of the community to have happy teachers because they’re working environment is the student’s learning environment.  The association has repeatedly made clear their desire for a contract is NOT to protect bad teachers.  That is a red herring that has NO basis in facts on the ground.  Watch the negotiations if you have time, so you can see for yourself.


 

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

6.10.15 – We need you at Thursday’s BOE meeting

The June 11 Jeffco School Board meeting is the final budget hearing for the 2015/16 budget. We need you there. Why? To make sure the board keeps its priorities straight.

Some of the main issues this year?

1. We need to finance new schools in the west Lakewood and northwest Arvada area. WNW has consistently refused to approve Certificates of Participation, despite the recommendations of district staff and McMinimee himself.

Julie Williams wants the district to build a modular school in the NW Arvada area, despite McMinimee’s point that a similar school in Douglas County, was cheaper because it was built during the recession when building costs were down and which, notably, has needed considerable repairs during that time. John Newkirk thinks the district can convince the developers to enter a new era of partnership in which they also donate money or other services to help build a school. (McMinimee’s response [slightly paraphrased]: “In my experience, the developers see their contribution as the land they already donated to the district.”) Ken Witt is hostile to the idea of debt, as is Newkirk, who likened debt to a fire extinguisher behind glass that says “break in case of emergency.” (That comment reveals so much privilege and so little experience of the real lives of the Jeffco taxpayers, doesn’t it? One might also suspect that they were big supporters of 2010’s Amendment 61 — one of the “bad 3,” all of which were voted down 2-1 by Colorado voters.)

The BOE voted to allocate $15 million of unallocated dollars for a new school, but as we’ve pointed out, $15 million won’t build a $25 million school (the district’s estimate). Where’s the other $10 million coming from? Who knows!

What they should do: approve the COPs and free up that $15 million for compensation, reserves, and classrooms. Their priorities are our children, not their high-handed ideals about how all debt is bad and new schools can just be built by cutting the budget.

2. Put more money into facilities and reserves. Instead, thanks to the $15 million that will only build part of a school, we’re putting less into reserves. It’s something, but its insufficient. Remember, we pulled heavily from reserves when the budget cuts hit. We need to build them up before the next round, which is forecast for 2017 or so. Reserve funds also affect our credit rating, which in turn gives us better interest rates on existing bonds and for any bonds the district might pursue in the future.

Facilities maintenance has also been neglected for a number of years. Some of the $15 million should be allocated back to facilities where it belongs.

3. Teacher compensation is without a doubt our number one priority. The district has made some increases available, though a large portion is eaten up by PERA and ACA increases. Another portion was allocated to increasing compensation for new hires and hard-to-fill positions like speech pathologists. Unfortunately, despite the district’s emphasis that more money would need to be available in order to equalize salaries for veteran teachers, WNW’s response has been “maybe next year.” A small increase of 1 percent is available as JCEA and the district continuing negotiating, but that amount isn’t likely to be distributed evenly (see: performance pay) and isn’t nearly enough to equalize salaries with the newcomers.

Yes, you read that right: salaries for new hires with the same years of experience and same education would be higher than the salaries of our veteran teachers who agreed to the pay freeze during the rejection and have stuck with us while we all waited for the economy to improve.

At the May 26 meeting — the first budget hearing — they had a chance to change that. They didn’t. Newkirk said he’d like to, but maybe next year because the budget money has already been allocated (see #1, above).

The board majority doesn’t care about retaining our excellent Jeffco teachers.

Do you?

If so, it’s time to speak up. Be there: June 11, 6:30 pm. (Come at 5:30 if you’d like to hear about the strategic plan and Acuity results during the study session.) You can sign up to comment on the agenda here or for the budget hearing here. Have a comment about a topic not on the agenda? Click here to sign up for public comment part 2.

Here’s a basic summary of the budget changes to-date:

  • a proposed 1% compensation increase
  • an additional staff-recommended $1.152M compensation increase for targeted employees (principals, assistant principals, hard-to-fill teacher positions and master’s degree recognition for teachers),
  • a $763k substitute teacher pay increase
  • a $2.014M increase in student-based budget (SBB) funding for neighborhoods schools
  • $3M transfer to reserve
  • $186k increase for charter school mill levy override equalization

There’s plenty more going on. For those events, we’ll link you to the posts from our friends at Support Jeffco Kids for news about a new marketing and communications hire (sneak peak: she’s been working for the Independence Institute and loves those vouchers!), Communication Chief Lisa Pinto’s resigntation, last weekend’s rally in Jeffco, and more.

Can’t make it to the meeting? Please write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us and tell them what you think.

The meeting will be streamed live (we hope) at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Keep fighting, JeffCo!