4.6.16 The AFP is at it again & quick 4/7 BOE meeting preview

This will be a brief update, as all of our writers are currently swamped with other things. We know we owe you a summary of the last couple of meetings and we will have that for you as soon as humanely possible.

However, we wanted to bring your attention to some news uncovered by our friends at Jeffco Citizens for Responsible Education. They noticed that a number of emails regarding the use of Certificates of Participation (COPs) had been sent to the board. The vast majority of those in opposition were one of two form letters. Jeffco CRE followed that trail a bit further, right to the door of Americans for Prosperity, who conveniently set up a webpage so that people could submit a form letter to the board through their website.

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We agree with Jeffco CRE when they write “Colorado is a local control state for a reason.  Outside special interest groups should stop sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.” Indeed.

In addition, there’s a board meeting this Thursday, April 7.

Highlights

Can’t attend? Stream the meeting live at this link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310.

JeffCo Proud!

 

3.17.2016 BOE MEETING PREVIEW

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The Jeffco School Board will hold a study session this Thursday, March 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you cannot attend, you can stream the meeting online. Key matters include:

Jeffco’s Early Childhood Education Program

The Board will hear the latest regarding Jeffco’s growing Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program. This includes preschool, Kindergarten and before- and after-school programs. The Board will also meet ECE community partners during this update.

We’re curious to know the impacts to enrollment in Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) as a result of the requirement that free FDK be provided to all students on free and reduced lunch (FRL). This is something that hasn’t been clear, so we’re wondering:

  • How many schools were providing free FDK to all students prior to SBB who have stopped doing so, specifically due to the percentage of FRL students in their school? Our understand from last year was that there were 40 schools providing free FDK that went down to 25 schools after the implementation of SBB.
  • As we understand it, schools receive additional funds for free lunch kiddos, but not for reduced lunch kiddos. Therefore, schools have to provide the funds for school fees and free FDK for reduced lunch kiddos from their general fund. How is this impacting schools and what is being done to relieve this pressure?

We’re also wondering if the district or new board has considered a tiered system of charging for FDK like the one Denver Public Schools implemented, which bases tuition upon the size of the family relative to their gross income and ability to pay instead of a flat $300/month fee? Or is there a way the district could move toward offering free FDK for everyone, perhaps on a 5- or 10-year implementation plan? (The ideal situation would be that the state allocates funding to allow all districts to offer free FDK, of course, but we’re well aware of the ongoing state funding problems.)

2nd Quarter Financial Report

Jeffco Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson, a representative from the District’s auditor and members of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee will share the latest financial news. The report identifies funds, departments and/or schools to monitor closely throughout the year.

We’re pleased to see no charter schools are borrowing at the end of this quarter, and Collegiate Academy has closed its line of credit with the District. Budgeting for the 2016-2017 school year will continue to be a hot topic. Stay tuned.

District Accountability Committee

Next, Jeffco Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott and District Accountability Committee Chair Julie Oxenford-O’Brian will update the Board on the District’s Unified Improvement Plan before it is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education.

Legislative Update

Jeffco’s Lobbyist, Ed Bowditch, will update the Board on legislation affecting schools, districts and education.

When Cindy Stevenson Left Jeffco…

Two years ago, when the Board approved former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s early release from her duties, Witt, Newkirk and Williams insisted on barring her from volunteering or being employed in Jeffco Schools in the future.

Paragraph #12, page 5 of 8 of that agreement reads, No continuing right of employment by the District. Dr. Stevenson agrees that she will not apply for or otherwise seek re-employment or seek to volunteer in the District, (emphasis added) including its charter schools until December 31, 2018, and that, in the event she does so, it will be a material breach of this Agreement, and the District and its charter schools will have no obligation to consider her application.”

At the March 3, 2016, meeting, Ron Mitchell asked that this be reviewed by district legal counsel to see if that prohibition could be changed. At the last meeting, Mitchell said he didn’t think that was a typical element of an agreement and that it seemed needless. We are interested in understanding whether that clause can be changed or eliminated, and what the board may have in mind.

We’ll also note for the record that Stevenson is currently employed as Director of the CASE Leadership Initiative, so we don’t think this is a move to reinstate her as superintendent. Barring her from even volunteering in the district, however, was always clearly meant to be spiteful by WNW.

Employee Negotiations

The meeting wraps up with an update on Employee Negotiations – the teacher contract. The Board will hear from Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Weber and contract attorney Jim Branum. The next negotiations session will take place Monday, March 28.

Jeffco Student Headed to Scripps National Spelling Bee – AGAIN!

On a lighter note, we’d like to congratulate Jeffco Schools student Sylvie Lamontagne who will represent Colorado in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second year running. Lamontagne, an eighth grader at Creighton Middle School, competed last year and finished 9th out of 285 spellers at the national bee. This is the first time in 20 years that Colorado has had a back-to-back champion, thanks in part to a change in the rules that allows a winner to compete again in the contest. Her winning word was “ossifrage.” Good luck at the national spelling bee!

JeffCo Proud!

 

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our summary of board actions and other board work to-date. If you missed it, start with part 1, which summarizes some of their work regarding Certificates of Participation and other major issues.  This post will focus on negotiations and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Employee Negotiations

Negotiations season is just kicking off, and the board has heard from both the district and JCEA about the process and issues that will take center stage. The board heard a presentation from JCEA at the 2/18/16 study session and gave the district negotiating team some direction regarding upcoming negotiation sessions.

JCEA identified some issues they’d like to address in negotiations:

  • Increase professional development funding (it was cut during the recession)
  • To include JCEA as part of the teacher induction program again (last August they were refused)
  • To restore association leave for leadership roles. JCEA pays for subs during a member’s leave, and this issue was previously part of the contract.
  • A predictable, comprehensive salary schedule for all employees (a grid system)

JCEA agrees that teachers need to be rated effective or highly effective to move a step but want a rich conversation with the district about other things that should be happening annually, like regular professional development or other expectations.

In addition, JCEA said they do not want to see a distinction made regarding effective and highly effective teachers when it comes to the salary structure currently because they are not confident in the current inter-rater reliability within schools or across the district. They also think it reduces collegiality within the schools. They see the primary purpose of evaluations as leading to growth rather than being tied to income.

Many of the same issues, especially regarding competitive pay and a predictable schedule, were mentioned by the district as well.

The district’s negotiating team also asked board members to list some of their priorities at the Feb. 18 meeting. Board members said:

  • Be more competitive in compensation, within the restraints of the budget and with the understanding that Jeffco will likely never offer the highest salaries in the area
  • Compensation for masters degrees, though some board members want to see that tied closely to a teacher’s subject matter or to teaching in general (as opposed to someone with a completely unrelated master’s degree)
  • Compensation for additional credit hours beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Additional compensation for hard-to-fill positions, like speech pathologists and school psychologists
  • Compensation tied to experience

There were other issues where the board remains uncertain:

  • Compensation tied to performance

All indicated they’d like to see some of that, but the how and why are very unclear. There are concerns about the reliability of the evaluation system, about whether a distinction should be made between effective and highly effective, and how to measure that appropriately.

Susan Harmon was very clear that she doesn’t want to see performance tied to test scores; Ron Mitchell said he sees effective and highly effective ratings as a continuum, and that he doesn’t think there’s much difference between a teacher who’s at the high end of effective or a teacher at the low-end of highly effective.

  • Additional compensation for school subjects

Board members were split on this question, which largely applies to high schools. Some argued that a math teacher should be paid more than an English teacher if those positions are harder to fill; others said that if you have a highly effective music teacher and a highly effective science teacher, both have a major, positive impact on students and the school so it’s hard to justify paying one more than the other. No decisions were made there.

  • Additional compensation for placement in more challenging schools

Board members are very mixed on this one. They all agree that something should be done to make those positions more attractive, but whether that will be through providing some sort of additional compensation, additional recognition, or additional resources and support remains to be decided.

Much of the research indicates that additional compensation might be enough to bring a teacher to schools with higher poverty rates and other challenges, but isn’t usually enough to keep them there. Feedback from the “strategic comp” project also indicated that what teachers find more compelling are strong leaders, a cooperative team, and lots of support and resources to help with the challenges.

The negotiation sessions are being streamed and archived. Archived sessions (which of this writing only include the 2/6/16 negotiation session) can be viewed here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/4781604

Negotiation session dates are posted here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=A6TT4P718068

Other Jeffco School Board actions

Charter School Contract Renewals

Charter school contract renewals are typically on the consent agenda unless there is a special issue at stake. We’re noting this under other business because the board dedicated part of a study session on 1/28/16 to learn about the renewal process.

Facilities Master Plan

The board heard an update on the facilities master planning process at the 1/28/16 study session. Expect to hear more about the updated facilities master plan in March.

Technology and Date Privacy Advisory Committee

The 1/28/16 study session included an update from the TDPAC.

2016 Legislative Season

The board has received a few legislative updates and is working on a TABOR statement. They’re also expected to take positions on upcoming legislation soon, likely in March, but some board members wanted more time to read through the full bill before voting one way or the other.

Board members also met with Jeffco legislators on 1/26/16, largely to discuss school funding issues, but also to talk with them about other proposals that affect education.

Budget Process & Board Ends

Since taking office, the board has had multiple presentations about the budget process as well as the community engagement process. In addition, they recently heard from the community directly at a series of community budget forums held Feb. 1-10.

Board members discussed what they’d heard at these forums at their 2/18/16 study session. Everyone noted that they heard lots of positive feedback about the Jeffco 20/20 Vision, which was good news. The community forums also focused on board ends and the budget.

Most heard a fair amount of dissatisfaction regarding board ends, with concern that the ends didn’t consider the whole child, weren’t sufficient, were unrealistic in some ways, relied on test scores too much, and were not specific enough in other ways. More project-based assessments, parent involvement (including diversified pathways for that involvement), more pathways for college and career planning, and more focus on special populations was mentioned.

Parent involvement in middle school and high school also was noted as an issue, as was the continued push to offer free full-day kindergarten throughout the district. The board is looking to schedule a retreat to discuss and revise those ends further sometime this spring.

When it came to the budget, many members noted that community members really wanted “both/and” (a feeling that’s familiar to most of us in these years of tight budgets). Technology needs, employee compensation, free full-day kindergarten and the needs of special populations were also prominent in those discussions.

Board Policies

There have been multiple long conversations about current board policies and wording. We’ve noted significant changes above. The rest are (to our eyes) minor, so we invite interested parties to look at the various revised documents from the 1/14, 2/4 and 2/18 meetings via BoardDocs.

The board’s next regular meeting will be March 3. We invite you to join us there or to watch via streaming.

Jeffco Proud!

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 1

It’s been longer than we’d like since we’ve posted summary versions of the meetings, but we’d like to bring you up to date about what’s been happening with the Jeffco School Board in the past few months. The short version is that the vast majority of board members’ time has been spent immersing themselves in the intricate details of the district so that they’re familiar with the processes and facts of the various elements involved before they make decisions.

With that in mind, this post will be split into two main sections: first, 1) board actions, and then 2) other board work, as we summarize what they’ve been doing since their November elections.

Jeffco BOE Actions, Nov. 2015 – February 2016

Returned $15 million slotted for Candelas K-6 construction to the General Fund (1/14/16)

The decision by the previous board to pull $15 million from the general fund to construct a new school had been a major point of contention last year for a number of reasons all outlined in previous posts. This vote puts the money back into the general fund. Note that no plans have been made for those dollars yet. Board members stated they intend to hold that money and wait to see what happens with the 2016-17 budget before making any decisions on those dollars.

Approved Certificates of Participation (COPs) for Candelas K-8 and Sierra Phase II (1/14/16)

This required three votes: one to approve moving ahead with the Candelas site as a K-8 school (as previously had been recommended by the district) rather than as a smaller K-6 school with a planned addition at some point in the future; one to approve the use of COPs to finance construction at Candelas; and, one to approve the use of COPs to finance phase II of construction at Sierra Elementary. These three votes also required a great deal of discussion, both at previous study sessions and during the meeting, and featured the board’s first split vote.

The board heard a two-hour presentation during the 12/17/15 study session to learn about the facilities process and asked questions about specific issues throughout the county. Many board members had also heard the many facilities presentations that had been given since August 2014 on the issue, though all benefited from the updated information and opportunity to ask questions that previous board members had not.

The first vote to reconfigure the Candelas plan to a K-8 and use COPs to fund construction was unanimous, though it followed another intense round of discussion and questions about the benefits of a K-8 and the cost effectiveness involved. (Short answer: it’s more cost-effective for construction costs and for daily operating costs.) There was also a lot of discussion regarding how flexible COPs would be for meeting budget and construction needs. (Short answer: they can be paid off at any time. The board could, for example, take the $15 million they’d just moved back to the general fund and vote to use it to pay a large portion of the COP.)

The second vote to use COPs to finance Sierra Phase II construction was preceded by the same intense conversation and questioning. Several board members had visited Sierra to see the conditions first-hand and all were appalled. However, as board member Amanda Stevens pointed out, Sierra is not the only school with significant facilities issues. She, like the others, prefers to use a bond to finance school construction; Stevens was concerned about committing general fund dollars to paying a portion of COPs in tight financial times. In the end, the vote was 4/1 with Stevens voting against the motion. She said her vote was not at all a vote against the Sierra community (and we’ll note that it was clear the motion would pass by the time Stevens voted), but that she really wants the board to address facilities issues district-wide through a bond issue this November.

To keep this summary from being any longer, we invite you to read the news coverage here and here for more details about the discussions surrounding the three votes.

CASB Membership Renewal (2/4/16)

Jeffco had been a long-time member of the Colorado Association of School Boards, informally known as CASB, until last year when three former board members refused to renew that membership. The new board members took time to get to know CASB’s work, the training opportunities it offered, and other benefits, such as legal advice, plus the work CASB does to influence education policy on the state level, and voted unanimously to approve the board’s membership renewal.

Added Members to the District Accountability Committee (2/4/16)

Last fall, the former board approved changes to split the roles of the former Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) between two committees: a District Accountability Committee (DAC) and a new SPAC that would limit its work to strategic planning and not to the accountability work required by state statute. However, our readers will also remember that the former board directed that the new DAC be a board committee, with membership subject to board approval. In the process, they also cut seats previously held by Jeffco PTA and by CSEA (Jeffco’s Classified School Employees Association), among others.

In February, board members added slots to include these and other stakeholder groups, so the new membership looks like this:

  • One parent representative from a school-level accountability team (SAC) from each articulation area (17)
  • Charter school SAC parent representatives (3)
  • Option school SAC parent representative (1)
  • Jeffco Schools teachers, with effort made to represent each grade band: K-5, 6-8, 9-12. JCEA may recommend individuals, and both members and non-members of JCEA are eligible (1-3)
  • Jeffco Schools building-level administrator (1-3)
  • Parent-at-large representatives (up to 10, with efforts made to represent the diversity of stakeholders)
  • Business community representative (at least 1)
  • Jeffco PTA member (1)
  • Jeffco Schools classified staff representative. Both CSEA members and non-members are eligible, and CSEA may recommend individuals (1)
  • Superintendent

Expansion of Two Roads Charter School Contract (2/4/16)

Jeffco Schools has offered a blended learning/online program for elementary school students as part of its Jefferson Virtual Academy (JVA). However, the K-5 program has not met its targeted enrollment and funding doesn’t support continuing the program. Two Roads Charter School expressed interest in taking over the program to continue it for participating and interested families, but was prevented from doing so by their current contract – the standard Jeffco Schools charter contract prohibits charters from offering online programs.

The board discussed amending the contract for Two Roads to take over the K-5 blended/online program during a study session on 1/28/16, and then voted to approve the move at the 2/4/16 meeting.

Expanded Bradford K-6 to a K-8 program (12/10/15)

This vote garnered some criticism, largely because it’s not entirely clear that the move had the support of all stakeholders. The Bradford community was highly supportive of the move to expand the program to include 7th and 8th grade programming, and the district supported the move because it was made with the requirement that the program be capped at 90 students per grade. That cap will avoid any need for building expansion in the future and limits the impact on the feeder schools in the Chatfield articulation area. District officials said the move had the support of principals at those feeder schools, though others noted that those principals did not attend the board meeting to speak to the issue one way or another. School Accountability Committees at feeder schools may not have been consulted either.

This issue was sprung on the board (and the at-large Jeffco community) out of the blue by district staff. Board members questioned district staff carefully about whether the administration at the feeder schools that would be affected supported the proposal. Staff told the board members that they did, so we can hardly fault the board members for doing their due diligence or for wanting to make the decision before the first round of choice-enrollment opened in January. That said, we’d also encourage board members to think about whether a board policy requiring the district to provide a certain amount of notice to the board before bringing an issue for a vote might be in their favor so that there is time to have more discussion before taking action. However, we’ll also note that when it came to expanding the online program at Two Roads (above), board members were quick to make sure there was a study session to discuss options before bringing it to a vote for the next meeting, so that’s a huge step toward respecting process and community engagement.

View our next post for specifics regarding negotiations with JCEA, and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Jeffco Proud!

Preview of School Board Meeting Preview for January 14, 2016

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, January 14th, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream. Prior to the 5 pm meeting, students from Arvada High School’s orchestra kick off the evening with a 5 pm performance.

During the first hour of the meeting, the board will hear from the district Human Resources leadership team on employee compensation strategies, workforce issues and recent decisions. In looking at the team’s presentation, we are struck by the “We Are Jeffco” slide (slide 4) where it specifically calls attention to Jeffco’s 5,690 “effective educators.” We’re wondering why it isn’t just labeled “educators” or broken down into highly effective, partially effective, effective, etc.

Also, it’s interesting to see that total salary and benefits for Jeffco staff lags inflation by 7%! Slide 14 of the presentation is just heartbreaking — where classroom teacher turnover dropped in Boulder, Cherry Creek, DougCo and Littleton, there was a frightening spike in turnover in Jeffco. We’ve got to turn that trend around! District leadership asks a great question: “are we able to attract and retain quality staff?” Jeffco uses EPI (Educators Professional Inventory) for all licensed classroom positions. This teacher selection tool predicts an applicant’s potential impact on student achievement.

In addition, there’s a presentation about Jeffco’s Strategic Compensation pilot, but too little time for a full discussion. The pilot looked at whether additional compensation for educators makes a difference in student achievement and evaluated which supports for teachers and principals have the greatest impact on student achievement. The findings show students do better when they have better (higher rated) teachers.

Things that affect teacher quality include strong leaders/shared leadership, collaboration, professional learning communities, and rigorous evaluations with growth-focused feedback and associated professional development. The presentation doesn’t address the role of compensation.

We hope the board asks for more information about this piece. We think the key is offering a competitive wage and an innovative, collaborative, supportive work environment. The strategic compensation pilot has been extended for a year with six elementary schools and two middle schools serving as learning model schools.

Next up: honors and recognitions. Kudos to students from D’Evelyn, West Jeff Middle, Arvada West High, and staff from Jeffco’s North Area Athletic Complex.

We’re also thrilled a former practice has been reinstated: board members sharing information on board work and/or activities they participated in since the prior regular board meeting. We know the new board members have been very active since taking office and look forward to hearing their updates. (One caveat: please stick to the summary versions if the meeting has a long agenda.)

Correspondence since the last meeting includes many letters regarding Bradford Elementary’s change from K-6 to K-8. In addition, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee urges the board to address growth (Phase II of Sierra Elementary, K-8 at 58th Avenue and Hwy 93), plus overcrowding and aging facilities across the district.

To address the board about an agenda item, sign up here. One highlight on the consent agenda: Jeffco only lost one more teacher compared to resignations for the same period last year. We hope the tides are turning. Also, we appear to have a new Chief Communications Officer – Diana Wilson – officially starting Jan. 19. She holds an MBA from CU Denver and has worked for the past two years for the Westminster Fire Department. We very much look forward to seeing Jeffco Schools move forward with a fully-functioning communications department again.

The board will also discuss the process to complete Superintendent McMinimee’s summative evaluation for the 2014/2015 school year and goals for this school year (15/16), which will be based on the district goals (ends) set by the board. The board has discussed revisions to district goals, but have not arrived at a revised set of goals. When will this occur?

The first item in the discussion agenda is a resolution pertaining to the $15M underspend (largely from unfilled positions) that was going to be used by the prior board to fund the construction of the new school at Candelas. This resolution would authorize the return of that $15M from the Capital Reserve Fund to the General Fund, and this resolution acknowledges that the transfer will not result in an on-going deficit. But there doesn’t seem to be any further discussion or vote regarding what will be done with the $15M. Will it be allocated as recommended by staff, with $5M as a one-time compensation to staff and the remaining $10M to be held in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/17? Or are there other budget issues that weren’t addressed, including the request from Jeffco’s security department last fall, that might also benefit from these funds?

Next, there’s recommendation to construct a K-8 school instead of a K-6 school at the Candelas site. This was previously part of the discussion, but WNW chose to ignore it and approve only a K-6 for reasons we never fully understood. We’re happy to see a return to the district’s recommendation for a K-8 structure that will better address projected enrollment and make the most of Jeffco’s construction dollars on this project.

There’s also a recommendation to use of Certificates of Participation (COPs), or other means of financing, in order to move forward with the much-needed construction of Phase II of Sierra Elementary School, which will provide seating capacity for an additional 250 students.

Finally, the Board will discuss rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB). Mr. McMinimee has previously recommended this action and we expect a vote to rejoin.

The final major agenda items are review of policies pertaining to asset protection (EL-7); the school calendar (EL-14); and governance process, ends, executive limitations, and board/staff linkage. Only two minutes are allotted for this last item so we don’t expect to hear the board discuss revisions to Ends (district goals), but we do expect to hear more about Ends in the near future.

Jeffco Proud!