9.24.15 What to watch at the Jeffco BOE meeting tonight

UpdateTwo things are happening tonight.

  1. The Jeffco School Board has a special meeting tonight at 5:30 pm in the Education Center. More on that in a minute.
  2. There’s a candidate forum hosted by the Jeffco League of Women Voters from 7 – 9 pm tonight. That will take place at Arvada K-8, 5751 Balsam St, Arvada.

If you can’t make (or cannot bear to sit through) the board meeting, stop by the candidate forum! Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell need your support.

If you’re in the northwest Arvada area and have been following the new school discussion, you might want to head over to the Education Center to watch the school board decide grade configuration at the proposed Candelas school.

Here’s what to watch for at tonight’s board meeting, whether you attend in person, stream it live, or watch it later:

  • The board will review the new DAC bylaws. Whether they will approve them or introduce yet another surprise “Plan B” remains an open question. John Newkirk already suggested the nuclear option last time. It didn’t seem to gain traction, but then again we aren’t privy to the behind-the-scenes conversations between Newkirk, Ken Witt and Julie Williams.
  • Grade configuration of the new northwest Arvada school is also on the agenda. At the last meeting, Witt, Newkirk and Williams were pushing the district to build a K-6 instead of the K-8 recommended by the district. It wasn’t clear why they were pushing against the K-8 option, especially because Williams herself said that she prefers a K-8 or 7-12 option to reduce the number of transitions students make, and yet said she preferred a K-6 at Candelas. She added the even more perplexing suggestion that the district could start building a K-6 and then if the school board approves a bond for November 2016 and the bond is approved, they could add on the 7-8 part.

Our question: Is that supposed to happen while they’re already building the K-6 building, which won’t open until August 2017, or will the site be under nearly-continuous construction for four years if a 7-8 expansion started in August 2017 and finished two years later? Or would waiting for a bond mean that Candelas wouldn’t see a 7-8 school in their neighborhood until 2020 or later?

  • Jeffco’s Security & Emergency Management Office is requesting a budget increase. That item was pulled off the consent agenda at the last meeting and John McDonald told board members about the increasing numbers of threat assessments and suicide calls that they’re receiving.

We talked about those numbers in a previous post and they are concerning. Jeffco’s funding for security is far below that in other districts and they desperately need more staff. We hope approving the request will be a no-brainer, especially with a recall election underway, and especially in this district where we know the risk. But we’re going to watch this one anyhow because with these three, one never knows what WNW might decide.

We’ll let you know what happens, and whether any other surprises pop up tonight at the board meeting. If you attend the candidate forum or happen to tape it, we’d love to hear about that as well. The easiest way to reach us is through the comments section below. And remember,

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

9.21.15 Jeffco WNW Recall Fact Check (Part 3)

Recall The FactsIt’s time for our Jeffco Recall fact check, Part 3! As you know, there’s no shortage of topics, but this should provide a useful boost for chats with your neighbors, family, and colleagues.

 

Teacher Compensation

Why does it matter? Teacher compensation matters because our children are taught by teachers. We want to keep our great teachers here in Jeffco and be competitive to attract other great teachers. Compensation, respect and a good working environment are all essential to attract and retain great teachers, but even more importantly, because a teacher’s working environment is also our students’ working environment. Our students matter — and this issue is vital to student success.

CLAIM 1: WNW increased teacher compensation by 7 percent.

FACTS:

  • Compensation increases ≠ salary increases. Compensation refers to the entire package — health insurance, other insurance, retirement benefits and more. Salary refers to the amount of money in your paycheck.
  • This year, Jeffco teachers will receive salary increases of 0.5 percent to 1 percent, depending on whether they were rated as effective or highly effective.
  • WNW’s 7 percent is a compensation increase that includes additional costs for healthcare and retirement that make up the bulk of that number.
  • The Denver Public School Board gave their teachers a salary increase of 6 percent for 2015/16, on top of the additional costs for healthcare and retirement.
  • Boulder Valley teachers will also receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living salary increase, plus another 3 percent salary increase on top of that for 2015/16.
  • Bottom line: A salary increase of 1 percent — or less! — doesn’t stretch very far. The average Jeffco teacher will see about $40 more each month, and we’ve already lost hundreds of teachers who’ve left for better-paying positions in neighboring districts like Boulder and Denver.

CLAIM 2: Their new compensation plan rewards great teachers.

FACTS:

  • “Board member Ken Witt, who first proposed the pay system in a hand-drawn sketch and asked the staff to present the plan for a vote one month later….” (Yesenia Robles, Denver Post, July 28, 2015, emphasis ours).
  • The plan was introduced without warning and implemented with no discussion with JCEA or the district’s teachers through other means.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores, despite the fact that teachers had been told 2013/14 was a “hold harmless” year.
  • The plan was based on evaluation scores despite the fact that the federal mediator specifically stated the evaluation in its current state lacked interrater reliability and should not be used for determining compensation.
  • The compensation plan had not been mentioned once by Witt or other board members during previous months of contract negotiations, impasse and mediation. 
  • Many teachers agreed that they appreciated the raise, but strongly disagreed with the process that shut them completely out of a conversation about what would make them feel rewarded.
  • Bottom line: A compensation plan that rewards great teachers needs to be planned months in advance and discussed with teachers, not introduced and approved with a vague sketch after the school year had already started.

CLAIM 3: WNW raised salaries of current teachers to match the starting salary schedule for new hires that had been developed after the new compensation plan was approved.

FACTS:

  • They did—but only after JCEA took them to court because the board majority refused to address the issue in their budget process.
  • Amy Weber, the district’s personnel director, warned the board that they would need to take steps to equalize pay between new hires and current Jeffco teachers after the board voted to raise starting salaries and approved a new salary schedule for new hires.
  • Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman also raised the issue and pushed to close the gap—but were ignored by Witt, Newkirk and Williams.
  • Superintendent Dan McMinimee and district staff proposed a solution that stayed within WNW’s budget guidelines and addressed the inequity.
  • At no point did Witt, Newkirk or Williams direct staff to equalize the gap between new hires and veteran teachers.
  • When McMinimee and staff presented their proposal to equalize pay for new hires and veteran Jeffco teachers, the board majority members said they would prefer to see a raise go to substitutes rather than address this issue for teachers who are in the classrooms every day.
  • Bottom line: WNW spent months refusing to address the issue despite requests from district staff and the two other board members. Waiting months to approve a common-sense solution — and even suggesting that it couldn’t be done at the meeting when they finally did approve it — is bad policy and bad governance. Claiming this as a WNW achievement is laughable.

CLAIM #4: The board fought to raise substitute compensation.

FACTS:

  • A raise for substitutes was part of the original district proposal.
  • It was dropped after McMinimee and his staff looked for ways to equalize the gap between new hires and stay within the numbers the board had allocated.
  • When Witt suggested that the district wouldn’t be able to equalize pay because the raises should go to substitutes instead, McMinimee jumped in with a solution that provided substitutes with some raise and kept salary schedules intact.
  • Bottom line: McMinimee — not WNW — provided the momentum on this issue from start to finish. There was that minute in one meeting this spring when all three said they prioritized giving substitutes a raise and would wait on equalizing pay (see above) when they learned the increase had been dropped, but McMinimee was the one found a way to solve both issues. The fact that WNW did not look for a way to compensate both, when both have been at a pay disadvantage for years, speaks volumes about the board majority’s priorities and goals. This is not an achievement they can claim.

What seems to be missing in the minds of WNW is the recognition that when they talk about putting money “into the classroom” that means paying teachers and others who serve as resources. Our teachers have been clear that increasing salary was one of their top priorities. Already, many have left to make as much as $7,000 to $10,000 more in other districts. As parents who have bills to pay and children to feed, we can hardly blame them for finding a job that pays better.

This highlights a serious problem. If the board majority doesn’t value our teachers, then our teachers will continue to leave in large numbers and will have a harder time attracting new great teachers to the district. Those who do come will lack mentors, as many of our experienced teachers will have gone elsewhere. Our students will experience constant churn as teacher turnover increases. Multiple studies show that high teacher turnover hurts student achievement (see here, here, here and here). It’s also expensive because more money goes into recruiting and training. Churn is not good for students, and we don’t want it in Jeffco.

So what can you do?

  • Spread the word! Please talk to your neighbors, your friends, and join us to walk Jeffco to let voters know about the recall. Some of us walked doors this weekend and it’s easy. You’ll be partnered with someone so you’re not out there on your own and the time flies past.
  • Donate! Americans for Prosperity have already sent two mailings in support of WNW at a cost of $35,000 – $45,000 each, according to our friends at Support Jeffco Kids. If you don’t have the cash to spare (we get it!), please join us to walk Jeffco and tell voters how negatively WNW is affecting our students and our schools.
    • Donate to Jeffco United Forward to support Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell who are running for the regular election seats, and to also support Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell who are running as replacement candidates.
    • Or donate to Jeffco United for Action, which supports the recall portion of this campaign.
  • Vote! The recall will be on the regular Nov. 3 general election ballot. Mark it on your calendar and tell everyone you know to be sure to vote. Elections matter!

Keep fighting, JeffCo!

It’s time for a clean slate!


 

9.14.15 Jeffco Recall about Survival of Public Education

Your Childs EducationWe received this from a JCSBW reader and received permission to share it here.

The survival of Public Education in Jefferson County is on the ballot this November as the five seats of the school board are contested. It is a battle that has ramifications not only for Jefferson County but also for the state and the nation. Will extremist right wing policies and outside money interests prevail over a community’s interests and the benefit of its children?

While much has been written, pro and con, about the autocratic actions of Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who erroneously call themselves conservatives, little has been said about their mission. To put it succinctly, in the words of former board member Laura Boggs, their intention is to “destroy this district.” Why would anyone want to do that unless he or she had something to gain by doing it?

From their mismanagement of Jeffco’s funds, to extremist attempts alter established AP curricula, to bullying children speakers and other board members, to attempts to intimidate through threats, innuendo, and armed security—their regime seems more like an arm of autocrats of the 1930s in Europe than America in the 21st Century. Their ham-handed attempts at privatizing public education and railroading anyone who would oppose them have, fortunately, awakened a community that values the kind of progressive, award-winning education that their children have gotten in Jeffco for many decades.

Unfortunately, extremist ideologies and corporate profiteers have weaseled their way into the Jeffco School Board and now threaten the district’s very existence as resources have been diverted to non-public/semi-private schools that serve select groups and line the pockets of investors. To destroy a school district one must:

  • Run off the best educators,
  • Cut funds for programs and compensation for staff
  • Increase class sizes
  • Cut funds for construction and maintenance
  • Destroy morale
  • Cut services for schools and community and then hire a PR firm to convince the public that what they’re doing is in the best interest of children.

It’s classic double-speak. In time, the quality of education and the educated will drop. Mission accomplished.

Shame on them when they duped voters in 2013. Shame on us if we allow it to happen again.

Vote to recall Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams. Vote to elect candidates whose interests are genuinely aimed at children and learning. Vote for Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, Ron Mitchell and Susan Harmon.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

9.11.15 Recall will be on November ballot & WNW surprises

If you attended or watched the Sept. 3 Jeffco School Board meeting, you may have heard something you never expected to hear: the three board majority members, Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, who have said they do not support raising taxes for schools, are thinking about raising your taxes.

We know!

contortionist

Here’s how that played out. Now a year later, the board majority had (yet another) discussion about where to build a school in the northwest Jeffco corridor. They have been considering three sites: Table Rock (Hwy 93 and 58th Ave), Leyden Rock or Candelas, and at the last meeting Witt was pushing pretty heavily for Leyden Rock, despite the reality that a school built at that site will seat less kids and take longer to build. The Sept. 3 meeting was a general meeting, so parents from NW Arvada came to comment, with some strongly advocating for Leyden Rock because, they argued, they’re growing faster than Candelas.

Newkirk opened the Sept. 3 discussion with a long, meandering and pointless preamble about how as elected officials they didn’t need to accept district recommendations. A few minutes later, he finally got to the point and made a motion for the district to build on the Leyden Rock site and for staff to begin soliciting bids to build a school with 625 seats in 24 months at that location.

Reality check: That’s not possible, at least not with the paltry $18 million the district designated for a school. Leyden Rock has some steep slopes that make designing and constructing a school more complex. Retaining walls and a lot of earth moving will be necessary in order to build, and the school will need a couple of building pads and at least one elevator. All in all, that makes for a construction premium of $3.5 million according to estimates, which leaves only $14.5 million for the school building itself. Between the limited budget and topography, Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell and Facilities Director Tim Reed estimate they will only be able to build a 450-seat school and it will take six months longer than construction at the other two sites.

Newkirk later asked if the issue was that companies wouldn’t make such a low bid, but Superintendent McMinimee pointed out that we are building schools to last. Remember the adage about fast, good, and cheap? You can only pick two.

The discussion was lengthy and painful, so I’ll skip to the highlights.

Highlight 1: McMinimee went to bat for his staff, and our hat is off to him for taking a stand. After Newkirk’s grandstanding and motion, McMinimee told the board he felt compelled to respond, and he defended his staff’s recommendations and estimates. He pointed out that the topic had been on the table for more than a year and that their original recommendation was to use Certificates of Participation to build a school and finish phase II at Sierra Elementary to relieve some of the pressure on surrounding schools.

McMinimee also noted that Jeffco was in the process of adding temporary buildings to West Woods Elementary this year, and that the growth issue is not only north of 82nd Avenue. If you missed it, you can catch McMinimee’s comments in the meeting video. You’ll want to scroll to about 2:52:45 in the video which is about where his comments begin.

Jill Fellman eventually called for the board to put Certificates of Participation back on on the table, but it was met with the usual argument from Williams that the issue should be put to a vote of the people. The option of a bond came up, and Newkirk said he would be “very open” to that possibility.

Witt did some grandstanding and claimed that the 2012 bond measure should have been larger and included money to build new schools, which was ridiculous considering that the economy still was weak in 2012 and more to the point: he didn’t even support the very small amount that was needed to keep our students warm, safe and dry and has been trying to take that money and use it elsewhere since he was elected.

Highlight 2: Dahlkemper made the motion to direct staff to present a comprehensive bond scenario for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot, and the motion passed 5-0.

Then there was another painful discussion about whether the district should build the K-8 recommended by the district at Candelas, or just a K-6 because Witt thinks that’s the real growth issue (or something). It was another conversation that was quite confusing, not least because it takes two years to build a school and children will age toward middle school during that time. Finally they agreed to push off the decision about grade configuration until the next meeting, which provides staff some time to put together a presentation about the benefits of each scenario.

School Safety

School safety was another topic, largely because the district’s safety office is stretched to the limit. Suicide assessments are up 600 percent over the last two years. There were also 281 threats last year, which is a 100 percent increase. Safe2Tell fielded more than 700 reports in which Jeffco students reported a friend in crisis requiring immediate help, and 44,091 calls for assistance were made from schools to security asking for help.

Jeffco has 11 patrol officers and 3 management team members to respond to calls. Our law enforcement agencies also provide School Resource Officers–36 of them–at no charge to the district. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the $1.3 million budget they have is not sufficient given the increase in threats and suicide assessments. They need more money.

School Based Budgeting (SBB)

There was a brief report on school based budgeting. The short version is that they are hearing positive comments from principals who have more flexibility to provide resources based on student needs. They also looked at the number of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten.

Here’s the point to remember: the number of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten appears to have increased, but the number of schools offering free full-day kindergarten has decreased from 40 to 32. We’ll know more after the district has an official count later this fall.

Recall to be on the Nov. 3 ballot!

Jeffco United for Action received great news last week after the Jeffco County Clerk said she’s confident the recall can be part of the November general election ballot. There are a few hurdles remaining, but the news is really good. For the full story, check out Chalkbeat’s analysis here.

Now It’s Your Turn

With only a few weeks until the mail-in ballots arrive, we all need to pitch in and help. You can:

https://www.facebook.com/Amanda-for-Jeffco-Schools-604780212991553/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/Ali-Lasell-for-Jeffco-421746884684406/timeline/

https://www.facebook.com/bradforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/susanforjeffcokids?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ronforjeffcokids

  • Walk doors with Jeffco United to educate Jeffco voters about why we need to recall Witt, Newkirk and Williams. You can sign up to walk this Saturday during one of the morning, afternoon or evening shifts, or at any of the multiple other days in September and October.
  • Post a yard sign supporting the recall. Information about getting a sign is posted on their Facebook page.

We need to get the word out and that takes all of us. Any little bit helps, so walking just one shift, donating another $5 or $10 to a campaign, and spreading the word. We don’t want another two years without the respect, accountability and transparency that Jeffco deserves. Our students, our schools and all of us deserve better. Let’s make sure everyone knows it and votes to recall WNW on Nov. 3.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

9.1.15 Notes from the Aug. 27 BOE meeting

recallshirtHere’s an update from last Thursday’s Jeffco School Board meeting, just in time to be prepared for the Sept. 3 regular meeting this Thursday.

JCEA contract

The board did approve the JCEA contract on a 5-0 vote but the mood was anything but celebratory. Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman both expressed their disappointment in the contract’s short 10-month duration, with Dahlkemper stating she knew of no other organization that would spend six months and 150 hours to negotiate a contract that would only last for ten. She also pointed to the waste of taxpayer money (spent on a facilitator who would agree to stream and record the negotiations) that could have been funneled back to the classroom.

Fellman also said she thought everyone had better things to do than continually negotiating a contract when the process would need to start over again in five months. Nevertheless, both agreed that it was better to have a contract in place with appropriate protections for class size and more, which is why they voted for it.

Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams, predictably, considered the contract a success. Why? Well for one, all three praised the factor that it was shorter. Seriously? Were people complaining about the number of pages? Did reading all the pages hurt their poor little heads? It’s hard to understand where the inherent victory is in shorter when they spend so much time saying student learning needs to be more rigorous.

Williams also cheered the fact that it had less pages (not that you’re surprised) and said the contract was easier to understand for every “layperson.” Huh? Again, the irony that a school board majority who harps on improving student achievement wants their own material dumbed down so they can understand it.

This 5-0 vote is not a victory but a challenge. Our teachers only have a contract through June 30, but if we want our great teachers to stay here in Jeffco, we need to turn things around in this district by November 3.

We need to get the word out about the recall and about the candidates we support for school board: Amanda Stevens and Ali Lassell to fill the seats that Fellman and Dahlkemper are leaving, and Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell to fill the recalled seats.

SPAC and board committees

A proposal to split the current Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) into two committees was presented by district staff. SPAC has been a WNW target for some time now, though the proposal presented on Thursday night seems to have support from SPAC members (besides the usual “minority report” character, even).

One member of SPAC wrote to JCSBW and shared that the request to modify the workload of SPAC came from last year’s SPAC members and not from the board. Among the concerns was that they often didn’t have the time they wanted to be able to adequately analyze and discuss the many issues on the agenda.  That member said she was pleased by the way the workload and emphasis would be divided between the two committees. Both will need to be monitored closely to prevent the majority of members from being board appointees.

The idea is this: the committee would be split into the District Accountability Committee (DAC) and would still be chaired and led by parent members. It would focus on the district’s Unified Improvement Plan and the many other accountability measures required by law. The second committee would the Strategic Planning Advisory Planning Committee, which would focus only on strategic planning, leaving the accountability work to the other committee.

The current parent chair and chair-elect, Julie Oxenford-O’Brien and Orin Levy, would chair the new DAC. The new SPAC would need to be organized, but district officials said they want to get the DAC organized first. Under the new reorganization, DAC would be a board committee, and SPAC would be a superintendent committee.

Witt immediately said that he wants to make sure all DAC members are approved by the board. Williams had her usual laundry list of demands about posting the scheduled meetings (which are already posted), streaming and recording all meetings, including a majority and minority report, reporting to the board on a regular basis, etc.

Williams also questioned one change in the bylaws that would allow the DAC to remove members who didn’t attend on a regular basis or who bullied or threatened other members. The co-chairs explained that they didn’t have a problem with dissenting opinions, but that members needed to express dissenting opinions in socially-appropriate ways (known to parents the world around as “use your inside voice, don’t interrupt and be polite”) — something that certain SPAC members have failed to do at recent meetings. Naturally, Witt also questioned the measure and said that expelling members will be subject to board approval.

Newkirk wanted to go for the nuclear option and start from scratch to create an entirely new DAC. Predictably, he had “worked up some language,” and even more predictably, he had not sent it to other board members before the meeting because well, why show your cards, right? (Oh right, transparency.) He proceeded to read his ideas, including the idea that once they choose new members, the new members should write all the DAC bylaws. Elliot pointed out that what Newkirk proposed was essentially what the district was doing, minus the bit about wiping out all the members and starting over.

Witt also jumped on Newkirk’s plan, arguing that a group of people doing all the same things didn’t sound new to him. McMinimee defended the district proposal. Newkirk responded by proposing that not only should they wipe the slate clean, the new DAC should start its work with only the six members required by law, despite McMinimee’s detailed discussion of how they had looked at comparable districts like Boulder, Cherry Creek and Douglas County, and all of those also had large DAC committees due to their size. Elliot pointed out that the six member requirement was a minimum for small districts who might otherwise have trouble meeting that number. And at this point Dahlkemper jumped in, asking what problem Newkirk was trying to solve.

That problem, of course, has been the elephant in the room during every WNW conversation about SPAC: they clearly want to replace some (or most!) of the current members with friends of theirs. No votes were taken, and the issue will be back on the Sept. 3 meeting, where you can use the public comment time to share your own opinions.

Facilities (the NW Arvada question)

It’s been a year since this board started talking about growing populations in north and central Jeffco, and yet most of those issues remain unaddressed. As you’ll remember from this spring, WNW refused to use Certificates of Participation to address the multiple growth issues in the county, instead choosing to keep $18 million from the classroom in order to build a school somewhere in the NW Arvada area. That led to another problem, which is that the district estimated they could build K-8 schools on two of the sites for $25 million, or a smaller K-6 school on a third site for slightly less.

Thursday’s presentation showed what the district could provide for $18 million, because it is possible (though unwise!) to build smaller schools at those sites under the $18 million budget constraint. The drawback, of course, is that current estimates show 6,000 to 7,000 new students needing seats in the NW Arvada area in the next six years. Building smaller schools on lots that could accommodate larger schools won’t save us in the long run. An argument could be made that those schools could be expanded down the road–but we’ll simply point to the situation at Sierra Elementary, also in NW Arvada–where parents and students have been waiting for just that for seven years, since the 2008 bond measure failed. The district has repeatedly said that Sierra needs to be a priority, but none of the three have discussed it at all.

The conversation in the board meeting was every bit as frustrating and idiotic as they’ve been in the past.

Steve Bell, Jeffco’s Chief Operations Officer, told the board that his goal is to open a new facility in the fall of 2017, and the options he was presenting were based on what they could do with an $18 million budget.

The issue: a project shortfall of 6,784 seats in the next five to six years in the “northwest corridor” (the area north of I-70 and west of Kipling). This area includes the new housing developments in Candelas, Leyden Rock and Whisper Creek (approximately 4,884 seats), as well as a number of smaller projects where “farmettes” in Arvada are now being developed into neighborhoods (1,900 seats).

That number could grow higher because they are beginning to see some neighborhood turnover in the area, as older families move out and younger families replace them. Schools impacted include Fairmount, Mieklejohn, Mitchell, Sierra, Van Arsdale, and Westwood Elementary, along with Drake and Oberon Middle School and Ralston Valley High School.

The three potential sties are Table Rock, located at 58th and Hwy 93, or the Candelas site or Leyden Rock site, both located in their respective subdivisions. The district has recommended Table Rock as the best location to build first, and continued to do so in their presentation.

Here’s what the district can do with $18 million:

  • Table Rock – 625 students in a PK-8 school
  • Candelas – 625 students in a PK-8 school, with room for additional buildings in the future (Bell said they would master plan that site before building)
  • Leyden Rock – 450 students in a K-6 school, plus an additional 6 months of construction time due to the challenging topography of the site

Bell had two goals: how to maximize the number of seats the district could get with $18 million, and how to impact the most schools positively. Based on those goals, he recommended the Table Rock site, or secondarily, the Candelas site.

And this is where the conversation got interesting.

Witt asked if Bell was suggesting that they should never build on the Leyden Rock site. Bell said they would need to build on that site, but under the current budget constraints and with the number of students expected, he wanted to maximize how the money was spent. The cost to build the Table Rock or Candelas schools is about $28,800 per student, but the Leyden Rock school will run about $40,000 per student.

Witt suggested that goals that maximized the use of money and impacted the most schools were not “shared values.” (Got it? Using money effectively to benefit children is not a value Ken Witt shares.) But Witt continued to press for the Leyden Rock site. Why?

Why build a smaller school that will take an additional six months to construct when other sites will provide seats for more students more quickly?

Why focus on Leyden Rock? There doesn’t seem to be any data that would suggest Leyden Rock is growing faster than Candelas, or that Leyden Rock will have a noticeably larger number of students who need a school than any of the other areas.

We have many theories about Witt’s obsession with Leyden Rock, and suspect that there’s $$$ involved somehow. Some have suggested potential real estate investments or ties to campaign donors who have financial interests in Leyden Rock. Some have also suggested that perhaps a new Leyden Rock school would not become a neighborhood school but a charter. Either way, we smell a rat.

The issue will be on this Thursday’s agenda as well, and district staff are recommending they build on the Table Rock site. What are the odds the board agrees? We think the odds are better that Witt or Newkirk pulls something out of their pocket (language they “worked up” or whatever they drew on a napkin) to propose an entirely new plan, while Julie Williams continues to push for a building that can be printed by a 3D printer.

Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.

Other agenda items for this Thursday’s meeting

The regular school board meeting is this Thursday and starts at 5:30 pm in the Education Center board room (5th floor) with a study session about master’s degrees and compensation, as well as “draft policy language for study by Board members regarding codifying equal funding and compensation in Board policy.” Witt is supposedly writing that language, though as of Wednesday morning it had not been posted (or written? Perhaps he’s waiting for the muse?).

Also on the agenda: a presentation about college and career readiness with a focus on ACT, AP and algebra results, a monitoring report on school safety, and a student based budgeting update. If you can’t attend, you can watch the live stream here: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

We also encourage you to write the board about issues that concern you at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and to sign up to speak at public comment. Individual board member addresses are also listed on the Jeffco Schools website, though keep in mind that if you only write individual members, they are not required to respond nor do they have to include your message in the official board correspondence that is available for the public to read each month.

You have until 3:30 pm on Thursday to sign up to speak about agenda-related items on Part 1 or to sign up for non-agenda items on Part 2. Remember that you have, at most, 3 minutes for public comment (10 if a group), and that if there are enough speakers, your time will be reduced to 2 minutes or even 1 minute. Be prepared to only have one minute to speak (5 minutes if a group) because that is the most common scenario.

Keep watching and keep fighting, JeffCo!