6.25.15 Hate in Jeffco

We received this letter from a reader in response to an extremely offense retweet by a Jeffco Schools principal.

I never questioned the importance of my education until my 7th grade science teacher drew a swastika on my test paper with a 0% written across the top. He told me Hitler had the right idea.

With two powerful red pen marks shaping a symbol of hatred, he erased a child’s belief that teachers are to be trusted and that trying my best was valuable.

I went from straight A’s to ditching regularly before my brain had any time to process. I had to. Processing that event meant facing the fact that the very person educating me believed me to be worthless purely because of my cultural and religious roots.

I never told anyone. I didn’t want my parents to worry and I didn’t believe anyone at school would help. If my own teacher could behave that way, I was afraid of how others might truly feel about me being Jewish.

Now, I am a stronger person. I’ve identified myself as a teacher and parent for many years and today I’m identifying myself as an advocate for the students at Connections Learning Center (CLC) in Jefferson County.

CLC is a school designed to give a second chance to students who have been expelled from a Jefferson County school. To that end, their principal, Lisa Mumma, principal at Jeffco’s Connections Learning Center, is responsible for protecting any student who is being bullied by another student – especially if it is racially-driven bullying.

Unfortunately, instead of protecting her students Ms. Mumma recently re-tweeted the following:

You Say Not All Muslims Are Monsters… Imagine A Bowl Of M&Ms. 10% Are Poisoned…’Would You Eat A Handful’??

My heart aches remembering my skinny twelve-year-old legs climbing up the bus steps to go downtown instead of to 7th grade. My heart aches again thinking of the Muslim students at CLC as they face each new school day.

They are in a school that is meant to offer them a second chance, but if they look up, they may have to face a principal’s eyes that are full of hate for them. If they misstep, they may have to sit in a chair opposite of someone who believes them to be poison purely because of their cultural and religious roots.

CLC’s mission is to “empower students to be responsible, respectful, and to know where they are going in school and in life.” I suspect that now, Ms. Mumma has created students who only want to go away from school and life.

A student in Ms. Mumma’s school who re-tweeted that tweet might get suspended, expelled, or would at least be asked to apologize. As a principal, I believe Ms. Mumma should be held to an even higher standard by Superintendent McMinimee and the Jeffco School Board. Instead, there has been no accountability. I’m hopeful that Ms. Mumma, the superintendent, and Jeffco School Board members will choose to acknowledge the importance of her hateful act and work to rectify it.

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!


 

5.15.15 Students Survey Teachers…They are not happy

The fully student-based Jeffco Student Network for Change has posted the result of a survey they wrote, pushed out, and analyzed.  An attempt was made to present this at the 5/7/15 meeting of the BOE, but the speaker, a minor, was only allowed 2 minutes and unable to present the full results of their work.  She did a great job in the two minutes she was given, hitting the highlights very well.  We at Jeffco School Board Watch repeatedly have said that teachers are being devalued and there is a lack of trust.  Three graphics from this student survey help to verify this.

Do you feel valued as a district employee?

 (1238 responses)

And this graphic below shows a lack of trust too.  Some of the written comments back this up, with the sad remark that regardless of what the negotiating team does, Ken Witt will try to destroy any negotiated agreement.

Do you trust the district personnel to negotiate with the bargaining team in good faith?

 (1238 responses)

Card

Well, regardless of the BOE, has the superintendent earned the trust of teachers?  Data says otherwise.

Do you have confidence in Dan McMinimee as superintendent of JeffCo Public Schools? 

 (1238 responses)

Please take time to look at the student’s full survey results.  It is clear that this BOE has destroyed the good working relationship with the teachers association.  What is best for students is to have teachers in the classroom who feel valued and can see a future in Jeffco.  The survey results paint a grim picture if a reasonable contract is not negotiated.

Keep watching!

And keep informed as we head to this fall’s elections.


 

5.3.2015 Questionable Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Keep fighting, JeffCo!