Board Study Session (12/17/15) Preview: Starting to Tackle Big Issues

The Board holds a study session at the Ed Center this Thursday, December 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you can’t attend, please watch via live stream.

Update

Detailed Facilities Analysis. The first two hours will focus on the state of Jeffco’s facilities, with a presentation from Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell and Executive Director of Facilities Tim Reed. Over the next five years, Jeffco will have nearly $800 million in facilities needs based on building condition and/or educational adequacy. In addition, enrollment in parts of the district is expected to increase significantly.

This letter from the Capital Asset Advisory Committee to the Board notes that “at least 7,200 more students are expected to enroll in the Candelas, Leyden Rock, West Woods and Solterra neighborhoods within 10 years.” The committee noted, “if you approve plans now, 1,050 additional seats can be ready for the fall of 2017 to serve the growing wave of new families. If you do not approve moving ahead, triage [use of lease arrangements for modular classrooms] and inefficient use of scarce funds will become the norm, further exacerbating the situation.” Look for Bell and Reed to propose several ideas (slide 48 of the presentation) for accommodating this growth. While the former Board acknowledged the need to look at asking the voters for a bond package to address facilities needs, the needs are pressing and cannot wait for an election.

Our hope is that the Board will consider a combination of Certificates of Participation (COPs) to address immediate needs coupled with asking the voters for a bond to address more long-term facilities needs. Although debt-funding isn’t typically preferred, COPs provide a reasonable alternative given a situation that has been left to go on for too long.

CMAS Results: Information and Looking Ahead. Next up, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Syna Morgan and Executive Director of Instructional Data and Educational Research & Design Dr. Carol Eaton will spend about an hour discussing CMAS results. The new test has five performance levels (rather than four, as in the previous tests): exceeded, met, approached, partially met, and did not yet meet. Met and Exceeded Expectations are considered “college and career ready” performance.

There remains some confusion about the difference between the “approached” and “partially met” levels. They’ll share data from Jeffco students by grade, and break out additional results for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students on Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) and Advanced Learning Plans (ALPs), Free & Reduced Lunch (FRL) students, etc.

Overall, Jeffco performed better than the state in all subjects and in all grade levels, except in 8th grade math. The notable exception is a trend across the district of lower grade-level math performance beginning in 8th grade. Some reasoning for that may be that high performing students are not taking grade level math, but are instead taking higher level math courses and doing really well, especially in the 8th and 9th grades.

However, there is also a marked decrease in overall math performance beginning in 10th grade and continuing into 11th grade. This could be due to over-testing, and because students realize by high school that there are no rewards or consequences for test performance, coupled with their shifting focus to the ACT and SAT. They may just not be taking the tests seriously. We hope the Board will note this trend and ask District staff to look especially into this dip in 8th grade (and beyond) math performance and report back with root causes and thoughts moving forward to address this trend.

We also see that our Hispanic students, those on IEPs, those with FRL, and ELLs really struggle, and we hope the Board will look to and direct experienced staff to continue to investigate root causes and opportunities for improvement. Drs. Morgan and Eaton will also discuss results from the fall district assessments using the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) system, which replaced Acuity, and DIBELS, which is used in the primary grades.

Financing a New School in Arvada. Beginning at 8:30pm, the Board will revisit the $15 million underspend that the previous Board directed be used to build a school in the north end of the district. You’ll recall that district staff recommended that the school really needed to be a $25 million K-8 facility, but the previous Board chose instead to approve only enough for a too-small K-6.

Look for the new Board to consider a supplemental budget to amend some previous budgeting decisions. Both senior Staff and the conservative Financial Oversight Committee and the Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommend moving the $15 million back into the general fund, using COPs to fund the new school, and considering a one-time $5M pay increase (not to be added to base ongoing salary) for employees, and holding $10M in reserves to offset any potential state reductions for 2016/2017.

We wholeheartedly agree that operational funds should not be used to fund capital construction and that $15M should go back into the General Fund. We think putting some of the money aside into reserves is wise, and considering some kind of bonus for employees is admirable as the district needs to get employee pay back on track to be competitive with surrounding districts.

However, we are hearing across the district of the impacts to smaller schools by student-based budgeting (SBB). We would like to see the Board ask district staff first to seek input from schools as to their needs and pressure points that require immediate relief and support, address those items as much as possible, set aside a portion of the $15M to cover payments on COPs for initial years as much as possible, consider whether some of the funding should be used for the security budget increase requested earlier this fall, and then look at a bonus for staff and a contribution to reserves. The former Board did include a contribution into reserves in their budget, and district staff should be consulted to determine what additional contribution, if any, is recommended.

Community Engagement in the Budget Process. Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson will share community engagement plans for the upcoming budget development process. Due to low turnout in previous years, Ms. Askelson is not recommending community budget forums this round, but is recommending a survey that each school accountability committee (SAC) will be asked to complete and a district-wide survey marketed to all stakeholders. Both surveys would be hosted by an independent third party.

Because this board was elected on a platform of increasing community engagement, we hope that the board will reject the proposal to discontinue budget forums. The budget forums are a great opportunity for the community to engage. Those of us at JCSBW have participated in these budget forums and always see parents and community members at the forums that don’t attend board meetings, so these forums definitely reach the district’s constituents.

A better approach might be to ask that a question or questions pertaining to the usefulness and/or desire for budget forums be incorporated into the community survey so the Board has a clear understanding of the direction to go with regard to future budget forums. Perhaps TeleTown Halls could be implemented as a new way to reach district citizens.

Bradford K-8 Concerns. One thing we didn’t see was an agenda item to address concerns that have arisen over the decision to make Bradford a K-8 school, which the Board voted to approve at last week’s Board meeting. (We will write a separate post about that issue sometime in the next week or two.) We hope the Board will address the community’s concerns, and will commit to engaging the entire Chatfield articulation area when fleshing out the plan for the articulation area as a whole.

Judicious Use of Executive Sessions: When and Why? Lastly, we thought we’d weigh in on the concern expressed by some over the Board members meeting in Executive Session at the end of last week’s Board meeting after receiving a general overview of the Open Records and Open Meetings laws. We agree with many on all sides of the recent school board issues that executive sessions should be rare and judiciously used, and the reasoning behind executive session was explained. The overview was conducted in the public meeting (as we thought might be the case when we last posted), and specific questions for the attorneys was reserved for executive session. Keep in mind that some of the questions board members may have asked are, in fact, confidential. One of the examples of this would include questions about the Claire Davis law, which holds school districts responsible for acts of violence if a court determines that every security issue had not been taken. The answer to those questions would involve confidential information about Jeffco Schools security procedures, and can only be answered in executive session so as not to compromise our students.

We will continue watching any use of executive session over the long haul. And we’ll remind everyone that it is unusual for all five board members to be new to the board. Board members explained that they had personal and privileged matters to discuss with the attorneys that could not be shared with the public. For example, Brad Rupert is an attorney with clients, and had some questions about conflicts of interest.

Could board members have met individually with the lawyers outside of the board meeting? Yes, but meeting together was a more cost-effective and efficient use of everyone’s time and the district’s funds, and meeting individually would still be behind closed doors anyhow. We stand by the Board’s decision to discuss these matters in private with legal counsel. We don’t expect this Board to misuse their ability to meet in executive session, and view this concern to be unnecessarily blown out of proportion.

Again, this meeting is a study session, with no votes planned, and should wrap up by 10pm on Thursday.

Jeffco Proud!

 

9.26.15 WNW illustrate why they’re being recalled

Chances are you’ve already seen the videos from the Sept. 24 board meeting. Colorado Pols said it best: Ken Witt Presents: How to Make the Case for Your Own Recall.

It was that bad. The whole meeting was bad. The three items we highlighted in the last post about this meeting? All three of them proved our suspicions. If you’re short on time, here’s the summary version:

  1. Witt, Newkirk and Williams are going for the nuclear option on the new District Accountability Committee (DAC), which was formerly SPAC – the Strategic Planning Advisory Council. They want to wipe it out and start over.
  2. Witt, Newkirk and Williams approved a K-6 school instead of the district-recommended K-8 at the Candelas site and then patted themselves on the back.
  3. A proposed budget increase for Jeffco security was pushed off for another month, and although WNW seemed to suggest they might vote for it, we also saw hints that another surprise is just waiting in the wings.

Now, the details.

Proposed DAC bylaws

The first agenda item was a second review of the proposed new DAC bylaws. The usual process is to review the bylaws, ask a few questions, make any additional revisions, and vote. That didn’t happen.

Instead, Newkirk revived his nuclear option and offered a lengthy motion detailing the membership of the new DAC. Surprise! He didn’t bother to share it with the full board until around 1 pm that afternoon. Somehow, both Witt and Williams had plenty of time to sit down and read it thoroughly. Dahlkemper and Fellman, meanwhile, had no idea that they should even expect anything new to be added with a board meeting only a few hours away. They told Newkirk they were not ready to vote on an item they had just received that afternoon, and had not had time to review it on account of things like work obligations.

And then it got ugly. You know the routine: Witt makes sneering remarks that suggest Fellman and Dahlkemper didn’t adequately prepare for the meeting and condescendingly implies that they aren’t very bright, while Fellman and Dahlkemper argue for following board policy in which a proposal is introduced at one meeting and voted on at the next. (One quote from Witt: “Ms. Dahlkemper, this has been read to you twice, but we can continue to go over it until you feel like you understand all of the terms.”) Dahlkemper and Fellman fought the good fight, as they have EVERY SINGLE MEETING since the board majority was elected. Colorado Pols included this quote from Dahlkemper’s response after she reached a point of extreme frustration, and it’s worth printing again here:

But I will tell you – the mistake that you are making right now is that we have a policy on the table about how we govern. You are throwing governance right out the window because you have some agenda that you feel so critical that we have to vote on tonight…that even a simple request that is to say, “Look, our policy says we review it, and then we vote on it.” And don’t you dare insinuate that I don’t understand this policy. And stop talking down to people on this board, and also people who come forward. Enough.

What Witt clearly doesn’t understand — or more likely, could care less about — is that having a discussion in which people toss around ideas, and reviewing a written document are not the same thing. In this case, the board had reviewed a proposal to split the SPAC into two committees:  a District Accountability Committee (DAC) and a separate Strategic Planning Advisory Committee. Members, rather than trying to cover two large topics, would focus on accountability measures in the former and strategic planning in the latter.

WNW have repeatedly expressed concern that SPAC didn’t adequately conform to state statutes, although even their own board lawyer, Brad Miller, assured them that everything was fine. But then the SPAC members suggested that it would be easier to split the two so each could focus on a separate set of duties. Those volunteers, including the SPAC chair and chair-elect, worked with district staff to write a new set of by-laws.

They met with the BOE at the Aug. 27 meeting to get feedback. For the record, those by-laws included a suggested membership. This was also the meeting where Newkirk suggested they clean house, appoint new members and then direct those members to write their bylaws. As we noted, the idea didn’t go anywhere at the time, but resurfaced in Newkirk’s motion.

There are several problems with Newkirk’s motion. For starters, how many people would be on the new DAC?

the Board of Education shall vote to appoint eleven members, which shall include parents, at least one member of the business community, and at least one and up to three teachers to the District Accountability Committee, which also shall have as members one School Accountability Committee president from each of the 17 parent articulation areas, and the Superintendent of the District

Huh? Newkirk specifies 11 members, but also specifies that the committee would include one SAC chair from 17 articulation areas. The math doesn’t add up.

+ 1 (or more?) parent + 1 business community representative + 1-3 teachers + 17 SAC chairs = 20 – 23 members.

Is Newkirk suggesting that the BOE would only appoint 11 members but there would also be more on the committee? Despite his concerns about poor ACT performance (cited in the motion!) did he not realize that 11 ≠ 20?

We weren’t the only ones who weren’t clear about what this meant. The motion that was eventually approved also directed staff to solicit applications for review a the Oct. 1 meeting (yes–solicit and receive applications in the space of one week). Staff and board members alike were also confused about how, who, and how many applications they should solicit.

Staff asked what information applicants should include. Witt said applicants should include their background and “checkpoints for statutes.” Terry Elliot pointed out that the current SPAC membership includes some School Accountability Committee chairs and some members but Newkirk’s motion only specified chairs. Should they accept applications from SAC members or only SAC chairs? Witt replied that that’s what the bylaw draft says but they hadn’t approved it yet. (Another question: which bylaw draft? Newkirk’s or the other?)

Elliot also pointed out that as written, Newkirk’s proposal didn’t include all of the members outlined in state statutes. The 2013 revision of the law requires a school administrator and at least three parents; Newkirk’s resolution left out the administrator and didn’t specify the number of parents. When Elliot noted this, Witt responded (again condescendingly) that that’s why the “compromise makes sense.”

We ask, how is it a “compromise” to put off a vote on an ill-conceived proposal that would establish a DAC that did not conform to state laws, despite Witt and Newkirk’s constant “concern” that the current SPAC didn’t conform to those very same laws?

That’s irresponsible governance, pure and simple.

It also makes us wonder about Sunshine Laws. Here are some potential scenarios:

a. Newkirk is a severe, chronic procrastinator who simply does not get proposals written until the last minute, and that’s why the membership proposal wasn’t shared with Fellman and Dahlkemper (and presumably Witt and Williams) until the afternoon of the board meeting. Also, Williams and Witt just happened to have the afternoon free and were checking for any last-minute additions sometime between 1 and 5 pm.

b. Newkirk is a severe, chronic procrastinator but he also notified Witt and Williams that a new, different proposal would be headed their way sometime on Thursday afternoon so they could set aside time to review it.

c. Newkirk had written the proposal earlier, shared it with Witt and Williams, and only shared it with Dahlkemper, Fellman and the rest of the public after consulting with Witt and Williams.

Options B and C are clear violations of Colorado’s sunshine laws.

Option A is not, but, if true, is also is a clear example of how this board is not transparent. Posting a new proposal that varies considerably from the membership outlined in the proposed DAC bylaws only hours before the meeting, and pushing to approve said proposal without any public comment (or time to write the board before the vote) is neither transparent nor respectful.

Option A is also the least likely of the three. Too many stars have to align, and we find it curious that two members of the board majority just happened to have checked for last-minute additions and had plenty of time to review them.

K-6 vs. K-8 at Candelas

The vote against district recommendations to build a K-8 school at Candelas wasn’t a surprise but is another example of pennywise but pound-foolish. It’s not clear why WNW pushed for a K-6.

One concern they articulated repeatedly was that students from Leyden Rock would be joining an established cohort at Candelas for 7-8, but it’s equally true that at most of our middle schools, cohorts from the surrounding neighborhoods all merge in middle school. If the Candelas students head to Wayne Carle Middle School, they’ll join cohorts from Lukas and Witt Elementary. If the Leyden Rock kids head to Oberon or Bell Middle School, they’ll join cohorts from the elementary schools in those articulation areas.

WNW also argued that there was only demand for seats at the K-6 level and not in the middle school level. District staff pointed out that although area middle schools have capacity available now, they won’t by the time these developments reach full-buildout. We’ll need those middle school seats in the not-too-distant future. McMinimee cited the current numbers of sixth-grade students at current, overcrowded NW Arvada schools, but WNW ignored those concerns.

A third concern is that it’s much cheaper to build a K-8, even if it will need an addition, that it is to build and maintain a K-6 and separate, future 7-8 building. It’s cheaper to add to a building than it is to construct a new one. One K-8 building is also cheaper because there are less custodial costs and less administrative costs (2 principals vs 1, and so on). Utility costs are also cheaper because you’re only paying for electric and heat in one building. There’s only one gym, one library, one cafeteria, one kitchen, and one set of main offices, as opposed to double of all of that with associated costs.

Staff also noted that the Candelas site could accommodate multiple structures. If they built a K-8, there would still be 10 acres available that could support another building. It’s unlikely that will be possible with two separate buildings.

Also, Witt suggested that he really likes the 7-12 model and wants to see more 7-12 schools. He suggested a “D’Evelyn Northwest” though noted staff would need to flesh out plans. Staff pointed out that the district doesn’t own any other land in the NW area, though that’s only one among many questions we have regarding Witt’s “D’Evelyn Northwest.”

What’s the real reason behind a K-6? Is Witt hoping to put a charter school into the new building?  We wonder.

Jeffco Schools Security budget request

The other main item was a budget request from Jeffco’s Security and Emergency Management department. Director John McDonald had given a brief presentation on the increased numbers of threats and suicide assessments that his department has seen in the past couple of years. His staff of 11 is at capacity and he needs more staff to keep up with the increasing number of issues. About half of the $1.5 million request is for on-going expenses (additional staff), and the other half is for one-time expenses.

The response was surprising. Newkirk asked about the “school to prison pipeline” and what other schools across the nation are doing about it. Keep in mind that the board already had a Q&A session with McDonald two weeks ago. Why this question? Steve Bell had the winning answer, telling Newkirk that the answer is that many of those schools are coming to Jeffco for advice. McMinimee also jumped to McDonald’s defense, telling the board that Jeffco has one of the best systems out there, and that as someone who has worked in four school districts, he could “say this with confidence.”

Williams asked a number of odd question she said she’d been asked, too. She said people were worried about bringing Child Protective Services into the schools like New York. McDonald said he hadn’t heard of such a thing in Jeffco. She asked if FERPA no longer applied if students had contacts with law enforcement.  Answer: FERPA remains in place.

Williams wanted to know whether students knew their rights, and whether policies regarding contact and interviews with law enforcement had been made available to the public. Answer: policy JIH and JIH-R, which are available in BoardDocs. Just click the “policies” tab and type JIH. (Capital letters work better, FYI. And so on). Basically, Williams doesn’t appear to have read the Student Code of Conduct in full, and certainly hasn’t bothered to read through all those pesky district policies either. (But she had time to read Newkirk’s last minute proposal!) Note again that she could have asked McDonald these questions two weeks earlier during his presentation, and that they aren’t related to his budget request. The disconnect is odd.

Witt asked what the funding was for, despite the fact that McDonald had already provided that information to the board two weeks ago. Apparently the document contained some information that could compromise district security, so it hadn’t been posted to BoardDocs. There are plans to extract the information that can be made public and post that soon. Witt also asked where the money would come from, which to us is the only reasonable question we heard on the topic.

The problem is that WNW already allocated all the funding (see $18 million to build a “debt-free” school in NW Arvada), and little discretionary money is left to handle the request. They may be able to borrow money from vacant positions and retirement savings to fund the request this budget year, but money is tight. Fellman asked about pulling half a million from reserves to address immediate needs, but Chief Finance Officer Kathleen Askelson cautioned against it, saying they’re hearing dire news from the state regarding 2016-17 budgets, and that there could possibly even be a recision for the current year.

The plan is to revisit the issue at the Oct. 15 meeting. The board seemed to be in favor, but the odd questions from Newkirk and Williams combined with Witt’s statements also make us wonder if they’re taking the request seriously or if we’ll see another Plan B or other nonsense instead.

What You Can Do

You know the drill:  you can donate to the recall campaign and/or to the five candidates we’re endorsing in this election: Amanda Stevens, Ali Lasell, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell. You can donate to the candidates individually or support all five by donating to Jeffco United Forward.

You can write a letter to the editor. You can walk Jeffco to talk to the 70 percent of voters who do not have children in our schools currently to let them know why we support the recall. You can put up a yard sign or wear a button.

You can speak at public comment during the Oct. 1 board meeting, or you can boycott the meeting to speak to Jeffco voters instead. You can write to the board.

Most importantly, you can vote. This is on the November 3 ballot. Watch for your ballot to arrive in the mail, and be sure to fill it out and return it by November 3.

Hopefully you’ve also seen the post about board president Ken Witt telling board member Jill Fellman she would no longer be needed at the district agenda-setting meetings, and that John Newkirk would now attend all of the meetings until the election. If you haven’t seen it, Support Jeffco Kids has that story.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

 

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!


 

9.11.15 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!


 

 

8.27.15 BOE meeting tonight!

school-crossing

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!