Archive for the 'School Board' Category

June
1st 2017
Superintendent Subterfuge: Broken Promises, Empty Words, and the Crystal Ball in Jefferson County

Posted under Education Politics & Jefferson County & School Board & Union

Remember that recall thing that happened in Jeffco back in 2015? Of course you do. We all do. In fact, a fair number of folks are still suffering from the edu-PTSD that nasty fight caused. Many speculated as the dust settled that the dishonesty underlying the Jeffco recall portended broken promises and bad behavior by the new 5-0 anti-reform board. And based on the board’s recent selection of Eagle County’s legendarily anti-reform Jason Glass as its new superintendent, it would appear those predictions have come true.

It became clear pretty quickly following the 2015 election that recall proponents were somewhat… erm… less than honest about their motivations and backers. That’s a nice way of saying they lied through their collective teeth. First, it emerged that the teachers union began working against the conservative reform majority “from the moment the polls closed in 2013” despite statements to the contrary from just about everyone on the pro-recall side. Then, we discovered that the “parent-led” recall effort was, in fact, directly funded by the National Education Association. When that revelation blew up a legal attempt by the pro-recall Jeffco United to conceal its donors, it was revealed that things were even worse than they seemed. The organization received literally 99.9 percent of its money from teachers unions.

And, of course, those are only the worst examples of deliberate lying in the Jeffco recall. There were numerous other claims made that were roundly proven to be either inaccurate or flatly false. One of the largest and most heavily publicized of these claims dealt with the selection and contract of Dan McMinimee, whom the Jeffco school board’s conservative majority hired as the district’s chief in 2014. Back then, the same group of people who would later become the faces of the Jeffco recall effort argued that McMinimee’s salary was unjustifiably higher than his predecessor, Cindy Stevenson. As it turns out, that was a lie. Meanwhile, progressives and other opponents of the board’s conservative reform majority castigated them for engaging in a less-than-transparent selection process that presented only one sole finalist to the public.

The shrieking about McMinimee was at least part of the reason the pro-recall side prevailed in 2015. But their outrage apparently died with the old majority. Continue Reading »

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December
19th 2016
LIFO Procedures and Schrödinger’s Financial Crisis

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Union

You may have noticed that my policy friend Ross Izard recently published an issue paper calling out nearly half of Colorado’s unionized school districts for maintaining last-in-first-out (LIFO) layoff procedures in their union agreements or negotiated policies. LIFO procedures prioritize seniority over performance when making teacher reduction-in-force (RIF) decisions despite the fact that doing so is both bad policy and against the law.

Just this weekend, Ross used a column in the Denver Post to amplify the message that these districts should fix their layoff procedures. He also addressed the weak arguments thrown up by some districts in defense of their remaining LIFO procedures.

I encourage you to read both the report and the op-ed if you want to learn more about the issue. For today, I’d like to focus in on one of Ross’s arguments specifically. From the column [emphasis added]:

In some cases, these unlawful provisions have simply been overlooked. Many districts do not scrutinize their agreements or policies while renegotiating them. However, a number of the districts have attempted to justify the continued presence of LIFO systems using two primary arguments. First, that they have “elected not to” follow the law because they have not recently conducted layoffs and do not anticipate doing so in the near future. And second, that the continued existence of these LIFO procedures is acceptable because state law supersedes district union agreements. These arguments fail to pass muster.

The sentence in bold really stands out to me, though not necessarily for the reason you might expect. Ross goes on to argue that laws should be applied equally across districts, and that these districts deserve no special treatment.  That’s definitely true More interesting to me, however, is this angle:

The LIFO issue presents an opportunity for school districts to engage in the type of responsible, forward-thinking governance citizens expect. There is no compelling reason to wait until a volatile economy once again delivers a financial downturn to address the problem. And, if these same districts’ perpetual warnings about dire funding shortfalls are any indication, one must assume that the specter of hard financial decisions looms larger than they now argue. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This paragraph captures my thoughts on the response to the paper from some school districts and members of the media. Not even ten years after the Great Recession, these districts practically scoff at the notion that layoffs are something they will ever have to think about again. But how does that square with the constant warning cries about lack of funding? Continue Reading »

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October
19th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Talks the Talk, Once Again Fails to Walk the Walk

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Last month, I wrote about how the Douglas County School District Board of Education’s anti-reform Toxic Trio—Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray—abrogated their duties as elected officials by refusing to accept board majority member Doug Benevento’s resignation from the board. In so doing, they signaled their willingness to leave tens of thousands of Dougco residents without representation on the school board and ensure deadlock on most important issues.

Benevento’s resignation was accepted a short time later, but only after Benevento himself felt awkwardly obligated to come back to accept his own resignation—an unprecedented scenario to the best of my knowledge. Since then, the district has embarked on a process designed to fill the vacancy in accordance with board policy and the law.  Meanwhile, the Toxic Trio has continued to incessantly lecture their school board colleagues about the importance of “following policy and the law.” They have continued sermonize at every opportunity about the criticality of transparency and openness with “the community.”

I happen to agree with both points. Policy and the law must be followed, and transparency is critically important. But all this proselytizing begs an important question: Why don’t they put their money where their collective mouths are? Continue Reading »

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September
7th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Shirks Responsibility, Shafts Citizens

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

I know I’m a little snarky from time to time, but I generally feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled kid. It takes a fair amount to get me mad. But if there’s one thing that is absolutely, positively guaranteed to send me off the rails, it’s when grown-ups entrusted with the levers of power choose to operate those levers to benefit themselves and harm students, parents, and taxpayers.

That is exactly what I saw happen last night when I tuned in for my favorite biweekly Tuesday entertainment: the Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting. As some of you may know, Doug Benevento, a member of the four-person conservative majority on the board, resigned his seat on August 17. He submitted a brief but official “letter” of resignation to Dougco BOE President Meghann Silverthorn, who subsequently informed the other board members of the news. In case all of that wasn’t clear or public enough, Benevento also ran an op-ed explaining his decision in the Denver Post, the largest newspaper in the state.

In addition to that, major news outlets across Colorado covered the resignation, including:

7News

9News

Chalkbeat Colorado

CBS Denver

The Denver Post

That’s only a partial list, but you get the picture. It was no secret to anyone paying attention—and really even to those who had no idea of who Doug Benevento is—that Benevento had stepped down from the board on August 17. You can imagine my surprise, then, when board minority members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David  Ray, and Wendy Vogel—the three of whom collectively form the “Toxic Trio” in Douglas County—blocked a straightforward resolution designed to start the process of filling the seat. Continue Reading »

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July
15th 2016
Public Policy Buckets and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Posted under Rural Schools & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature

You know, we spend too much time thinking about public policy in buckets. I live in the education bucket, while others live in the finance bucket or the energy bucket or the transportation bucket or… well, you get the point. But the world doesn’t really work that way, does it? Public policy in one area often deeply affects policy in another. Pull the wrong string over here and you may inadvertently spark a crisis over there.

To underscore that point, I’d like to call your attention to Exhibit A: South Routt School District (SOROCO to the locals) and the unintended consequences of the War on Coal on education in Colorado.

South Routt is a tiny school district of about 350 PK-12 students near Steamboat. I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of it before. Like many rural school districts in Colorado, SOROCO lives on a budgetary razor’s edge where any large swing is likely to be felt very keenly.

You can imagine the district’s panic, then, when Peabody Energy, the country’s largest coal-mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2016. Why would a national coal company’s bankruptcy matter to South Routt? Because it turns out that bankrupt corporations aren’t great at paying their taxes. Continue Reading »

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June
23rd 2016
Investigating Dougco’s Independent Investigation

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Let’s begin today’s post with a little bit of vocabulary. Merriam-Webster defines the word “independent” as:

a (1) :  not subject to control by others :  self-governing (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>

b (1) :  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent <an independent conclusion> (2) :  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) :  not bound by or committed to a political party

c (1) :  not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents> (2) :  being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>

Some of our friends in Douglas County, however, have chosen to use a more novel definition of the term when discussing the recent results of an independent investigation into bullying allegations against Dougco school board members Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds: That anyone who finds against their accusations cannot be independent. We’re going to spend some time dissecting that claim today. Continue Reading »

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June
1st 2016
COPs and Robbers: A Tale of Two Jeffco Schools

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & Jefferson County Public Schools & School Board & School Finance

It’s been a little while since we talked about Jeffco, but I couldn’t resist chiming in on a CBS 4 story proudly declaring that the district has broken ground on a “brand-new K-8 school” in Arvada’s Candelas development. The construction of a new school wouldn’t normally merit a blog post, but this particular school carries such political baggage and symbolic value that it’s impossible to ignore.

If you dig deep into the locked container in your head labeled “Jeffco Recall 2015,” you’ll probably remember a bit of a kerfuffle last year about the proposed use of certificates of participation to finance new school construction in Jefferson County. COPs, as they’re colloquially known, exist mostly as an end-run around TABOR in that they allow governments to incur long-term debt without voter approval. The Independence Institute’s Josh Sharf explains it like this:

The government, in this case a school district, transfers some asset, usually a building or set of buildings, to a special-purpose entity set up specifically to administer the COP.  That entity – not the school district itself – then floats the bond on the municipal bond market.  It then leases the buildings back to the school district for lease payments that match the bond payments.  It is those lease payments that secure the debt.  In addition, the lease comes up for annual review by the school board which, in theory, could refuse to renew.

If that sounds a little shady to you, you’re not alone. Continue Reading »

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May
27th 2016
Another Friday, Another Goodbye, and a Big Opportunity

Posted under Douglas County & School Board

I hate goodbyes, especially when I have to issue them back to back to people who I think have done good work. Late last week, we talked a little about Commissioner Rich Crandall’s abrupt decision to resign from his position after only a few months on the job. Now we’re saying goodbye to Douglas County’s stalwart superintendent, Dr. Liz Fagen.

Dr. Fagen has been with Douglas County for six years. That’s a pretty good run if you consider that the typical tenure of a superintendent is only about three years—and that’s in districts far less venomous and politically charged than Douglas County. While there is research out there finding that superintendents are not the biggest influences on district performance (see the study linked in the prior sentence), no one can argue with the fact that Dr. Fagen has overseen some dramatic and successful changes in Douglas County. Continue Reading »

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May
6th 2016
Waivers, Waivers Everywhere

Posted under Accountability & Public Charter Schools & School Board & Traditional Public Schools

A couple of weeks ago, I provided a rundown of the legislation still pending in the 2016 legislative session’s busy final days. One of the bills lingering out there is HB 16-1343, which seeks to eliminate automatic waivers for charter schools. As I’ve said before, there is little danger that the bill will survive. But that won’t stop the teachers union and its allies from using it as an opportunity to pontificate about those evil, nasty, no-good charter schools.

And pontificate they have. CEA has published all manner of charter-related ugliness on its Twitter account, and has supported 1343 on its website. More recently, the often icky Colorado Independent jumped on the bandwagon with an article accusing charters of “dodging Colorado laws”—likely after all the more credible news outlets declined to become mouthpieces for union propaganda.  But hey, I guess some folks have to take what they can get.

Anyway, the Independent article focuses on the union’s central messaging plank: That the waivers granted to charter schools create an unfair ability to shirk legal requirements that other schools have to follow. Why do charters deserve equal funding, they ask, if they don’t have to play by the same rules as traditional public schools? Traditional public schools do not have a way to waive out of these requirements, after all. Right? Wrong. Let’s talk. Continue Reading »

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April
12th 2016
Turning Over a New Leaf: Better Turnover Figures Make Me Smile

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Douglas County & Education Politics & Jefferson County & School Board & Teachers

There are a lot of exciting days every year. Christmas, Easter, snow days, and my birthday all spring to mind immediately. But for education nerds, there’s no day more exciting than New Numbers Day. Today, my friends, is that day.

Okay, New Numbers Day was technically April 7, when the Colorado Department of Education released brand-new, more accurate teacher turnover numbers for school districts across the state. But we’re going to talk about it today, and one of the benefits of entirely made-up holidays is that you can have them whenever you want. So there.

Regular readers of my diatribes will remember that I am not a fan of the way CDE has reported teacher turnover in the past. Why? Because the Department included a whole bunch of stuff that created an inaccurate picture of actual turnover in school districts. More specifically, the state’s old calculations included teachers leaving after riding out their final year of employment under PERA’s 110/110 program, the ones scooped up as additional losses due to differences in reporting timeframes between the district and the state,  those on single-year contracts, and others who were promoted or moved to non-teaching positions in the district.

That last part is especially problematic. Continue Reading »

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