Volume 1 Issue 1

Letter to the Editor: I Regret My Vote for a Wasted Tax Increase

Dear Editor,

I actually voted for my taxes to be increased so we wouldn’t lose outdoor lab, busing, music, or have class sizes for my 6th grader of greater than 30 kids. I put my trust ahead of my “gut feelings” that were telling me that Jeffco would just waste the money. Well, last year my 5th grader’s class was divided into 2.5 classrooms. This year, even with the new money that was supposed to go to the students, his grade will have only 2 classrooms with over 30 students in each of them. Isn’t this against the district’s guidelines prior to my increased taxes? The outdoor lab fee went up. Bus fees are $150 per child! Really? My 8th grader doesn’t even have a bus option unless he wants to walk a mile farther away from the school. I thought the fee for buses was going away after the increased taxes and funding for the district. I should have known better. Nothing has changed for my students other than everything has become more expensive and more crowded.

Then, BEST OF ALL, I hear from a school employee that the district created a brand new position for our ineffective principal that left at the end of last year. This new position was created specifically for her. So, the district creates new administrative positions, but can’t get a new 6th grade teacher? In fact, the district created 17 or 18 new positions for principals that left their schools—schools like Evergreen Middle, Evergreen High School, Conifer High and D’Evelyn—17 or 18 new positions with salaries likely over $80k/year.

How many new teachers could we have hired for that money?

How can it possibly be cost-effective in times of professed tight budget to add this amount of overhead and yearly expense to a budget that was supposedly already tight and in need of cut-backs? Those jobs are likely increasing the salary budget by $2 million with the costs of benefits added onto the $1.4 million in salaries.

When we as parents hear about ‘budget tightening’ that always seems to mean that our kids get shorted an activity or stuck in large classes, it never means that we lay off some administrators or reduce their salaries to a more reasonable level.

Please try your best to explain to me how this is going to benefit any of our kids. I’d really like to know how Jeffco and the school board can justify these new positions, designed for principals, so I can get the story right for the local news stations. They might like to investigate the story.

As a voter and parent of students in JCSD, I feel extremely betrayed and used.

Steve Jameson, Jeffco Parent, Lakewood

 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR are welcome on a variety of topics. Please make your letter around 500 words. Pen names are allowed if you include an explanation. They can be submitted by email, if you include a phone number so that we can verify your name and details.

More Money Won't Solve a Leadership Problem in Jeffco

by R. Eshbaugh

There has been a lot of discussion about teacher success and student achievement being tied to or connected with money—especially since the Amendment 66 tax hike proposal does not. I’ve managed and owned several businesses in my life and I’ve found that expecting better results just from getting more money turns out not to be the case.

In my experience, a good working environment for the employees leads to a successful operation. So, why does that seem to be different in the education “industry”?

The best way to test this theory is to find out if there really is a correlation between spending and success. Colorado, it has been claimed, is at the bottom of the list of state education funding. That is nonsense, but I’ll save that for another article. What I found is that Colorado is about in the middle of the states for education funding. Colorado stands somewhere between 26th and 38th in state-by-state rankings.

So, I took a list of states ranked by school funding and organized it from highest to lowest per pupil funding. Initially, I couldn’t really find much of a pattern or correlation, other than some states’ funding levels were similar by region. However, that also correlated to the cost of living in certain regions. In the northeast, where real estate and utilities are higher, faculty salaries need to be higher and in the southeast, where those same expenses tend o be lower, salaries tend to be lower.

Then, I set out o find a unit of measure of “knowledge” or student success in school. I found a chart of ACT scores ranked by state. Initially, reviewing the data, I found no glaring patterns to the states with higher ACT scores or lower ACT scores. This was puzzling. If the amount of money going into schools determines how successful or smart the students are, then there should be some connection between state education spending and ACT scores.

The next step in my investigation was to rank the states from highest to lowest ACT scores and rank the states from highest school funding to lowest school funding, and the results should be obvious. They were not. There was absolutely no correlation between states’ funding of education and higher ACT scores.

I’m not the only one to find these results. A Harvard professor and a Stanford professor teamed up to compare states’ increases in spending with their increases on national test scores over the last 20 years. They found “precious little support” in the data to suggest adding more resources helped students learn more.

Research consistently shows funding doesn’t increase scores. There is no correlation between the amount of money being spent to educate our children in public schools and their ACT scores. Some schools have lower funding yet higher ACT scores. What do they know or do that other states should replicate? I haven’t found an answer to that question. But, if I draw from my experience as a manager, a better working environment will lead to a more successful organization?

Organizations with major inefficiencies sap morale and stunt work. When people believe they are being paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, they are happier. When people have the tools they ned to do their jobs, they are happier. When people feel like they are working harder than their coworkers, but are being paid the same or less, problems in the work environment appear and resentment grows. Without major changes in policy and culure, more money won’t help the students in Jeffco Schools.

Admin Grows While Enrollment Declines

The central office administrative ranks of Jeffco Public Schools grew this summer. School board leaders brought many district principals into headquarters and created two new levels of bureaucracy into which our school principals now must report. In addition, many administrators received raises before the new school year started. Meanwhile, class sizes grow, and teacher salaries stay frozen.

The first new level of administrators is a chief school effectiveness officer (CSEO), who reports directly to the superintendent. Below are 15 achievement directors who report to the CSEO. Each school principal now reports to one of the achievement directors. Neither layer of administration existed last year. The cost of these new administrators? Nearly $2 million that could be spent in Jeffco classrooms.

At nearly the same time, a number of Jeffco administrators received raises of about 3 percent. With the passage of 3A and 3B, salaries for all staff were raised to where they had been, and work days were restored. Citizens were told coming out of the union negotiations “there was no money for raises.” Yet funds appeared from somewhere to raise administrator salaries.

New teachers in Jeffco still make significantly less than their peers in surrounding districts, and our best teachers did not receive any raises. Substitute teachers still earn the reduced hourly rate that was approved to help get the district through tighter budget times. The rest of the Jeffco support staff did not get raises, either. Even so, many administrators making over $100,000 a year received pay hikes.

Enrollment in Jeffco has declined year after year, while central office bureaucracy has grown both in numbers and in expense. Let’s streamline administration and focus dollars on our classrooms instead.

Wasting Money on New Data Systems: What Aren't They Telling Us?

by a Jeffco Parent

We all pay significant amounts of property taxes in order to support our public schools. Whether or not you are a parent, and whether or not your kids already have graduated, you’re invested in the success of our Jeffco schools because at the most basic level, you’re paying for it.

These students are the future of our community. In a more practical sense they ensure we have vibrant local businesses, and that quality companies are willing to start or relocate here.

Good schools bring a wide variety of other positives to the community.

The belief in an excellent education is a shared value. But often we’re asked to support the schools without asking where the money is going. We’re told to take it on faith that it’s being spent correctly and efficiently. And often we’re made to be the ‘bad guy’ when we seek information, request reports, and demand accountability.

In a way, the lesson too often communicated from district leaders is that parents aren’t welcome in the decision-making process.

That sort of behavior makes us wonder: What are they hiding? Why don’t they want us involved?

We’re here to support them, to reinforce their good decisions, and to constructively assist when they make mistakes or are led astray.

When we dig deeper into the management of Jeffco schools, we find a lot that ought to engage,  and frankly outrage, parents.

A year ago, we were told about enormous budget cuts looming. The superintendent told us that because of the budget cuts, the school  district needed to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, close schools, reduce the number of elective courses and options offered, and increase fees.

What we were not told was that the superintendent and other school board members were quietly diverting current funds away from core educational programs and activities. They redirected  those dollars to a controversial conglomeration of corporations and businesses that stand to make millions of dollars from the sale of their products and the use of our children’s personal information.

It’s not a matter of being anti-business or opposing profits per se. But these decisions shouldn’t be made in the dark. As they affect our students and our kids, they need to be public. Contracts with major corporations should always be open for discussion and debate because of the risk of abuse, corruption, lobbying, and other pressure.

When we dig a little deeper, we find the real benefactors. Rupert Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of the world’s second-largest media conglomerate and has a net worth of$8.6 billion. His company, News Corp., built the infrastructure now called inBloom. News Corp. then handed inBloom over to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently funds and markets the system.

This summer, the board accepted a $500,000Gates Foundation grant that will be used to prepare our children’s data to be incorporated into the LoudCloud Learning Management System. At the same time our school board approved spending $2 million for the LoudCloud dashboard.

This expenditure is only the beginning of a multi-million dollar partnership that threatens to entangle Jeffco Schools without any demonstrated educational benefit. We are the first and only school district listed as purchasing this system and working with LoudCloud. When asked about the ongoing cost for the dashboard, the board admitted that future costs are unknown.

These activities have been going on at least as far back as 2012, while the board threatened a $40 million budget shortfall.

The Jeffco School Board also has been quietly working with inBloom, formerly called Shared Learning Collaborative. Teamed together, inBloom and LoudCloud are poised to increase profits as they enter into multi-million dollar deals with school districts around the country.

Interestingly enough, most states and school districts that initially partnered with inBloom have since distanced themselves from the company as concerns have surfaced over privacy of children’s personal information. Recently, the Jeffco Schools partnership with inBloom (and now LoudCloud) has received more attention as parents learn more about the cost of the partnership and the plan to store children’s personal information on inBloom Internet servers. Parents didn’t learn about the issue until March.

Yet Jeffco Schools has been participating in an inBloom pilot program since 2012. All we know thus far is that in 2015 the cost to use their services will be somewhere between $172,000 and $430,000, according to the district’s website.

“pricing is still being determined” for each year after that, so the district is entering into agreements when they have no idea how much it will cost us in the future.

During Dr. Stevenson’s service as superintendent, the district has spent millions to build new schools and then threatened to close others only a few miles away, citing budget reasons. Money is wastefully spent when the economy is good, followed by frantic threats of closures and cuts when the budget starts to tighten.

At the June 6 Jeffco School Board meeting, a parent asked the superintendent if LoudCloud and inBloom were connected in any way. The question was asked in the context of determining how the school district chose these particular companies from the array of available providers for similar products and services. The superintendent responded by denying any sort of connection between LoudCloud and inBloom, saying they are independent entities. A little research easily disproves the claim. Thus, the superintendent now acknowledges the two are connected, and says the LoudCloud dashboard will not be effective if there is no inBloom system. Either district leaders were covering up the arrangement or were unacceptably ignorant.

Why would the school board try to hide this partnership? Will our children benefit from this artnership? Or, will Jeffco Schools merely pad the pockets of wealthy interests? Murdoch, whose company built inBloom, said it best: “When it comes to K–12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone.”

 

 

Policies "For the Kids" Usually Aren't

by Coach Peter Jeans

The most overused saying in education debates is the idea of doing something “for the kids.” If only that were always true. As a Jeffco schools parent, I’ve generally seen the district’s first and foremost interest in its role as an employer, not as an educational system set out to benefit “the kids.”

I don’t intend that as a slight to the dedicated professionals—teachers, administrators, coaches—who have provided so many years of service to our kids. Indeed, so much of our experience as parents has consisted of positive experiences with our children’s teachers. We are incredibly appreciative of their individual efforts and talents. Rather, I simply have observed many district-level decisions that put the interests of parents and students second, not first.

Examples include collective compensation based on years of service and degree credentialing as opposed to individual merit and assessment; tenure; closed-door contract negotiations; furlough days as opposed to unwanted but necessary salary reductions or renegotiations; and first-in last-out hiring practices.

As a coach in Jeffco, I am not subject to many of these employer-first practices. Yet, as an employee, I welcome competition amongst my fellow coaches, and know that the lack of job security makes me do a better job with the individual kids in my program and as a representative of my school. I also know that competence and excellence will both be rewarded, and instances where I make blunders or mistakes will not go unnoticed. This makes me accountable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This reality creates a program and experience that truly puts the kids first.

I hold my players to the highest possible standard as well—in areas such as behavior, teamwork, effort, sportsmanship, and of course, their ability to contribute on the field. I think setting the bar so high, and then holding the kids accountable to that standard, has helped the kids to improve, learn and ultimately to succeed as a team.

I would love to see more of Jeffco’s decision-making always start with that thought in mind: How high can we raise our expectations for our school system, and can we hold everyone accountable to meet that standard? A winning team starts with those ideas in mind. So how far can we go together and with everyone bought in? Then how can we go farther? That’s what we all want in Jeffco, and I think that’s what we can all accomplish together.