Volume 3 Issue 2

Will the Teachers' Union Strike?

     This past spring the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), or teachers union, sent out an action alert discussing preparations for a possible strike. The one-page flier went to all Jeffco union members with answers to frequently asked questions about a strike. The flier included advice about preparations, including, “many members have already started setting some money aside in a ‘rainy day’ fund.” In addition, the fact sheet told teachers they would NOT get paid while on strike. 
     The last teachers’ strike in Colorado occurred in Denver Public Schools in the fall of 1994. Teachers went on strike for five days.
     High Timber Times covered the story of the JCEA strike flier with a suggestion that parents might want to put money away over the summer so they are prepared in the event that not enough teachers were in classrooms and schools needed to close.

Jeffco Investing In Students

By Jenna Schmidt

For the past two years, the Jeffco School Board has squarely focused on student achievement while facing harsh public criticism for attempts to change the status quo. 
     More than 135,000 Jeffco residents voted in the 2013 election. Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams won their elections by 14, 8, and 22 percentage points, respectively. In 2011, 20,000 fewer Jeffco voters cast ballots, with only 113,000 making school board choices. Lesley Dahlkemper won by 12 percent and Jill Fellman won by 22 percent. 
     In voting for reform-minded school board members, a significant portion of the electorate in 2013 decided that the status quo simply was not good enough and that dramatic change was needed. They sent a clear message that the focus needed to be on improving student achievement. They also voted for better financial management, more choice, and accountability at all levels. What we have seen the board do is just what the community asked them to do. 
Focus on Improving Student Achievement 
     The focus on achievement meant investing in a new math curriculum to replace one that had been in schools for nearly a decade and which produced virtually no achievement gains. 
After only a year in place, the district’s Acuity scores have improved as Jeffco teachers demonstrated what was possible with the right supports. A particularly shining example—sixth graders at south Jeffco’s Ute Meadows Elementary showed outsized improvement in their math scores, revealing how exceptionally great teachers with the right tools can make a difference. At the same time, schools that preferred to keep the “old” math curriculum because it worked for them were allowed to do so. 
     Focusing on achievement also means investing in programs to support gifted students and those with special needs. Recognizing that some accelerated learners were not able to get into programs that would meet their needs, the board made investments in ensuring these programs are expanded. 
     In addition, after Cindy Stevenson-appointee Sue Chandler threatened to cut nursing services at Fletcher Miller, she was let go and the board approved an in-depth study of the way the district handles special needs services. Over the last three years the district spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorney fees instead of investing those dollars in services. This board said no more and demanded an audit of the department. 
Focus on Being Financially Responsible
     The board is also fulfilling the promise to be more financially responsible. The result has been more equitable funding across the board: for charter school students; free full-day kindergarten that reaches all free-and-reduced-lunch students wherever they go to school; increased investments in our lowest performing articulation areas; and higher pay for the most effective teachers. 
     Directed by the board to streamline central administration, the superintendent saved enough money to pay for a new elementary school in northwest Arvada. This decision alone will save taxpayers millions of dollars and will prevent the board from having to cut services to pay for the debt on a new building. 
     In fact, this year the district came off of the state’s financial watch list. Enrollment in Jeffco has begun to increase again, as more families choose to have their children educated in a district focused on students first. 
Focus on Choice
     Expanding choice means guaranteeing the expansion of programs that work for students and those that are in high demand. The board is listening to the community and investing in programs that meet the needs of students. More choice also means emphasizing local control, which has happened this year with the rollout of student-based budgeting for all schools. This change gives parents and schools more power to choose which investments to make for their students, prioritizing spending to meet their needs. 
     Choice is not one-size-fits-all, top-down commands from central administration. While charters may represent the ultimate in local control with their own boards directing their work, neighborhood schools can and should be allowed much the same flexibility. As Superintendent Dan McMinimee has said, these new processes allow the district to create a one-size-fits-one system to ensure the needs of each student are met.
Focus on Accountability 
     The new focus on local control drives accountability to each school closer to students and families. We will now know exactly what dollars are being spent in which schools, and local school teams will be held accountable to show the positive results from their investments. In fact, the board heard from the principal and staff at Wheat Ridge’s Pennington Elementary, where the teams have provided extended learning time for students. These investments are paying off in increased student achievement. 
     The superintendent has described the process as turning the district on its ear. Where the prevailing culture previously had been, “We need to do things the way that headquarters tell us to do things,” the new culture is built around the belief that, “Teachers and local communities know what is best for their students.” They are now empowered to make more decisions, and are given ready access to the resources they need. Central staff are now seen as a resource to support local decisions.
     In these four key areas that matter greatly to the success of Jeffco students, the current board has made clear strides forward. As the district continues along this course, there is a promise of significant improvements in student achievement.

Compensation Increases Average 7.5% Over the Last Two Years

By Cindy Johnson

     Every year in early May, the Colorado legislature includes K–12 funding allocations in its finalized budget. It is then the responsibility of each local board of education to determine how that money will be spent within their school district. 
     Usually, the figures that come from the legislature are based on per-pupil funding, a figure that is multiplied by the number of students expected to attend all schools the next year, to give districts a starting point for their budgets. District budget discussions typically revolve around how the additional dollars will be allocated. In economic downturns the dollars available may decline, which means more school boards discuss cutbacks instead of expansions. 
     Over the last two years, tax revenues have risen along with the improved Colorado economy. As a result, Jeffco has received a combined $40.6 million net general fund increase from the state—$21.1 million in 2014 and $19.5 million in 2015. Of those dollars, the school board allocated a full 84 percent to be spent on compensation increases for teachers and other staff. 
     In 2014, the board raised the compensation increase from the $11.2 million recommended in the 2013 Bargaining Summit to $18.2 million. These dollars helped to increase take-home pay, as well as covered some mandated healthcare cost increases and PERA (pension) cost increases. The amount represented an average 4 percent compensation increase per employee. This year, the school board approved a budget that included $9.3 million in salary increases, $3.7 million in PERA increases, and $3 million in healthcare cost increases—an average compensation increase of 3.5 percent. 
     The rate of individual salary increases has varied widely, as the school board has corrected some persistent discrepancies in Jeffco teacher pay compared to neighboring districts. For example, the new teacher base salary has been raised from $33,000 to $38,000. In addition, all current full-time Jeffco teachers’ salaries were boosted to at least $38,000, as much as a 14 percent increase. In addition, teachers at the highest levels of the pay scale received one-time stipends of 2 percent or 4 percent, based on their professional practices evaluation. 

     For the 2015–16 hiring season, Jeffco human resources staff provided data that some positions which required master’s degrees and other hard-to-fill positions had not been appropriately addressed in the fall. Consequently, these areas didn’t have salaries that were attracting quality applicants. 
     In an effort to correct the shortcoming, the board unanimously approved a pay plan for new hires that increased salaries both for hard-to-fill positions and for relevant master’s degrees. Unfortunately, the union filed a lawsuit, believing that the increases had not been officially negotiated and left teachers already in Jeffco earning less than new hires. After agreeing to compensate current Jeffco teachers for relevant master’s degrees and an additional 2 percent increases for each of the first six years of experience serving with the district, an agreement for compensation increases was successfully negotiated and the lawsuit was dropped.
     While some of the current rhetoric says teachers “only received a one percent pay raise,” the fact is the overall increase (including healthcare and PERA) is closer to 3.5 percent. The chart above indicates several scenarios where Jeffco teachers received far greater increases. 
     An important component of compensation that must be understood is the PERA contribution. Teachers have always contributed 8 percent of their salaries to PERA for future retirement benefits (close to the 7.65 percent most workers contribute to Social Security and Medicare). Teachers receive PERA benefits instead of Social Security, but they do not pay the Social Security tax on their district wages. 
     Similar to their private sector counterparts with Social Security, school district employees in Colorado receive a matching employer contribution to their PERA retirement. The difference between private sector employees and school district employees is that taxpayer-funded districts have to match these contributions at higher rates determined by state law. 
As recently as five years ago, the match for school district employees was 13.85 percent, nearly twice what private employers must pay into Social Security. In 2010, the Colorado legislature passed a bill to help fully fund PERA by increasing contribution rates. Some of the increase was meant to be paid for with “monies otherwise available for raises.” In other words, the money that went to PERA could have gone into paychecks, but given budgetary constraints went to the retirement fund instead. 
     Employee groups have not traditionally considered their benefit costs to be compensation, nor has it been presented that way in the past. Clearly, however, it is compensation.
Without fail, Jeffco has picked up the entire increases mandated by the new law passed in 2010. For 2015 the match was 18.35 percent (nearly a one-third increase in five years). The employer/taxpayer is providing a contribution to the teachers’ retirement plan equal to 18.35 percent of their salary. That rate is scheduled to go as high as 20.15 percent in 2018.  
PERA benefits are extremely generous to people who remain district employees for their entire career. But it is unfair to career-changers or to younger teachers who may not plan to stay in the profession forever, as they lose a large part of this match. And unless they stay in the system for 30 years, they receive significantly reduced benefits.  Many teachers have expressed interest in higher take-home pay in exchange for a smaller match into their retirement system. 
     In addition to the millions spent on retirement contribution matches made by the district, additional pressure on compensation available for take-home pay increases have been the mandated increases in healthcare costs. Starting last year the district increased its allocation to cover health care benefits by a half a million dollars. This year the district added another $3 million to cover those costs. 
As the largest proportion of the school district’s $1 billion overall budget goes toward compensation, it is critical for all to understand the competing choices for how to allocate additional dollars. 
     Next year, the mandated health care cost increases are estimated to be $5 million. And over the next two years, employer PERA contributions are mandated to go up another 1.8 percentage points. As required by law, 1.5 percent of that must come from dollars otherwise available for compensation. If the district chooses to pick up both the PERA and health care cost increases, fewer dollars will be available for take-home pay increases. 

Duties of a Locally Elected School Board

By Bill Hineser

     These days the community is having many conversations about what the school board and its members have done and what they haven’t done. But not much information has been shared about what Colorado school board members are supposed to do. Our state’s constitution and laws (Colorado Revised Statutes) outline the duties and responsibilities of the local board of education.
     The board of education is the policy-making body of the school district. The board is responsible for education planning and evaluation (i.e., curriculum review and goals), staffing and appraisal, school facilities, financial resources, and communication. The board also acts as a court of appeal for staff members, students, and the public on issues involving policies established by the board and how they are implemented.
     The board of education has “control of instruction” in its district’s public schools. Notably, neither the General Assembly (state legislature) nor State Board of Education has the power to prescribe which textbooks are to be used in the public schools. Each board thus retains local educational control. It is the board’s duty to determine the educational programs to be carried on in the schools and to prescribe the textbooks and other curricular materials for any course of instruction. 
     Adoption of content standards and a plan for their implementation is part of the board’s legal job description. 
     The board of education must adopt written bylaws. The board employs all personnel required to carry out the educational program of the district and determines their salaries. All financial records must be available to the public; nothing can be hidden. The board, within limits prescribed in state law, determines the length of the school year and the school day, and must maintain a public calendar with adequate notice for all changes.
     The board of education may not delegate the power to hire teachers and other personnel, as this responsibility has been exclusively conferred by the General Assembly. The duty cannot be completely shifted to the superintendent. The law mandates the board’s involvement in this area.
     It is the duty of the board to adopt policies to accredit the neighborhood and option schools it directly oversees, as well as the public charter schools it authorizes.
     The board of education must undertake a community-based process to develop a blueprint for the education system in the community, and to determine the skills students will need to be successful after graduation. Each graduate should be ready for college or career.  
     The board of education also owns the responsibility to provide books and supplies for indigent and homeless children, as well as a path for their education.
     The district is also subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services.
     Though not generally known, the board of education is required to adopt a dress code policy for teachers and other school employees. The board also has a duty to ensure and protect the right of schools and students to display the flag of the United States on an individual’s personal clothing and personal property, or property under their control.
     As supervisor of the superintendent of schools, the board is accountable to monitor and oversee its chief employee’s implementation of its policies and goals. Boards can determine the hiring and firing of any employee of the district. However, this approach is not always expedient. Certain positions are supervised by the superintendent and other key employees.
     Private executive sessions of the board can only be held for very specific and limited reasons. Board meetings are held in public, in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Law. The board must be open and responsive to the public, and the public in turn must allow them to perform their duties.
     To assist in making decisions in areas sensitive to the public, the board also is authorized to create various committees. Included among them are the Technology and Data Privacy Committee, the Financial Oversight Committee, and the Capital Oversight Committee. 
     Just like the board’s business meetings, these committee meetings are open to the public and must be advertised so that the community is aware and can attend. Further, minutes must always be kept in order to provide the community with as much information as possible.
     The listing here has touched on some of the board of education’s main duties, but it is not exhaustive. There are quite a few other duties that have not been discussed. These can be found by reading state statutes. 

Ask the Moms

Are the promises made during the 2012 bond and mill election being broken?
     The bond and mill elections are the 3A and 3B ballot initiatives that asked voters for money to fund specific items. 3A dollars support on-going operating expenses. 3B dollars pay off the bonds which fund capital projects. In 2012 3A asked for $39 million annually, while 3B asked for $99 million which would have a maximum repayment of $195 million. 
     The 3A initiative asked for money to maintain reasonable class size, keep instrumental music, and reinstate instructional days among other projects. The $39 million is allocated to the projects asked for so these promises are being kept. For complete comfort that the promises are being kept you can read the text of the ballot initiatives. http://ballotpedia.org/Category:Colorado_2012_local_ballot_measures
     3B was to support a list of capital projects which included replacing fire alarms and upgrading electrical systems. The district was able to raise $117 million and still stay in the repayment guidelines; many of the projects have cost significantly more than projected. To complete all of the projects on the original list current estimates are it will take all of the $117. All projects requested are being funded so promises are being kept.

Are charter schools the only schools getting more money and what is happening with the funds?
     Jeffco is getting more money from the state and those funds are being allocated to all Jeffco schools. The funding is now being done based on students and local communities have more control over how the funds are spent. As the district began calculating, it became clear that charter students have been getting about $1000 less per year per student than their counterparts in district run schools. The new state funds were allocated to make things fairer. 
     Queries to schools show they are using their funding in a variety of ways—some are paying for teachers, some are supporting playground upgrades, some are buying text books and technology, and some are adding teachers. 

Jeffco Superstars

Congratulations Compass Montessori Middle School, “Brand Aid”, Destination Imagination team on taking 4th place at Global Finals!

Deb Marshall, Coronado Elementary School 5th grade teacher, was named the Colorado History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The Institute partners with the Civil War Roundtable of New York to host a national Civil War Essay Contest. Manning Middle School student, Jamie Joung, was awarded Second Place in the Middle School Division.  

The Green Mountain High School boys’ baseball team won the 4A state championship for the second year in a row. They are coached by Brad Madden.  (Our print edition mistakenly referred to the boys' basketball team. Our apologies for the mistake.)

Laurah Duff, a student at Wheat Ridge High School, had her “Railroad Crossing” artwork selected for purchase by the board of education. Her piece will be on display in the board room for a year and added to the permanent district collection.

Cambell Thompson who was a 6th grader at Kyffin Elementary, won an Honorable Mention in the  White House Film Festival. There were more than 1000 entries and Campbell’s short video “How Giving Back Impacted Cora Jean” focused on how many people have helped his sister Cora Jean who was born with Down’s Syndrome. To give back you can join the walk http://rmdsa.org/step-up-walk/index.html

Brady Exploration School Principal Troy Braley completed the National Board Certification program; he is among 270 of 1200 nationwide participants who completed the program in three years.

Jeffco Votes to Sever Relationship with CASB

By John Rofer

     Previous Jeffco School Boards have joined the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) without any public votes and spent $250,000 over the past five years. This year the Jeffco school board discussed the value that CASB provides to Jeffco and voted, in public, to leave the organization. 
     The Colorado Association of School Boards was established in 1940 to “provide a structure through which school board members could unite in their efforts to promote the interests and welfare of Colorado’s 178 school districts.”  The group’s website states that they advocate for school board members and provide training programs to support school board members. 
     They are also a registered lobbyist at the Colorado State Capitol and in recent years testified against a pair of parent-backed bills that called for strong student data privacy protections at the district level. 
     CASB also joined with the Colorado Education Association (CEA), of which the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) is an affiliate, in supporting both recent statewide tax increase ballot measures. They supported Amendment 66, the nearly billion dollar statewide education tax which would have seen Jeffco taxpayers sending more money to Denver than would have been returned to Jeffco. They also supported Proposition 103 back in 2011, which would have raised over $3 billion in taxes statewide over five years. 
     CASB also supported the Lobato lawsuit, which alleged that the Colorado legislature was not performing its constitutional duty to provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public education, essentially demanding even more mandated taxpayer funding for K-12 education. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the legislature was doing its duty, which means dollars that should have been in classrooms were used to support failed litigation. Jeffco alone contributed over $160,000 to support the case. 
     The Jeffco board questioned if these priorities really support Jeffco students. In addition, they asked if the services CASB provides aren’t duplicates of other services Jeffco already contracts for directly. For example, Jeffco has its own lobbyist and Jeffco staff reviews legislation annually for any policy changes necessary as a result of new legislation.  
     Jeffco Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said; “I think CASB brings a lot of value to the table.” She described the group as a “statewide organization that fights for local control in communities.” What she neglected to mention is that her consulting company Schoolhouse Communications had done work for CASB. She also didn’t mention how much her company had been paid.  
     CASB Executive Director, Ken DeLay, was on hand to discuss the benefits of being a member of the Association. “We won’t go away if you go out of the organization,” he said. “But it makes a difference when we’re in the [Capitol] building if we say one of the two largest districts in the state is [not] on board.” 
     Mr. DeLay mentioned the lobbying CASB does as well as the policy support they provide for boards and districts, but conceded up front that his organization’s benefits are significantly greater for small rural districts than for larger ones like Jeffco.
     According to CASB’s 2014 –15 annual report, the organization’s expenses from the previous fiscal year were $200,000 greater than its $2.37 million income. CASB’s funding overwhelmingly comes from taxpayer-funded local governments. 
     Board president Ken Witt noted that though Jeffco had been a CASB member since 1985, he did not find it to be a good deal. “What I haven’t seen is the rest of the value proposition,” he said. “It’s not an indictment of CASB. It’s the match of Jeffco, a very large district, and CASB.”
Director Jill Fellman cast the only vote in favor of continuing Jeffco’s CASB membership. Ms. Dahlkemper recused herself after it came to light that her employer, the nonprofit Colorado Education Initiative, had issued CASB a $100,000 grant.

Free Full-Day Kindergarten

By Scott Jacob

     “I’m so glad my son can go to full-day kindergarten in our neighborhood now,” Ms. Garcia says, expressing her excitement. Last year as she looked ahead to making plans for her son to start kindergarten, the mom thought she would have to open enroll her son outside their neighborhood to get free full-day kindergarten. 
     A major complication was trying to figure out transportation to get him to one of the limited number of Jeffco schools that offered full-day kindergarten for free. Staying put at the neighborhood school posed its own problems. Ms. Garcia’s family works hard at low-paying jobs, and has very little extra money—certainly not enough to pay tuition costs. And though half-day kindergarten is free, the scheduling would make it hard to ensure her son was cared for while she earned a paycheck needed to help make ends meet.
     Last year, only 40 out of nearly 100 Jeffco neighborhood elementary schools offered free full-day kindergarten to all students. The district was spending over $4 million a year to support these programs. All kindergarteners in those 40 schools received free full-day kindergarten regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, in neighborhoods where free full-day kindergarten was not offered, families like Ms. Garcia’s either drove their children out of the neighborhood to a school that offered free full-day kindergarten or paid for full-day kindergarten at their neighborhood school. 
     The Jeffco school board considered adding an additional $500,000 in 2014–15 to the free full-day kindergarten program, to increase the number of participating schools. The board decided not to expand the program and instead asked the staff to evaluate how to provide free full-day kindergarten for all families that qualified for free and reduced lunch. This decision kept the number of Jeffco schools that offer free full-day kindergarten at 40 in 2014–15. 
     As Ms. Garcia heard the news last year, she was worried that the Jeffco school board had stopped all funding for free full-day kindergarten. “The way I heard some moms talking, it sounded like the board was going to make everyone pay for full-day kindergarten,” she said. “So I was excited when I learned that my son would be able to stay right here in our neighborhood and go to full-day kindergarten for free this year.”
     The school board’s rollout of student-based budgeting for all schools added extra funding to the budget of each elementary school that offers full-day kindergarten. As a result, all Jeffco families that qualify for free-and-reduced-lunch now have free access to this program. 
     “Looking back, I don’t see what all the fuss was about, it seems to me that the board was being fairer to families,” said Ms. Garcia. “Since all those of us who have the financial need now can choose to keep their kids at their neighborhood schools and send them to full-day kindergarten without having to pay, I believe we will see a lot more families participate.”
     The school board’s thoughtful new policy, so dishonestly attacked by some groups, brightens the prospects for many Jeffco families seeking to get ahead.
     “My son is excited to be able to go to school this year, and I am excited he will be able to go to kindergarten all day. He is such a smart boy. I just know he’s going to have a great time,” Ms. Garcia said. 

Who Says Money Doesn't Count in Public Education?

By Dr. Paula Noonan

     Colorado’s public K–12 education system went broke in 2008–2009. The brokenness was so bad that the state legislature created the “negative factor,” the difference between the state dollars per student schools receive and the dollars they should receive. 
     The negative factor reached a $1278/student deficit in 2012–13. It’s now down to $1000/student. Children in public schools since 2009 have lost out on $6006 per student or $180,180 for a classroom of 30 kids. During the same time period, prominent education foundations poured money into the state. 
     The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the star money pusher at $121,084,495 since 2010. The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), the education foundation for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), scored $22,220,340 from Gates. Denver Public
Schools (DPS) took in $25,532,007, with an additional $759,938 sent to two charters: Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) and STRIVE Prep. 
     Charter schools received a huge boost from the Gates’ donation to Charter Fund, Inc. doing business as Charter School Growth Fund at $33,716,724. The Fund invested in DPS’s DSST, STRIVE Prep, and Rocky Mountain Prep charters. Education reformer Stand for Children took in $12,110,821. The Gates Foundation pitched $400,000 to Colorado Succeeds run by Scott Laband, the former staffer of State Senator Michael Johnston who sponsored SB10-191, the Great Teachers and Leaders Act.
     The money creates winners and losers. Clear winners are education reformers such as CEI, Stand for Children, and Johnston and Laband who managed to get a $300,000 fiscal note price tag on SB10-191 when the teacher evaluation program costs districts millions of dollars.
     Testers also won. They get the profits from delivering the student assessments used for teacher evaluation. Employees at CEI won. CEI even paid several of its staffers as they worked for CDE on implementing SB10-191. That creative accounting kept their salaries off CDE’s books. 
     Losers include transparency aficionados who like to know how money affecting state policy is spent. CEI’s mission is to support CDE which supports the whole state. A review of CEI’s programs shows great concern with college readiness, and not much, if any, concern for career readiness. 
     It’s impossible to tell how broadly, fairly, and without political taint CEI distributes its grants to its various programs. CEI will be under scrutiny if it’s the funder of alternative assessment pilots allowed by HB15-1323, the revised assessment bill.
     CEI’s latest Annual Report, published in 2013, only lists gross assets and liabilities. 
Losers also include many neighborhood schools across the state, particularly in Denver, when compared to the well-endowed DSST and STRIVE Prep. While most schools have lost funding since 2009, these two charters are swimming in it. 
     Green Valley Elementary School, a neighborhood school in the 80249 zip code, scored 56.95 on reading in 2014. DSST Green Valley middle and high schools, also in 80249, scored 71.4 and 72.95. The math gap is less: 56.62 at GV Elementary, 63.11 at DSST GV Middle, and 61.71 at DSST GV High School.
     All that money bought 14.45+ on reading scores and about 5.5+ on math. Anyone want to fund a Colorado Neighborhood School Growth Fund?

Reprinted courtesy of The Colorado Statesman, the state’s premier political news outlet.

Editor’s note: Jeffco Board member Lesley Dahlkemper is employed by The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) referenced in this article. She is the Vice President, Strategic Engagement and Communication.

Northwest Arvada School Scheduled to Open August 2017

By Ann Randall

     Enrollment in Jeffco schools has begun growing again. Nowhere in the district is that growth more apparent than in northwest Arvada. New houses are being built and sold, and houses in older neighborhoods are turning over—both to families with children. Long-term projections show as many as 4,000 new students may need seats in this area. However, as we have seen before, economic downturns could significantly change those projections. 
     The growth in the next couple of years does show 500 to 600 new school-age students will choose Jeffco schools in northwest Arvada. While total capacity exists districtwide, there are not enough seats in northwest area schools to absorb all of the region’s expected new students. 
     Over the last year the Jeffco School Board considered a number of alternative plans to accommodate the new students. Those plans have been as diverse as adding temporary buildings to existing school sites or building new schools in various locations. 
     Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper even proposed the district acquire $80 million in certificates of participation (COPs), short-term debt arrangements that don’t require voter approval. Approving this $80 million proposal would have been similar to taking a second mortgage on a house. The proposed $80 million was to pay for two new schools, one in Arvada and one in Lakewood, as well as a new stadium in south Jeffco. The proposal would have required annual payments of between $4 million to $5 million a year. Although asked repeatedly what cuts they would make to fund the annual payments, no answers were forthcoming. 
     That proposal and others that would have required new debt without asking the community were voted down by Mr. Witt, Mr. Newkirk, and Ms. Williams who opted instead to task the staff to find alternative sources of funding. The superintendent returned with proposals to use one-time savings from administrative costs. The board voted to direct staff to use $18 million in one time savings to build a K–6 elementary school in northwest Arvada. Original drafts of the new school showed costs for a new K–8 school to be over $20 million. However, with room in neighborhood middle schools, the board directed staff to focus where the capacity needs were greatest. Staff returned with a budget of $18 million to build the new K–6.
     Additional proposals from Ms. Fellman and Ms. Dahlkemper continued and they all included COPs to fund new schools. Each proposal reduced the amount of requested debt, but never included what cuts should be made to cover the annual payments. Ultimately, the board majority voted to use one-time funds and avoided any additional debt. The community will have a new school building to house additional students in the county’s fastest growing area and it should open in time for the 2017–18 school year. 

Vision 2020: A New Plan Forward

By Ann Randall

     A new focus on providing flexibility to teachers and local communities required a new plan to align the current district systems with Jeffco’s strategic plan. Superintendent Dan McMinimee convened a group of more than 75 students, parents, staff, and community and business leaders to help develop the Vision 2020 plan for making sure Jeffco graduates are prepared for the changing world. 
     The group initially defined the skills students will need. The first, Content Mastery, means that students are gaining the academic knowledge and skills they need at each grade level. The group also determined students will need Critical Thinking and Creativity, Civic and Global Engagement Skills, and Communication, all wrapped in a self-directed individual with a sense of Personal Responsibility. 
     The main group met over the course of a couple of months to develop the bigger vision. Then smaller groups gathered to set plans for each school and department in the district. It was deemed imperative that all groups work toward the same ends and see how the work they do each day will help students succeed. The new plan will require new leadership skills as principals and teachers get the autonomy to address local needs. 
     In order to reach the goals laid out by the vision, the district must make changes so that higher expectations and a sense of greater autonomy pervades its culture and climate. Leadership must clearly communicate the message that collaboration is needed, while at the same time allowing for flexibility and creativity. The plan envisions a “Principal Advisory Committee” that would empower shared local decision-making and encourage both cooperation and innovation. 
     The system simultaneously must support professional learning and measure outcomes. Assessment and accountability will be critical to recognizing achievement. The entire Jeffco team should understand how measurements will be used and how they align with expectations. By understanding the strategic plan, the Jeffco community will know how to evaluate progress and how the district intends to continually improve. Finally, true success will come from partnering with families and the broader community, including businesses and community organizations.
     The plan’s structures were rolled out to principals and building staffs as well as departments. Rather than a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution for how to implement the Vision in each building, individual school staffs will develop plans that work for their teams. The shift will begin this year as each employee and student takes personal responsibility for meeting the expectations they have set for themselves, and then align with Vision 2020, which calls for students to achieve at least a year’s worth of learning growth in every grade. 
     It will continue to be the responsibility of the board and superintendent to oversee continuous improvements, but the ideas and solutions now will come from the bottom up instead of top-down. This type of change is exactly what the community has asked for—a system aligned to ensure a renewed focus on the diverse needs of students throughout Jeffco. 

Jeffco Business and Education Communities Align to Create an Outstanding Workforce

by Joni Inman, Executive Director, Jefferson County Business Education Alliance

     The Jefferson County Business Education Alliance (JCBEA) was born in 2011 out of a desire by the business community in Arvada to ensure that students were graduating with skills that prepared them for the workplace. Today it serves the entire Jefferson County community.
     Dot Wright, then Executive Director of the Arvada Chamber and other members of the Arvada business community who employed young people formed the “Arvada Business Education Alliance” because they realized that the students they were interviewing, and ultimately hiring, lacked basic business skills: how to interview, how to dress, showing up for work on time, among them. They launched the first Workforce Readiness training at Pomona High School in 2012 to teach these skills. 
     The program, which is still the cornerstone of what is today the Jefferson County Business Education Alliance, consists of six sessions of after-school career readiness training taught by the business community. Real people in real jobs donating their time and skills to students. It is free of charge to the student and any high school student who wants to participate is included, no matter their GPA or after-graduation aspirations. No student is turned away.
     To “graduate” from the program and earn a certificate that gives them priority hiring status at many Jeffco businesses, the student must attend all classes, be on time, and dress in business casual or better attire. At the conclusion of the program each student is afforded a one-on-one mock job interview with a member of the business community and the opportunity to job shadow with a local business executive.
     The curriculum closely matches what the JCBEA has learned from the Jefferson County business community through a series of Business Roundtable discussions with employers, large and small. Business leaders have been working hard to help identify and define skill sets that students will need to be successful in the workplace. Jeffco has a very diverse group of employers, from primary employers like Lockheed Martin and the Ball Corporation, to those in the medical industry, and many, many smaller companies and smaller independent businesses. While the employment requirements of each of these employers is unique, there are a set of common skills required for the success of all in those workplace environments.
     The Roundtable includes representatives from the school district as well as large Jeffco employers like Millers Coors and Kaiser Permanente and many smaller employers like real estate companies, restaurants, and local governments. As early as April of this year the group unanimously agreed that what they see lacking most in today’s job applicants are soft skills which include character, trustworthiness, dependability, and how to handle failure. Business leaders also expressed that a higher level of communication skills is necessary for success; these include skills in English, writing, grammar, as well as problem identification skills, not just problem solving skills. 
     The information garnered from the Roundtable participants is being used to refine the Workforce Ready sessions. The Skill Sets identified by the business community are now being presented to the broader business community for feedback. Once those are fully vetted the JCBEA will be presenting the outcomes to the school district.

The Jefferson County Business Education Alliance is an independent 501 (c)(3) organization. You can learn more at www.JCBEA.org. If you have questions, or would like to partner with and/or financially support the work of the organization, please contact Joni@JCBEA.org.

Joni Inman is a professional business consultant. She is also the former VP of Public Affairs for St. Anthony Hospital, deputy city manager and Director of the Mayor’s Office for the City of Lakewood, and covered Jefferson County as a newspaper reporter. She and her four children are all graduates of Jefferson County Public Schools.

Jeffco Acuity Scores Show Student Achievement Soaring

By Dan Lacey

     Jeffco’s internal academic measuring stick points to a largely positive trend in core subject areas. Even so, a closer look at the results from individual school and grade-level tests points both to some significant bright spots and some pockets of weakness to be addressed.
     Acuity is the name of the internal software assessment system Jeffco has used for nearly a decade to provide information to teachers about the academic progress of their students. Students in third through eighth grade typically take these assessments at the beginning, middle, and near the end of the school year. Assessments are given in English language arts and math. Scores should show improvement as a result of the learning that happens throughout the year. 
     In addition to helping teachers clarify which students need reinforcement in which topics, the assessments also provide the district with broader data on how much information is being learned. Results allow the district to compare achievement across schools. 
     At both June school board meetings district staff presented data on Acuity results for the 2014–15 school year. Results showed significant student achievement gains across the district. While staff cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from one set of results, there were a number of lessons learned. Some of the biggest successes and some of the prominent areas in need of improvement are highlighted to the right. 
     Two types of outliers are identified for the purposes of this evaluation: Bright spots are defined as positive average score changes of 50 points or more on the assessments taken over the course of a school year. Areas of weakness are defined as average score changes of 9 points or less. 
     Math and English language arts scores from the assessments taken in elementary and middle schools during the 2014–15 school year were analyzed for this report. Outlying scores occurred at 59, or roughly half, of Jeffco’s elementary and middle schools. This analysis revealed a very strong pattern: Most areas of weakness were identified in math, while bright spots tended to be found in English language arts. 

Improvements in English Language Arts 
     Out of 42 English language arts outliers observed, only two were unusually low; on 40 tests, students showed great learning, improving their scores by an average of 50 points or more. At Fairmount Elementary, Marshdale Elementary, Ralston Elementary, and West Jefferson Middle, students achieved very positive improvement on multiple English tests.
     Foster and Swanson, both elementary schools, are the only two in the district that showed unusually low achievement in at least one grade on the English language arts assessment. 
Improvements in English Language Arts and Math 
     At 20 schools there was an outlying level of improvement on multiple English language arts and/or math tests. Meanwhile, students at 11 schools achieved bright spots on English tests, while also registering areas of weakness on math tests. At Ute Meadows Elementary, students achieved abnormally high improvement levels on both English and math tests.
Math Outliers
     At Foothills Elementary, Pleasant View Elementary, and Vivian Elementary, students achieved abnormally low improvement levels on math tests in at least one grade. At Foster Elementary, students achieved abnormally low improvement levels on both math and English language arts tests. 
Significant Challenges
     Math tests taken in two grade levels at Arvada K–8, as well as an English test and a math test taken at Foster Elementary yielded a total score change of zero or less during the 2014-15 school year. This suggests a net loss of knowledge, or at the very least, the acquisition of no new skills. 
Data Anomalies 
     The data used in this report was shared online on BoardDocs. A number of Jefferson County Public Schools are not represented in this data, despite the fact that these schools administer the Acuity test. The middle schools lacking data are Arvada, Bell, Drake, Mandalay, North Arvada, O’Connell, Summit Ridge, Wayne Carle, and Wheat Ridge 5–8. The elementary schools are Bear Creek K–8, Bergen Valley, Kendallvue, Leawood, and Westgate. 
     If fewer than 16 students took a test, the data was not included. In addition, some schools which had reportable data either didn’t administer two rounds of the assessments, or didn’t enter data in the system in time for the analysis. 
     Some abnormal score changes were attributed to “inconsistent beginning and end counts,” which “may be due to administration and/or reporting anomalies.” As such, some of the positive and negative outliers described in this report may be larger than expected due to invalidated tests, reporting errors, or other external issues. 
     For example, at the end of 2014–15, Arvada K–8 seventh graders achieved an average score on the math test that was 12 points lower than the average test score from the beginning of 2014–15. However, while 105 students took the test at the beginning of the year, only 65 took it at the end. 
     Additionally, Foster Elementary sixth graders achieved average change in scores between the English and math Acuity A and C tests equal to -9 and 0, respectively. However, Foster’s student counts for the Acuity tests show that 16 more 6th grade students took the English Acuity C test than took the A test, and that 23 more 6th grade students took the math Acuity C test than took the A test. 
Next Steps 
     The Acuity data presented to the board at the June meeting was one of a number of sources teachers and the district use to evaluate the progress of student learning. Certainly, multiple indicators are needed to tell the complete story of what is working in Jeffco and what needs improvement. 
     The board’s focus on using data to understand what is working in Jeffco, how success can be spread, and where challenges remain will help the community get a clearer picture of the student learning achieved in our schools. In turn, this information should help leaders identify how best to select and allocate resources. 

Community Voice

Thanks for Increasing Substitute Pay
     As a retired Jeffco teacher it has been exciting to be able to substitute in Jeffco classrooms. I enjoy the opportunity to be sure students are able to learn on days when their teachers are in training or have other reasons to be out of the classroom. As a substitute I make sure the teacher’s lesson plan for the day is carried out and the learning environment in the classroom is maintained. 
     During the economic downturn a couple of years ago Jeffco staff took a 3 percent pay reduction which was restored when the voters passed additional revenue in 2012. Substitutes took a 10 percent reduction in our pay rates which was not restored, so we as substitutes have now gone four years teaching at rates that are 10 percent less than five years ago.
     Many of my friends have chosen to take jobs in surrounding districts over Jeffco opportunities because the rates in surrounding districts are so much higher, so we were all very excited when the Jeffco Board began discussing raising substitute pay. It was such a relief when the board directed the superintendent to raise the pay for substitutes. It will be good to have so many of my friends choosing Jeffco opportunities again. 
Jeffco Substitute Teacher 

Why is Dr. Stevenson Involved in the Recall?
     I am not surprised at the news of Dr. Stevenson’s involvement with the recall. Before she was Superintendent, she was the Assistant Superintendent for the West Area. The school where I worked was in her area. She never once visited our school. (Area superintendents were supposed to visit all the schools in their area). When it was time to evaluate our principal, she called our principal and asked her to give her four or five names and phone numbers of the faculty that she could contact for evaluation information. Of course, the principal picked her “pals.” What a farce! It wouldn’t surprise me if she did that in all her west area schools. The last thing we need is to have her as Superintendent again! Yikes!
Retired Jeffco Employee

College Board 2015 AP US History Changes Recognize Previous Deficiencies  
     In the waning days of July, as covered by the Huffington Post and the National Review, the College Board, released a new framework for AP US History. According to the College Board, the new edition of the Course and Exam Description is based on feedback gathered over the last year. “Teachers and historians, parents and students, and other concerned citizens and public officials from across the country all provided feedback.”
     The College Board web site says, “Statements are clearer and more historically precise, and less open to misinterpretation or perceptions of imbalance. Key individuals such as James Madison, Jane Addams, and Martin Luther King Jr. and documents such as the Gettysburg Address and the Federalist Papers are now explicitly mentioned.” While the College Board does not produce text books their web site does say the new framework will require changes in assessment, instructional resources, and classroom teaching.
     The College Board shared the areas of the previous framework which received the most public comment and have received major overhauls. These areas include the productive role of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and innovation in shaping U.S. history; American ideals of liberty, citizenship, and self-governance, and how those ideals play out in U.S. history; and U.S. leadership in ending the Cold War. 
     The College Board announced that educators, including AP US History teachers who reviewed the new framework at the recent AP Annual Conference, have embraced the new framework. 
     As the new framework now includes exactly the balance that was discussed in Jeffco last year I wonder if the College Board will issue an apology to the Jeffco School Board.
Jeffco History Buff

Thanks for Site-Based Budgeting
     It has always been frustrating to me that our school communities were unable to prioritize the needs of the students in our building. Very often, we believed the top-down, one-size-fits-all formulas for allocating resources were not good for our students, but we were unable to make decisions locally. Now, with site-based budgeting, we are able to prioritize spending and choose whether more hours for our clinic makes sense for our students, or if it might be better to hire an extra math paraprofessional. 
Grateful Parent

The Recall Does Not Make Sense
     I am exceedingly disappointed in those members of our Jeffco community that would drag the district through a contentious recall when the main complaints are process issues. It is totally understandable that those people who have just started paying attention to school board meetings may feel like the board has not been transparent. However, they fail to realize this board has begun streaming each board meeting so anyone in the community can watch. How that process is bad for students or teachers is beyond me. 
     Instead of attempting a recall based on process, why not actually discuss how our students are performing in school? Why not ask questions about which policies actually help improve student achievement like: Does paying teachers based on their effectiveness lead to better teachers in the classroom or not? Does the new math curriculum help teachers and students in the classroom or not? Does enhancing site-based budgeting improve local control and accountability? Is it fair to fund charter school students at the same rate as neighborhood school students?
     As a business leader in Jeffco, I am proud of our community and want our schools to be the best they can be. Why would we keep doing things the way they have always been done when the results have remained flat? I certainly would try something new in my business if we were not meeting our customers’ expectations and I expect the same from our educators and the board of education.
Jeffco Employer

Thank the Jeffco Action Center
     As a young single mom sending my children through Jeffco schools it was often hard to find the resources to get everything on the school supply list for my children. Although it was difficult to ask for help, organizations like the Jeffco Action Center often provided just what we needed. 
     As my children have grown and I have become more financially stable I find it a real joy to be able to be one of the contributors to the Action Center’s school supply drive. I know the supplies will make it easier for some other family to make ends meet. If you want to join me you can get more information here: http://theactioncenterco.org/. 
S. Smith

Is the recall just a power grab?
     How is it that with a tentative general agreement, except for its duration, just reported between the Jeffco School Board and its Teachers Union re: a new contract, said union is still adamant about its Recall (of the Board) Campaign? 
     Could it be that it really wants to reinstall Cindy Stevenson, (the largest financial contributor to its effort) as “Superintendent for Life,” and damn the consequences? 
     Does it really want to return to the educational doldrums of the previous regime, with its seeming lack of its concern for unacceptable student achievement? 
     Or is it really just about a naked power grab reflecting the quote oft-attributed to the American Federation of Teachers’ President Albert Shanker: “When school children start paying union dues, then we will represent their interests?”
Russell W. Haas

Expanding Choice Means More than Adding Charter Schools

By John Rofer

     When some people hear “expanding choice,” they think about charter schools, which offer programming not typically found in neighborhood schools. But expanding choice has a much broader definition. Right here in Jeffco, it includes offering more programs at Warren Tech and the Jeffco Virtual Academy. It also means building capacity at Sobesky, which serves students with severe emotional needs. Additionally, it’s about increasing the number of seats available in gifted programs and investing in revamped services delivered to students with other special needs. 
Career and Technical
     The board is investing in programs that help students graduate ready for the workforce. Warren Tech offers a variety of classes for high school juniors and seniors, at both a north and central campus. The program works with neighborhood high schools to deliver unique opportunities for students. Courses at Warren Tech range from Forensic Science to Cosmetology, from Culinary Arts to Dental Hygiene. Some students graduate from Warren Tech and directly enter the workforce.
     Students can get hands-on experience with welders, automotive diagnostic machines, and CAD systems. Working with Red Rocks Community College, some students are also able to graduate from Warren Tech with an associate degree. Warren Tech students even have become famous for sending things into space. In a project with NASA students have designed and built equipment and experiments that are now on the international space station. 
Special Needs
     The board has invested in Sobesky Academy, a school designed to meet the intensive behavioral and related academic needs of students identified with severe emotional disabilities. Currently, the program is housed at 2001 Hoyt Street in a building built in 1947. It no longer has the capacity to meet the needs of all the students who require the program’s intensive interventions. The board has allocated funds to remodel Stevens Elementary to create more space for those students who need the services at Sobesky in a safe educational environment. 
Jeffco Virtual Academy
     Last year the board invested in expanding the district’s online virtual academy. Previously directed at students in seventh to 12th grade, the program has expanded to serve students as early as kindergarten. This free public school option allows students to take online classes to supplement their learning in a Jeffco public school, or to enroll full-time in the Virtual Academy. Classes offered range from core classes in English, math, science, and social studies to Art History and Web Page Design. Courses follow the Jeffco district curriculum and are taught by Jeffco teachers. 
Gifted and Talented (GT)
     In addition, the board is expanding programming for gifted students. An audit of the district’s GT program offerings uncovered wait lists with students who had been identified as being able to participate, whose parents wanted them in gifted classrooms, but for whom there was no space. The board allocated additional funds to add classes to gifted center programs and to expand programs available in neighborhood schools to support clusters of gifted students. 
Special Education
     The board is also investing in revamping special education. Dr. Sue Chandler generated a wake-up call last year when she threatened to reduce the nursing staff at Fletcher Miller, a special option school in Jeffco serving students with severe physical disabilities and other special needs. Fletcher Miller parents quickly brought the change to the attention of the board and the district’s top leadership. Superintendent Dan McMinimee held a meeting with the school’s staff, parents, and community, assuring them nursing staff would not be reduced. 
     The school board and superintendent directed central staff to begin a comprehensive audit of how special education services are delivered all across Jeffco. An outside organization will lead the study with the goal of ensuring that current processes are redefined to meet the needs of all special education students in Jeffco schools. Dr. Chandler, hired as the executive director of special education by the former superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, is no longer employed by the district. 
High-Poverty Neighborhood Schools
     The board has also invested in students in Jeffco’s most challenging neighborhoods. They made a one-time allocation of $5 million to reorganize some of the schools in the Jefferson and Alameda articulation areas. The reorganization plans were based on the advice of staff and community members in those areas. Both Jefferson and Alameda high schools will serve students in seventh through 12th grade beginning this year. The recommendations were based upon successes from around the country where school districts are combining middle and high schools in some of the most impacted communities to lessen the number of transitions students face. 
     The staff recommended moving Stevens into Wheat Ridge 5-8 making it an elementary, and moving the middle schools students from Edgewater to Jefferson. Students from O’Connell Middle School will attend Alameda, while students from Stein Elementary will use O’Connell’s building so that long overdue upgrades can be made to the Stein campus. 
     The one-time funds supplement the additional dollars now available through student-based budgeting. By supporting the rollout to all schools of funding that follows the student, schools now will have more flexibility to make funding decisions that are most appropriate for their students. When district headquarters made all of the funding decisions, ratios were used to decide how to allocate resources. Now, if a community wants to add additional art classes and the funds are available, they have the ability to make that decision. More flexibility means more choice for every student in Jefferson County.

Treating All Students Equitably

By Jenna Schmidt

     For years students whose learning style was better served in a public charter school in Jefferson County were funded like second-class citizens. Deciding that was not fair, the Board of Education voted 3-2 to ensure that charter school students receive an equitable share of district dollars. Board members Witt, Newkirk, and Williams supported the fair funding.
     As recently as two years ago, the funding disparity between students in district-run schools versus those in public charter schools was more than $1,000 per-pupil, a disparity now fully erased over the last two years.
     During the June 18 budget discussion, board director Jill Fellman expressed her reluctance to support fair funding. “I value all children equally,” she said, “and I am pleased that we are on a path to do so financially with charter schools. However, I am still concerned about [charter schools’] accountability to the district.” 
     Ms. Fellman should know that in Colorado all charter schools, as public schools, are accountable to their local school boards. Charter school students are required to take the same battery of state assessments as their neighborhood and option school peers. Based on Ms. Fellman’s comments some community members and parents may wonder, though, what role the school district plays in holding charters accountable to help ensure success.
     The answer is the district school board has ultimate authority to monitor whether charter schools are serving students. In addition, charter schools are governed by their own boards. Colorado law explicitly holds the authorizer (in this case the Jeffco School Board) accountable for the academic and financial “end results” of charter schools. Contract terms between the district and a charter set the specific parameters for success. In 2014, Jeffco Public Schools added a full-time achievement director to oversee its 17 now authorized charters, the latest of which was approved to open this fall. 
     Charters submit their budgets to the district for review by the achievement director and the finance office, and have to resubmit them if there are significant enrollment shortages. This process serves as a kind of early detection system to help keep big problems from developing. Charter finances also are included in the district’s audit.
     On the academic side, Jeffco officials review charter schools’ student achievement data through the district’s reporting systems. At each contract renewal the board is provided data on student achievement and can ask for interim reports. The Jeffco Board is responsible to be sure that charter schools are producing the achievement results expected. When charter schools don’t perform as expected, they can be closed.  In fact, in 2005 Jeffco closed the Center for Discovery Learning Charter School, in large part because student achievement fell short of what the board desired. 
     Other areas where the district is actively involved in assisting and overseeing charters include school safety and security, and special education. The school district provides special education services to charter schools and shares best practices for keeping students safe and secure. 
     Jeffco’s duty as authorizer is to provide significant oversight and support, but not to micromanage the diverse offerings charters provide to students and families. The Jeffco board’s periodic reviews of both the academic achievement and financial status of charters provides a good balance of oversight while allowing for local control. Making the charter achievement director a full-time position has expanded the oversight Jeffco provides to charter schools. 
     Jeffco’s charter schools provide learning pedagogies not available in district-run schools. Families can chose from Montessori programs, Classical and Core Knowledge options, and a Waldorf school. Charter schools must still provide and maintain their own facilities. However, by providing equitable operating funds for all Jeffco students, the board has reassured families that the funding will be available to meet their students’ needs.

Open Letter to Recall Organizers

By Sheila Atwell

On July 10 the Denver Post printed the guest commentary “In defense of Jeffco school board recall,” written by organizers Wendy McCord, Tina Gurdikian, and Michael Blanton. I wrote the below in response to their attempts to justify a recall. 

Ms. Gurdikian, Ms. McCord and Mr. Blanton,
     Your groundless accusations in the recall petitions against Mr. Witt, Mr. Newkirk, and Ms. Williams do nothing but divide Jeffco citizens and distract from the actual work of improving student achievement in Jeffco. 
     Your petitions claim the board majority lacks Respect, Accountability, and Transparency. Your response to the Denver Post says the board’s actions rise to the level of malfeasance, and you suggest there is corruption and glaring incompetence. These are serious allegations that the facts and your petitions fail to substantiate. 
     You claim this board lacks transparency and exhibited malfeasance when they interviewed potential board attorneys. In reality, it would have been improper not to interview law firms under consideration, and in fact, this board hired their board attorney in public. Previous boards have used attorneys hired behind closed doors without any public process. How does improving transparency equate to malfeasance? 
Student Achievement 
     What is completely wrongful is previous boards’ lack of focus on improving student achievement. Where were your voices of advocacy years ago for the students in the Jefferson and Alameda articulation areas where the middle and high schools receive failing grades? For a decade, less than 10 percent of Jefferson High School’s 10th graders have tested proficient in math. Just 65 percent of those students graduate, and more than 70 percent of them require remediation in order to take college-level courses. No one made claims of malfeasance during the decades-long lack of focus on improving student achievement.
     Boards led by the previous superintendent glossed over the lack of student achievement by touting the district’s above-average scores on state tests. They allowed the scores in more affluent neighborhoods to hide the poor performance in other parts of the district. They allowed tens of thousands of students to graduate without the skills necessary for career or college success. This board majority has invested millions in improving student achievement, and yet you want them recalled.
     Your commentary claims incompetence and corruption by this board, even though they have improved accountability, which would prevent corruption. 
     Where were you three years ago when the former board truly limited public comment by requiring parents to show up the day of a school board meeting at district headquarters by 4:30 PM in order to sign up to speak? Or to recite their home address before speaking? Was that not a form of intimidation and an attempt to silence the community? 
     The new board majority has eliminated these requirements, moved public comment sign-up online, and opened it days before a meeting. Further, they have begun to live-stream meetings, so that busy parents are able to watch from home. Certainly, these actions improve accountability and by engaging more of the community limit the chances of corruption. 
Data Privacy
     You claim the board lacks respect for the privacy of student data. But did any of you speak out three years ago when the former superintendent was intent on sharing identifiable student information through the use of the inBloom data collection program? The former board only voted to end the program after the 2013 elections, finally having been convinced of the public’s distaste for releasing students’ personally identifiable information. Where was your outcry over student data privacy then? 
     The new board has created a Technology and Data Privacy Committee to review district policies and make suggestions for improvements in contracts, policies, and procedures to protect student and staff data, increasing transparency and community engagement. They have restricted the use of the intrusive video recording system TS Gold, which was scheduled to be used in the classrooms of our youngest students. Clearly, this board has focused on guaranteeing the protection of personally identifiable student and staff information. 
     Finally your Denver Post commentary claims corruption on the part of the new board members and yet you provide no statements to support your allegations. 
Prior Cronyism
     Where were your charges of corruption when Board member Lesley Dahlkemper remained silent while the district hired a partner from her firm to do public relations for the district? Yes, that $115,000 decision really was made behind closed doors. Where were you when Ms. Dahlkemper failed to disclose that her employer, the Colorado Education Initiative, receives major financial support from the Gates Foundation, the primary funder of the inBloom project? 
     Finally, you say you’re worried about the quality of education because the number of teachers leaving Jeffco has increased and you blame this on the new board. But did you mention that after each recession teacher turnover increases? Did you complain about an educator “mass exodus” a decade ago? As the economy has improved, teacher turnover in the state of Colorado has increased, and now stands at 17 percent. Jeffco’s turnover rate also has increased, but remains lower than turnover in many districts across the state. 
Quality of Education
     If you were really concerned about the quality of education in Jefferson County, would you not be celebrating the successful rollout of the new math curriculum approved by this board? Last year’s results show significant improvements in achievement. 
Would you not be celebrating the allocation of millions more dollars to schools giving local communities more control over how to allocate funds for their students, breaking the previous  top down one size fits all system of control?
     Change is hard and you may not agree that it was needed. But I urge you and your supporters to stop the divisive activities. 
     It’s no wonder organizers were able to collect so many signatures when their recall petitions were full of the same misinformation and inaccuracies that have been propagated by the status quo supporters since the moment the new board memebers were elected. All the board majority critics have done is prove that if you make enough noise to sound like a crisis, you can effectively create a crisis.
      Don’t take Jeffco back to the days of complacency and business as usual. Let’s keep moving forward.

Coin Flip and Other Silly Contract Provisions Gone

By Karen Schotz

     As reported in the February issue of the Observer, the current 120-page contract with the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) contained a number of silly provisions. Requiring that teachers were selected to keep their jobs based on a coin flip; yes that is there. Paying teachers to be out of the classroom for union-excused absences; yes that is there. These and many other questionable provisions will expire when the contract comes to an end on August 31, 2015. 
     Teams of union and district negotiators have spent over 125 hours at the bargaining table, representing over 1,250 man-hours of discussion and give-and-take, in order to redesign an agreement. Instead of discussing which pieces of the old agreement should stay and which should go, the teams started with a blank sheet of paper. The goal was to create a simple, easy-to-understand, shorter contract that focused on creating an environment that supports improving student achievement. 
     The two sides agreed to discuss areas of mutual interest that would have the most direct effect on student achievement. A new contract has emerged that is just over 40 pages in length and covers processes for teacher evaluations, providing professional development, and creating more flexibility so that schools can make decisions best for their students. 
A break to discuss compensation
     In the middle of the negotiations, the teams attempted to reach agreement on a new salary schedule for 2015–16. This important piece is negotiated every year after the state funding levels are announced.  
     The school board set priorities of retaining high quality teachers and being able to offer competitive starting salaries for teachers new to Jeffco. With a 5-0 vote, the board passed a new compensation structure which paid new employees for master’s degrees relevant to their fields and recognized years of experience. 
     Believing these changes should have been negotiated, the JCEA filed a suit in district court asking the judge to stop the district from hiring new employees based on the rates the board had set. The union also wanted more money for compensation. In addition to wanting the district to pick up increased health care costs of $3 million, all PERA contribution increases, entry-level salary increases and performance-based hikes, they asked for an additional 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all teachers. 
     While such an add-on certainly would have been nice for Jeffco’s great educators, it would have added over $9 million to the district’s ongoing expenses. The JCEA did not make any suggestions as to what programs should be cut or how many teachers would have to be let go to balance the budget with the proposed extra salary increases. 
     The board, recognizing that they did not want to raise class sizes or let teachers go, agreed to compensation increases which equate to an average of 7.5 percent over the last two years. Nevertheless, they were unable to find the funds needed to increase all salaries another 3 percent, which would have raised average compensation increases over two years to more than 10 percent. With additional state funds and additional cuts to central administration, the board has been able to fund the increases they did award, while also allocating additional dollars into classrooms.
Back to negotiations
     When the board and union came to a compromise agreement on a compensation plan, which included bringing current employees with six years or less of experience up to the new salary levels, the union dropped their lawsuit and negotiation retuned to discussions about creating more flexibility in schools. All agreed that the one-size-fits-all, top-down system does not best serve the needs of Jeffco’s diverse student populations. 
     After several more negotiating sessions, both the district and the board agreed that the processes set out in the new 40-page contract will make serving the needs of student much easier and give more control to teachers and local communities. 
What’s next
     At the last negotiating session in July, the only item remaining for discussion is the term of the contract. The union has asked for three years, citing the amount of time that has been spent developing a new agreement. The district team would like a 10-month agreement, citing the potential for items in the new contract that might need to be renegotiated because they aren’t working for students or staff as intended. The district team did not want staff to spend three years locked into processes that might significantly undercut the mutual pursuit of academic excellence. 
     Historically, all compensation items are renegotiated each year, and each team has brought two additional items to the bargaining table for discussion. Because of TABOR and budgeting requirements, the teams must continue to negotiate compensation each year. It remains to be seen how the teams will come together on the term of the contract. The next negotiations session is scheduled in early August.