Volume 3 Issues 3

Jeffco’s Changes are Having a Positive Impact:

Enrollment in Jeffco Schools is Growing

  • After years of declining enrollment 1000 more students are in Jeffco Schools than in 2012 

Home values in Jeffco are Increasing 

  • Home values in Jeffco are up 14% over the last two years 

Home building in Jeffco is Increasing  

  • Jeffco’s apartment vacancy rate is the lowest since 2000
  • Building permits for homes are up 

Student Achievement is Improving

  • Math scores are up after new curriculum implemented
  • Primary Reading scores are up after additional literacy teachers hired

 

More Committees or More Accountability?

by Ann Randall

SPAC, DAC, SAC…this alphabet soup represents the focus of recent school board discussions. Colorado state law mandates that school districts submit a Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) to the state in order to attest to district achievement shortfalls and the strategies proposed to address them. 

In April, the Jeffco school board unanimously rejected the UIP submitted to them by district officials. The goal is to present the state with accurate, comprehensive data, as well as an action plan with measurable goals. The board determined in April that the initial plan did not adequately connect the root causes for the lack of student achievement with action plans that will support higher achievement. Since that time, the school board has been discussing how to make the district accountability committee (DAC) more robust. 

These distinct committees play roles that can be important to successfully educate our students, so it is necessary to understand the differences in their responsibilities and membership.

The most familiar of these committees from the recent past is SPAC, or the Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. SPAC has met in Jeffco since 2001. At the time, the district was developing a new strategic planning process and wanted community members to have input.  The new committee soon absorbed DAC, or the District Accountability Committee, which had been established according to state requirements in 1997. As a result, SPAC also began needing to focus on school accountability and accreditation in addition to strategic planning. 

Unfortunately, since the merger of the two committees, Colorado statutes have not been met in regard to the membership and responsibilities of the DAC, spurring the board to once again separate the two committees. 

School Accountability Committees (SAC) are comprised of parents, staff, and community members at each Jeffco school, and provide guidance to the principal on improving academic achievement. The work of each school’s SAC should inform the work of the DAC. Each SAC helps create a school performance framework (SPF) which defines plans for improving achievement in areas that need focus. This work should roll up to the district level so the UIP created by the DAC reflects the needs of the schools. 

To further differentiate the strategic planning and district accountability committees, it is important to note the significant distinctions in required membership, frequency of meetings, and annual state reporting requirements. For example, SPAC was designed as a superintendent advisory committee. SPAC requires a parent chair of the committee and a facilitator; the committee must meet at least once a month. However, DAC is a school board level committee, and according to state law, must meet certain requirements for balanced membership so it provides true community oversight. 

Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) 22-11-301, which outlines the requirements for a DAC, states that each school district should establish a process for appointing or electing, at minimum, three parents of students in the district public schools, one teacher and one school administrator currently employed in the district, and one person involved in business in the community. Numbers may, of course, exceed these minimums, but the law requires that the parent representatives represent the demographics of the population, that one person cannot fulfill multiple membership positions, and the number of parent representatives must still be more than that of any other groups. 

In regards to meeting frequency, DAC members are required to meet at least once a month, far more than the once-a-year DAC specific meeting SPAC held over the past few years. In fact, open record requests show that only twice last year were there enough parents at any of the SPAC meetings to consider it a DAC meeting. Because of dual roles the SPAC had been asked to play, the DAC requirements took a back seat. Consequently, the district UIP has not addressed how the district will improve achievement. Something needed to change in order to focus on an effective improvement plan for the district.

A small group of SPAC members met over the summer to create a plan for the size and composition of the new DAC committee. They have recommended that there be one person who sits on a SAC from each of the 17 articulation areas of the district, ensuring familiarity with local SAC plans. In addition, they suggested at least 24 additional members be selected through a nomination process, driven largely by the district or the DAC committee itself. The board noted that it wanted a broader community engagement process. They voted to begin accepting the applications in October. 

The SPAC will continue in its role of providing feedback to the superintendent and will be an integral partner as the district creates specific action plans to meet the new targets identified in the district’s developing strategic plan, Vision 2020.

With the DAC able to focus on providing guidance to the board on how to improve achievement, committee members should be able to dig more deeply into the plans for each school, find great best practices to share, and suggest areas in need of additional emphasis. In addition, they can develop a rigorous process for making sure the district plan for improvement is robust and really drives increased academic performance. 

 

The ABCs of Accountability
DAC: District Accountability Committee
SAC: School Accountability Committee
SPAC: Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee
SPF: School Performance Framework
UIP: Uniform Improvement Plan

Ask the Moms

It has been suggested that I have my child tested for the gifted program, what does that mean?
In Colorado, students with exceptional abilities by law must be provided the educational opportunities which meet their needs.  Colorado’s Exceptional Children’s Educational Act grants authority to the State Board of Education to create rules defining and guaranteeing the services that must be provided to a student with identified gifts. “Gifted and Talented” children are those whose abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment are so exceptional or developmentally advanced that they require special provisions to meet their educational needs. 

According to the Jeffco website, children identified as gifted and talented may have gifts in one or more of the following areas: 

  • Intellectual abilities
  • Academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership and human relationship abilities
  • Music, performing arts, visual arts, or spatial abilities 
  • Psychomotor abilities

All gifted students have an academic plan created with the input of their parents, which outlines how their individual needs will be served. This Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) is reviewed with the parents and students periodically throughout each year to ensure the student’s needs are being met. The plan could include elements such as providing a student leadership opportunities, giving her extra instruction in an area of strength, or allowing him to join a higher grade’s classroom for more advanced instruction. 

Most Jeffco students identified as gifted and talented have their needs addressed at their neighborhood school. Students who qualify may be invited to attend a “gifted center” program. These programs, which started in 1984, are housed in neighborhood schools and provide full-time educational experiences for gifted students. Jeffco’s gifted centers give students the opportunity to be in a classroom with their peers. Instruction is accelerated, includes additional enrichment, and provides significant attention to affective needs. Instruction is based on various formal and informal data to assure that the needs of the students are met.

Gifted center admission requires a testing and application process. Tests are offered in the fall and spring. Testing this fall will take place on October 17, and will take between 2 and 2.5 hours. Students are given the CogAT test, and the application process includes a teacher recommendation and a parent survey. Testing for Center School programs is separate from school-based assessment, and is parent-initiated. There is no charge for the testing. 

If your child qualifies for a center program, you may choose to attend the center or you may choose to keep your child at your neighborhood school or the school of your choice. We strongly recommend you have your child tested as early as possible. Jeffco does test all 2nd graders in district run schools using the CogAt, but if a child needs services and is not identified until 2nd grade you have lost three years of guaranteeing your child’s needs are met. Early testing is the best way to determine your student’s needs. Regardless of your decision, the results give you more information about your child. Gifted students are not necessarily “smarter” than their peers; they just think differently. 
Jeffco also has a parent group which can provide more information and great supports for parents and gifted students. We encourage you to connect with the Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children (JAGC). They offer seminars, networking opportunities, provide information on enrichment opportunities around the country, and have parents who can answer your questions and help make sure you are prepared to connect your child with the services he or she needs. You can email the group: info@jeffcogifted.org and visit their website: http://jeffcogifted.org/.


My child has been invited to attend a dance with friends, but not at our school. She said there was a form that has to be filled out, is that true?
Yes, most Jeffco high schools allow students to bring to their dance a guest who does not attend that school, but they must receive prior permission. Forms are available in the schools’ offices, and must be filled out and turned in for approval before a student can attend a dance at a school in which they are not enrolled. 

AP Classes and Exams: Are They an Effective Path to College Credit?

by Brianna Golden

Over the past five years, participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams has grown steadily in Jefferson County. As one way to gain college credit and, thus, save time and money spent on postsecondary education, students can take AP courses while still enrolled in high school. The courses are overseen for rigor by the College Board, a non-profit membership organization responsible for the SAT and Advanced Placement Program. AP courses are offered in a variety of subjects, from English to mathematics, and prepare students to take the standard AP exam alongside high schoolers across the country. 

If the student achieves a sufficiently high score on the five-point scale, traditionally a 3 or higher, many universities and colleges will award college credit. Some schools only award elective credit; others require a 4 or a 5 in order to get the credit, and a few colleges won’t give any credit for AP classes no matter how a student scores on the exam. Other institutions may accept a score of 3 in some subject areas, but not others. 

From 2010 to 2014, Jeffco high school students took 40,245 AP exams. At a rate of $91 per exam, Jeffco students spent $3,662,295 on AP exams during the five-year period. In examining pass rate data, at least $1.3 million has been spent on exams with scores that do not qualify for college credit. This poses a serious concern, particularly since this indicates that almost 40 percent of Jeffco students fail to receive college credit from their AP exams. 

In 2014, students took a total of 8,725 AP exams. Due to small class sizes and the need for privacy, 586 of these test results remain unknown. Still, 5,058 exams resulted in a score of 3 or higher, or a passing grade for students. Conversely, 3,081 of the exams generated a 1 or 2, and so will likely not receive college credit. 

It is encouraging that more money is being spent on passing exam grades than on failing exam grades. However, the $1.3 million spent over the last five years to take tests for which students did not get college credit remains a significant amount of money. This total does not take into consideration costs to the AP teachers who must submit their course plans to the College Board, books for the course, or materials fees that Jeffco schools and parents are spending every year. 

In addition, as institutions of higher education continue to refine and raise their standards, more college and universities are refusing to offer college credit to students with scores less than 4, or even less than 5 in some cases. Unfortunately, there is no consistent standard for what will be accepted as college credit and what will not. 

Locally, Colorado School of Mines will not award credit for scores below a 4. The University of Denver, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Colorado College each offer credit for AP scores of 3 or lower in fewer than 15 circumstances. Other institutions may accept a score of 3 on a foreign language exam, but refuse credit of any kind for any score on a statistics or calculus exam. 

If one of the main reasons to take AP courses and exams is to receive college credit, then one has to ask if AP exams are the most effective way to achieve this goal. It is also imperative to know which schools and classes provide the best chance for a student to earn high grades on AP tests.  

Since 2010, students at Chatfield High School have passed the AP Calculus exams at a perfect 100 percent rate. The course includes two separate exams: Calculus AB, or the equivalent to a college level Calculus 1 course, and Calculus BC, which includes the material in AB as well as the equivalent of college level Calculus 2. Those students who took the AP Calculus AB exams have all received scores of 3 or higher at Chatfield since 2010, and those who took the AP Calculus BC exams have all earned a score of 5 in the same time frame. This stands in stark comparison to the district pass rates of 58.6% in AP Calculus AB and 79.6% in AP Calculus BC. 

Other Jeffco high schools, such as Lakewood and D’Evelyn have great success in some AP classes. In AP U.S. History, only 48 percent of district exams yield scores of 3 or higher. However, Lakewood students have maintained a pass rate ranging from 60 percent to above 80 percent since 2010. While, of course, a rate of 60 percent is far from optimal, it still represents a distinct difference from district-wide scores. 

As for D’Evelyn, students have received high pass rates on both AP Calculus and Physics exams since 2010. D’Evelyn’s students taking the Calculus AB and BC exams have achieved at least a 94 percent pass rate. On the AP Physics B exam, D’Evelyn has maintained a pass rate of at least 82 percent since 2010, exceeding 90 percent on several occasions, compared to the district-wide pass rate of 67 percent in the same period. 

Given these comparisons, what is the AP Calculus teacher doing at Chatfield that other teachers are not? How is the AP U.S. History teacher at Lakewood better preparing students for that exam? What has enabled the AP Calculus and Physics B teachers at D’Evelyn to help their students so consistently succeed on these exams? It is critical that best practices be examined and shared. 

There may certainly be other reasons a student would choose to take an AP course in high school. However, if the goal is to receive college credit it should be understood there are other paths to receiving college credit while still in high school. Many colleges offer students the opportunity to take concurrent enrollment classes. For example, Red Rocks Community College allows Jeffco students to take their classes while still enrolled in high school. 

Both CU and CCU offer credit to Jeffco students for classes taught by a highly qualified teacher. College credit depends on receiving a passing grade in the class rather than a passing grade on one final exam.  At Jeffco’s high schools offering the IB program, students can also get college credit if they receive passing scores on their year-end exams. 

Evaluating a student’s best path should begin with determining his or her goal. Next, a student ought to look at all of the options available and then balance the risk and reward. The best way to obtain college credit may or may not be the AP path.

Clearing Up the Kindergarten Fog— Free for All or Free Based on Need?

by Scott Jacob

For the last couple of years in Jeffco, all students at 40 district-run elementary schools have received free full-day kindergarten. According to district policy, all families with students enrolled at all other district-run schools that offered full-day kindergarten were responsible for the monthly fee. Even low-income families that qualified for free and reduced lunch were required to pay. There have been a handful of Jeffco elementary schools at which full-day kindergarten was not available at all. 

That meant that families in the 40 schools could receive free full-day kindergarten even though they did not qualify for free and reduced lunch. In some schools, more than half of students who received the free services did not come from low-income families. 

At the same time, many families that qualified for free and reduced lunch and happened to live in the boundaries of a neighborhood school that did not offer free full-day kindergarten didn’t get it free. They were either responsible for getting their kindergarten student to another school where they could receive it for free, or they stayed at their neighborhood school and had to pay. 

In 2014, when the school board was asked to expand the number of schools that offered free full-day kindergarten to all students— which would have increased an already $4 million investment by another $600,000 each year— the board asked some hard questions: 
1) What are the student achievement differences at schools that offered free full-day kindergarten?
2) How is it fair that some students whose families qualified for free and reduced lunch were not able to attend free full-day kindergarten in their neighborhoods?
3) Is there a fairer way to allocate resources that will help improve student achievement?

District staff came back with achievement data that showed little consistency in programming across the 40 free full-day kindergarten schools, and no consistent impact on student achievement. They also confirmed many families whose students qualified for free and reduced lunch were not getting access or had to pick a school outside of their neighborhood. The board then directed staff to find a way to provide free full-day kindergarten access to all low-income students and to provide programs that increase student achievement. 

Built into the new student-based allocations for every elementary school are the funds to support free full-day kindergarten for all students whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch. The allocation excludes the two district-run schools in Jeffco that only offer half-day kindergarten.

Starting this year, every school that offers full-day kindergarten now offers it free for all students whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch. Some are complaining that a handful of the 40 schools that formerly offered free full-day kindergarten to all students in the past are now offering it only to low-income families. This arrangement is the result of decisions made at the local schools. 

This is an example of how expanding local control works. Schools acquire input from staff, parents, the principal, and the community, and may decide to prioritize spending differently, just like households do. Some schools prioritized lower class sizes, more teacher librarian hours, or adding math or reading specialists over free full-day kindergarten for all. 

Some are saying Jeffco should offer free full-day kindergarten for all district students regardless of family income. This would require cuts from other services which no one has discussed. In addition, the new local flexibility is getting very positive feedback. Teachers and parents like the ability to make decisions that are best for their students. 

Jeffco Superstars

Bear Creek High School social studies teacher Jose Martinez III is one of three 2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year finalists.


Jeffco 2015 graduate Luke Sabey/Virtual Academy is a gold medal winner in Auto Collision Repair at the national SkillsUSA competition through Jeffco’s Warren Tech program.


Mt. Carbon Elementary teacher Johnny Arnold and Hutchinson Elementary teacher Debbie Lawson were honored with the 9News Teachers Who Care award in May.


Two Jeffco high schools were named to the 2015 Newsweek’s Top 500. Congratulations to D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High and Jefferson Academy Secondary


Jefferson County Open School was a Gold Recognition recipient in the National Education Policy Center’s Schools of Opportunity project. This project works to identify and recognize public high schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through practices “that build on students’ strengths.”


Seven Destination Imagination teams from Jeffco Schools qualified at the state level competition to compete in the Global Finals held in Knoxville, Tennessee.


Correction: In the August issue, we incorrectly congratulated the Green Mountain High School boys’ basketball team. It was the Green Mountain High School boys’ baseball team which won the 4A state championship for the second year in a row. They are coached by Brad Madden. 

Student-Based Budgeting can Contribute to Gains in Student Achievement

by Lisa Snell, Director of Education, Reason Foundation

In the United States, public school funding systems at the state and local level are increasingly adopting a student-based budgeting (SBB) framework, where funding is attached to the students and “follows the child” to the public school he or she attends. SBB is a student-driven rather than a program-driven budgeting process, where dollars rather than staffing positions follow students into schools. In many cases, these resources are weighted based on the individual needs of the student.

Under the SBB model, schools are allocated funding based on the number of students that enroll at each individual school, with extra per-student dollars for students who need services such as special education, English language learner (ELL) instruction, or help catching up to grade level. School principals, with input from their staff and accountability committee, have control over how their school’s resources are allocated for salaries, materials, staff development and many other matters that have traditionally been decided at the district level. Accountability measures are implemented to ensure that performance levels at each school site are met.

Jefferson County Public Schools has recently joined the ranks of public school districts that use student-based budgeting to let local communities make decisions over and prioritize funding toward student achievement. As reported in an August 2015 Independence Institute study, Colorado Student-Based Budgeting on the Rise, in Jeffco, for 2015–2016 the base elementary per-pupil allocation is set at $3,580, with $3,710 for each middle school student and $3,380 for each high school student. The 25 percent of Jeffco students who are eligible for free (not reduced rate) lunch also bring in an extra $820 to ensure at-risk funding reaches the school level.  District leaders are working to keep the focus on the new program’s goals: greater flexibility, equity, and transparency in the allocation of funds to serve students throughout the district and empower Jeffco principals with input from their local communities to manage resources to meet unique school-level instructional goals and improve student achievement.

Research has shown that student-based budgeting has played a robust role in improving student achievement in districts that have switched to this student-centered budgeting system. A December 2013 study by the Reason Foundation, evaluated student-based budgeting districts using “The Broad Prize” methodology, which examines school district performance on student achievement metrics like closing the achievement gap and improving academic performance for low-income students. A promising finding, from a Reason Foundation analysis of 15 SBB school districts, is that both correlation and regression data suggest that higher budget autonomy—a larger share of district budgets allocated to the school level on a per-student basis—is associated with better school district performance.  Holding all else constant, a school district that allocated 50 percent of its 2011 budget to an SBB formula, where money follows the student, was nearly 10 times more likely to close achievement gaps than a district that only allocated 20 percent of its 2011 budget to weighted student formula.

For example, in Houston, a district with a strong commitment to student-based budgeting since the year 2000, disadvantaged students showed significant improvement across multiple student achievement indicators. Houston has outperformed all other SBB districts analyzed in the Reason Foundation study and had the smallest 2011 achievement gap in mathematics proficiency between white and African-American and white and Hispanic elementary school students. Houston is closing every achievement gap among middle school students, and disadvantaged students are increasing proficiency rates at a faster rate than other districts in the rest of the state of Texas. In 2013, Houston won the $1 million Broad Prize for the second time since 2002 for being the most improved urban school district.

Similarly, in Denver, which started SBB in 2008, trends in proficiency rate improvement since 2008 are some of the most impressive in the state of Colorado. For example, Denver Public Schools students posted the highest Median Growth Percentile scores among Colorado’s 20 largest school districts on the 2012 Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP). DPS also posted proficiency gains in the four core subjects that outpaced those of the rest of the state. The Median Growth Percentile measures year-to-year academic growth compared to peer students across the state, and the average score is 50. DPS students posted scores of 54 in reading, 53 in math, and 57 in writing. Prior to the start of SBB and other reforms in the Denver Plan, DPS had the lowest year-on-year academic growth of any major district in the state. Since then, DPS has consistently gained ground on the rest of the state in percentage of students performing at or above grade level; Denver schools have become the fastest-growing major district in the state in terms of year-on-year academic growth. 
 

Several school districts across the United States have been successful in empowering principals and local communities to manage their education resources to meet instructional goals at the school level and improve student achievement. SBB is one management tool that can help all education stakeholders to understand how resources are used at the school level and provide more transparency, equity, and local control over education spending with the goal of improving student outcomes.

Debt: Should the Jeffco Board Ask Permission or Forgiveness?

Certificates of Participation: What Are They? How Do They Work? 
What Do They Mean for JeffCo?

by Joshua Sharf

Colorado is a fiscally responsible state. 


At the very beginning of statehood, in 1876, Colorado’s founders sought to head off potential fiscal excesses and the bankruptcies many states had experienced earlier in the decade.
In the 1830s, easy credit induced government borrowing both for infrastructure projects like canals and to expand state banking systems. The Panic of 1837 resulted in a wave of state bankruptcies in the 1840s.

The psychological effects of these failures reverberated for generations. Just as we still fear the recurrence of inflation 40 years after the 1970s, so did Americans of the 1870s fear state fiscal instability.


To prevent Colorado from similar turmoil, the state constitution included a provision banning the state and its municipalities from issuing unsecured, general obligation debt without a vote of the people. TABOR added to this by barring certain multi-year financial obligations without a vote.

In order to get around these restrictions, local Colorado governments have used something called Certificates of Participation, or COPs. Sometimes these instruments are used to finance new assets like cars or trucks, but they can also be used to build facilities which require a much larger debt and are nominally secured by existing land or buildings.

Here’s how they work: Let’s say that a school district issues COPs to fund buildings, using existing schools as collateral. The district sets up a special-purpose authority, and transfers control of the school buildings that will be collateral to that authority. It then agrees to lease the buildings back from the authority. That lease is renewable on a yearly basis.

The special-purpose authority—not the district—issues the COPs, the payments of which are secured by the lease payments from the school district.

COPs represent a legal fiction. In theory, the lease is renewable year to year; the district could decide next year not to renew the lease, and the authority would have to default on the COPs. The action doesn’t technically represent a violation of TABOR’s restrictions on long-term obligations, and allows the school district to get around the requirement to ask citizens for permission to borrow.

But the reality is quite different. The debt is reported in the district’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) as a long-term debt, not a year-to-year obligation. And since the special-purpose entity’s revenues come from the district’s lease payments, the credit rating agencies rate the debt based on the school district’s finances.

The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) recognizes the somewhat hybrid nature of COPs in its standards. The definition of a COP is that the investor is purchasing a portion of the revenue stream of the lease payments. As such:

  • Although conduit debt obligations bear the name of the governmental issuer, the issuer has no obligation for such debt beyond the resources provided by a lease or loan with the third party on whose behalf they are issued. 
  • The required disclosures include a clear indication that the issuer has no obligation for the debt beyond the resources provided by related leases or loans.

Debt issued under COPs tends to be more expensive than general obligation bonds. A cursory review of interest rates shows that COPs carry up to 1 additional percentage point of annual interest more than bonds issued by the same entity.

The lease payments for school district COPs come from the operating budget, potentially pushing out needed classroom spending. In February 2015, school board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper proposed $80 million in COPs to fund a stadium in south Jeffco and two new schools, one in Arvada and one in Lakewood. The annual payment for the COPs would have exceeded $5 million. 

In response to the growth in north Jeffco, the board majority instead asked Superintendent Dan McMinimee to look for administrative savings to fund only a new school in northwest Arvada. Through reductions and savings in overhead, the district was able to allocate $18 million for a new school. Because the school will be built without any debt, there will be no need to make ongoing budget cuts to make payments for the COPs.

Instead of using COPs, the Board has indicated its willingness to present voters with a bond package in 2016 based on additional growth projections. Projects could include those that were in the failed 2008 bond package, such as the expansion of Stein Elementary, and the completion of Sierra Elementary, as well as the potential for additional schools in north Arvada. 

Bond issues are general obligation bonds, but are backed by an increase in the property tax rate. Such a tax increase has to be approved by the voters. Therefore, boards propose the projects to be included in the bond, and voters decide if they are willing to raise their taxes to fund those projects.


Caution! Numbers Ahead! 
If $80 million in bonds were issued for a term of 20 years (a fairly common term for school district general obligation bonds), they would end up costing the district roughly $5 million a year in principal and interest. I base this estimate  on the 2.25 percent yield that 20-year JeffCo bonds, issued in 2012, were trading earlier in the year.

In fact, the number would probably vary from year to year. Instead of using one large issue with the same maturity, districts frequently issue a series of bonds with varying maturities, in order to take advantage of the fact that it costs less to borrow for a year than to borrow for a couple of decades. The bonds issued in 2012 were structured that way. 

COPs have been the subject of concern not only here in Colorado, but also in other states. North Carolina stands out as an example of COP growth, where roughly 14 percent of all outstanding state government debt is now COPs. By comparison, a little over a quarter of the $6.3 billion in long-term debt owed by Colorado and its Enterprise Funds are COPs.

Issuing COPs allows government entities to bypass the laws which have been put in place to guarantee the taxpayer has a say in the level of debt their government incurs on their behalf. After all, they are responsible for the debt through their taxes one way or another. The purpose of the law is to prevent government overspending and financial crises like in the 1800s, or more recently in Detroit. 

Jeffco residents ought to ask: When going into debt, should the government ask for forgiveness or permission? 

 

Is the Recall about Politics or Control?

by Sheila Atwell

Since November 2013, when the new board was elected by large margins and with far greater turnout than in 2011, we have watched the reaction by status quo supporters as their tone has become increasingly vicious. 

The former superintendent notified the media of her early retirement the morning after the election. At the November 7 school board meeting, her announcement was met with tears and fear.

The three new board members campaigned on a promise to focus on higher student achievement, fiscal responsibility, prioritizing data privacy, and ensuring parents have a more active role in decisions for their students. These are all things the former superintendent publicly supported, so many of us wondered why she felt the need to declare her decision to walk away just after a board was elected. 

The new school board’s first decision that drew criticism was the selection of a new attorney to do work directly for the board after the district’s attorney resigned. Although all previous Jeffco boards have had their own attorney, they had not ever been hired in public. The board put on the public agenda their intent to hire an attorney. The status quo backers responded by ramping up their smear campaign, accusing the board of waste and secrecy. The levels of fear and distrust skyrocketed. 

At their first Saturday retreat in December 2013, the new board focused on students, as all five board members agreed to set higher achievement goals for the district. It looked as if peace might reign in the kingdom. 

The school board held the next several meetings all across the district at different high school auditoriums to make it easier for the community to participate and improve transparency. They made the circuit while the technology to live-stream meetings was being installed in the fifth floor board room at headquarters. 

Unfortunately, JCEA-produced fliers floated around some of those early board meetings. The leaflets absurdly claimed the union contract would be terminated, that teacher salaries would be reduced to $25,000, and that the board majority was taking Jeffco down the Dougco path. 

(False, False, and False: A new union contract was just signed last month; teacher compensation has increased 7 percent since the new board was elected; and Jeffco is forging its own path forward.)

More signs of serious discontent from the status quo crowd began when the board requested to learn more about the district budget, pay for performance, and the $39 million federal grant Jeffco was using to pilot different professional support and pay models. 

At the early February 2014 meeting, intended to be a study session on the district budget, the superintendent announced she would not stay through the end of the year after all, but would be leaving by the end of the month. The raucous meeting was packed with very angry status quo supporters, likely a response to a union “all call” that went out that week asking everyone to wear black and show up at the meeting.  

And thus it began…videos of chaos in the Jeffco board room, chaos embodied by the same people who seek to recall the board majority for doing some things broadly popular and reasonable—discussing pay raises based on how well a person performs their job, treating all students equitably, and focusing on improving student achievement. 

Board meetings for the rest of the spring were packed with people, most of whom were well rehearsed with talking points spreading far more fear than facts. 

Union leadership stirred the fires again during the 2014 contract negotiations, which began in March and were conducted in open view for the first time in recent memory. After three sessions the union called an impasse, which moved the negotiations back behind closed doors—allowing rumors to flourish. 

Condemnation swiftly fell again in May when Dan McMinimee was announced as the sole finalist for the superintendent job. All attention was placed on the fact that McMinimee had served as assistant superintendent in Douglas County (which has experienced a similar smear campaign). 

Never mind Mr. McMinimee is a Jeffco resident, former teacher, coach and principal, and sent his two children through Jeffco schools—all traits that teachers and parents alike deemed important when asked. 

The board was blasted for offering a pay package higher than the previous superintendent’s, despite the fact that it was the suggested package when the search began. Recall supporters have resorted to comparing Mr. McMinimee’s compensation including bonuses and retirement to Dr. Stevenson’s base salary—an obvious apples and oranges comparison.

The union organized a large rally on Wadsworth in the middle of May 2014 to protest the board and the new superintendent. Calling it “Boots on the Boulevard,” they promoted the event in their newsletters and to parents at the schools.

Less than two months later, at the national teachers’ union annual confab held in Denver, the Colorado Union president (and former Jeffco president) announced the “crisis” in Jefferson County to her membership. She also thanked the 48 paid operatives from across the country who would be knocking on doors in Jeffco over the summer. 

Was the crisis about Alameda and Jefferson High Schools, where student achievement has languished for more than a decade? No, it was the reform school board that was intent on holding the system accountable and moving power to parents that the union deemed to be a crisis. 

Then in September 2014, at precisely the same time as the new pay for performance schedule was approved, the status quo folks (union) struck “crisis gold” when one board member suggested the district needed a transparent curriculum review process and proposed the newly revised AP U.S. History framework should be one of the first undertakings. 

(Within the past few months, the College Board released a new version of the course outline, agreeing that the previous version did not present a balanced view.)

Review of curriculum is a mandate of local school boards. But in this case, the word “censorship” was invoked, and we were off to the races. High school students marched on headquarters and along Wadsworth. Never mind that early videos show students telling reporters that their teachers told them to protest and it was because “they weren’t getting paid enough,” this was billed as legitimate civil disobedience. 

It is very hard not to link the protests with the union, when teachers were simultaneously holding “sickouts” where excessive absences closed several schools for the day. Demonstrations against the new pay system, which gives higher raises to highly effective teachers, were cloaked behind rhetoric of a phony “censorship” controversy. Perhaps more laughably, emails circulated by union reps declared that the JCEA “supports” the sickout but “can’t officially organize one.”

Again, the chaos and crisis generated by the status quo supporters was used to justify the discontent and held out as proof that the board was not listening to the community. Certainly, the discontent wasn’t based on the following actual policy changes, all of which have proven extremely popular with the community:

  • Salary increases awarded based on performance;
  • Higher starting salaries for new teachers;
  • Increased local control through student-based budgeting;
  • Enhanced choice through investments in GT and SPED programs;
  • Equalized funding for public charter school students.

The candidates running—as “The Clean Slate”—all support the recall and all have received the endorsement of JCEA, the Jeffco teachers union. This is the same JCEA whose president was quoted last November declaring the recall a “unique opportunity to beat the bas----s back.” 

We hear recall supporters say they feel like they have lost control of the board to a political agenda and “outside” money. Do they think there was no agenda before this board was elected, or do they really mean to say there is now a different agenda? 

I want an agenda that focuses on raising student achievement, from the superintendent, to the local school accountability committee, down to the individual teacher who is recognized and rewarded for outstanding work.


I want an agenda that brings more transparency through easier board meeting access and asking the district administration for better, more detailed information on how our students are achieving. 


I want an agenda that brings attention to the needs of every individual student, works to provide increased flexibility in each classroom, along with less testing and more data privacy. 


Whom do I want in control? Parents and families. But the more important question is: Whom do you want in control?

Community Voice

The Jeffco Observer accepts editorials from community members. Letters are printed at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for length, clarity, and style. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors on this forum do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of The Jeffco Observer or its staff.

 

Dear Editor,
How can we take the Teachers’ Union campaign to recall the Jeffco School Board seriously, when sitting member Julie Williams’ opponent has yet to be seen at a candidate forum?


Have you observed that the attendance of other opposition candidates at such events has been sporadic as well?


If these ephemeral people cannot even spare an hour for campaign appearances, how can they possibly fulfill the large time commitment which is required of a conscientious Board Member?
Why should parents and voters entrust the welfare of our children and the management of a billion dollar operation to a gaggle of ghosts?


Isn’t it time for you to endorse Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams for retention, given their record of positive accomplishments?


Sincerely,
Russell W Haas

Oh The Hypocrisy!
Walking out of the library this Friday, a flyer caught my eye, titled “Poor stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars add up!” The flyer was an attempt to condemn the school board’s spending. Imagine my surprise that one of the items was this: “$850,000 – G/T (Gifted and Talented) program contrary to Community Budget Survey Results.” This budget item was poor stewardship? Really? 


A bit of background/context: Under Colorado’s “Exceptional Children’s Educational Act” that governs special education (SPED) and gifted and talented (GT) programming in the state, children identified in these categories are each assigned a customized learning plan. For a child that is identified as “special needs,” they receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) while a child identified as a “gifted and talented” learner receives an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). However, unlike a child with an IEP who has both federal and state dollars supporting their learning plan, districts receive only a slight grant from the state for their GT students. Funding for GT programming to address their special needs is almost wholly at the mercy of their school districts.


Jefferson County has been a leader in Gifted Education for decades, but during the financial crisis, Jeffco’s annual financial support for our GT students dwindled to less than $150,000, while state funding stagnated at $750,000 per year, even as the number of students with ALPs continued to grow. In the 2010–2011 school year, with ALP students making up 10% of Jeffco students, funding per GT student was only approximately $90.00 per student.


In the spring of 2013, I attended the school board’s study session regarding the needs and educational support requirements for GT students. It was at that meeting that discussion began about providing additional funding to meet the needs of Jeffco’s ALP students. 


After the new school board was elected in November 2013, the five board members had a retreat to set more specific student achievement goals for the district. One of the goals supported on a 5-0 vote was improved achievement growth for GT students. 


Achieving this goal required additional financial resources, especially in light of the fact that the GT population now makes up over 12% of Jeffco students. 


This brings me to the famous (or infamous) online “Community Budget Survey” that was open for only a week, and received only 13,000 replies, many of which were from people who voted more than once. Moreover, background information on the spending options listed was not provided, nor were the Board’s top five achievement improvement priorities listed (one of which was for GT students). So it came as no surprise that survey respondents listed “higher pay for teachers” as the highest priority.


To their credit, the Board of Education took input from this survey as just one of many inputs into their budget decision-making. Another input was the results of the survey of ALP students’ parents that was conducted by the district, which showed widespread dissatisfaction with GT programming and achievement results in Jeffco.


The end result was that the Board allocated an additional $850,000 in funding to programming for Jeffco’s GT students. All five board members stepped up and supported GT because it was the right thing to do, and my son’s neighborhood school now has a GT resource teacher helping his other teachers understand what he needs to soar academically and socially.


The Board did the right thing. The people at “supportjeffcokids.org” who are supporting the Recall have not. In fact, they are hypocrites, in that some of them actually have children who are benefitting from the additional GT resources that they now have the audacity to attack. Despite that, they have made their position clear, and I fear that if the Recall succeeds, GT funding will be severely cut in Jeffco, and my child’s education will suffer as a result. I will not be voting for the recall.


Rachel Sanders
Thankful Mom of a GT Young Man in a Neighborhood School

Independent Thinker
I was prepared to support the former teachers running for the school board in the two open seats for districts three and four. You see I am registered unaffiliated for a reason. I like to base my voting decisions on the merits of each individual candidate. I am socially pretty liberal and fiscally very conservative. We work hard for our money in our home. We save, invest and try to be responsible, so I don’t like to give any more of it away than necessary. I was happy to learn the new board was not going to borrow to build the new school up north. 


I also like diversity and I know that Jeffco is a county with residents across the political spectrum. I was considering voting for the two former teachers to keep the board balanced. Then came the recall and I still thought well, the recall may or may not go through, but the former teachers are independent, so that is probably the way to go.


I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. Next thing I know those two teachers are joining the two attorneys and the former principal and calling themselves the “clean slate.” What happened to an independent voice? That went out the window fast. Then I read the former teacher running for district four has called at least one seated board member a liar. Now that is not the kinder, more collaborative voice I was seeking. 


The clean slate is now crystal clear. They want it their way or the highway. They claim a bipartisan team but in reality the Democrats are supporting and working for their election. I want independent thinkers on my board. 


Sue Thompson
Independent Thinker

Why does Planned Parenthood care about the Jeffco School Board?
As a teenager I used Planned Parenthood for health screenings so I suppose that is how I ended up on the email list of Planned Parenthood Votes. I have periodically received emails encouraging me to support some legislation or another. 


I was very surprised when I received two emails over the last couple of months supporting the school board recall. The first email asked me to sign the petition or help to get signatures on the petitions. The email said they intended to deny access to sex education, and proposed to censor education about healthy relationships. That worried me so I looked on the district web site at information on past board meetings and couldn’t find anything about sex ed on any agenda. 


Then I received another email in September encouraging me to campaign for the recall. Again they said that the board planned to censor sex education. Why are they lying about that? And why do they care?


Nancy Graham
Arvada

Revival of Parents’ Voice for the Special Needs Child
A few years ago I started to attend the Special Education Accountability Committee (SEAC) meetings in Jeffco. The meetings were originally designed to allow parents to provide feedback to the district on how to better serve SPED students. Back in 2012, after Dr. Chandler was hired to direct SPED services, the meetings became contentious and the district seemed more worried about avoiding liability than focusing on the needs of the students. 

After a number of months, Dr. Chandler decided to discontinue the SEAC meetings rather than return them to their original intention and parents’ voices were silenced. 

Dr. Chandler’s shenanigans didn’t stop with shutting down SEAC. She moved counselors away from supporting GT students in the middle of the school year (2014–15) and then recommended nursing reductions at Fletcher Miller where many of our most severely challenged students are educated. Fortunately the new superintendent didn’t agree and Dr. Chandler and the district parted ways. (I learned later that Dr. Chandler was hired by the former superintendent after being dismissed from her job in Adams 14.)That was great news for those of us that have children with special needs in Jeffco. Even better, the school board appointed someone to lead an audit of the entire department. 

Last week the school board had a meeting and talked about Special Education services in the district. (My son needs constant supervision, so I could not go, but I did watch the live stream.) I was happy to hear they were going to start the SEAC again. 

My thoughts on the meeting: 1) The Board actually talked about the achievement of SPED kids. When was the last time THAT happened? 2) While I appreciate the overview of services, I would have liked to have heard from parents and what they think. When asked by Mr. Newkirk about the parents’ perspective, Director Polly Lutz cited a state survey that reached out to 200 parents in Jeffco. That’s less than 3% of the total number of SPED students. Really? Here’s a suggestion - how about Director Lutz send all of us a survey asking us what we think? 3) Sadly, boys account for approximately 64% of the SPED population – are we diagnosing boys differently? 

The board asked for more information and an update on the audit. I look forward to the answers. 

So, thanks from me to this new board for starting to talk about how to help our special needs kids. There is more work to do, but I appreciate a seat at the table again. 

Charles Gooden
Father of a Special Needs Child in a Jeffco School

Jeffco’s New Charter, GVCA
My children, now in 5th and 7th grade, attended a classical academy in Phoenix for three years and received a stellar education. They rose to the many challenges and grew leaps and bounds with amazing enthusiasm. We moved back to CO, my home state, a year ago and my children attended the local public school for one year. I was not impressed by the curriculum, the instruction, or the apathy to learning that my children adopted. Within the first week of attending GVCA the spark came back for my kids. They have not stopped talking about the “cool” stuff they are learning. The biggest difference that I notice is that my kids are learning how to learn not just what to learn. I am so grateful that my kids are back in this kind of environment and we pleasantly look forward to the many years that we will be a part of this community.


I know that some people think this school is blurring the lines between the church and state and that there is some kind of religious conservative teaching happening here. This is not the case. This is a secular school and as an atheist and a liberal I feel welcome and grateful that my children and I are part of this community. 


Dana Hummels
GVCA Parent

Colorado Supreme Court Declines Telling Legislature How to Allocate Tax Dollars

by Joshua Dunn

This article was originally printed in the Greeley Tribune on October 1, 2015.

Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court was invited to hurl the state into a constitutional crisis. Wisely, it said “No thanks.” 

While the court’s decision in Dwyer v. Colorado is undeniably good news for basic principles concerning separation of powers, it raises more fundamental questions about what our constitution can actually guarantee.

In 2000, the voters of Colorado added Amendment 23 to the state constitution.  It requires the legislature to increase “statewide base per pupil funding” each year by the rate of inflation. Because of the recession, the legislature could not both increase base funding and maintain other education funding.  

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In addition to a base level of funding for all school districts, the state provides supplemental funding based on other “factors” such as a district’s size, cost of living, and number of at-risk students.  With declining tax revenue, the legislature decided to implement a “negative factor” that decreased factor funding while increasing base funding to satisfy Amendment 23.  As a result base funding increased, while overall education funding declined.

This decrease in overall education spending led parents and several school districts to sue in Dwyer, claiming that the “negative factor” violated Amendment 23 and demanding that the court order the legislature to increase educational funding. 

Their claims faced two insurmountable obstacles: plain English and fiscal reality.

Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, Amendment 23 clearly says that the state only has to increase base per pupil spending. The plaintiffs were compelled to argue that “base” does not mean base, but instead means total.  If it means total, then spending could not decrease from the previous year’s level.  The court declined to be drawn into this game of postmodern linguistic gymnastics.  It simply said base funding means base funding, “because this is exactly what Amendment 23 says.”

The plaintiffs faced even more fundamental fiscal obstacles. In the real world, limited resources force the state legislature to make tough choices about allocating tax dollars in many areas.  Among them are roads, police, prisons, and parks, along with K–12 education. 

Only the legislature has the capacity to make the kinds of budgetary tradeoffs required for the rational allocation of tax dollars. The plaintiffs wanted the court to tell the legislature to either ignore those other obligations or to mandate a tax increase in violation of the state constitution. 

Of course, the Dwyer litigation’s real target might have been the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) which requires voter approval of tax increases. Twice in the past four years, huge majorities of Coloradans have rejected education tax increases. 

Ruling for the plaintiffs in Dwyer would have required the Court to tell the people of Colorado that they are not sovereign. One suspects Coloradans would not have responded favorably to the court declaring that TABOR was unconstitutional.

Even setting aside TABOR, Amendment 23 raises questions about what we can expect from our constitution. The amendment demands that education spending increase regardless of economic reality. States, however, cannot print money and thus cannot run long-term deficits. Also, like many states, Colorado is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget. 

In a federal system, states compete with each other to offer an attractive basket of goods and services to residents and businesses. A state with a regulatory and tax structure less attractive than other states’ can expect to see its taxpayers move to more inviting climes. This competition, in turn, forces states to spend tax dollars more wisely. But most importantly, states cannot control recessions. Regardless of TABOR limitations, economic slowdowns sometimes will cause revenue declines.


These limitations on states all point to the folly of mandating specific spending levels and the even greater folly of mandating specific levels of increased spending. Mercifully, Amendment 23 allowed for some legislative flexibility to reallocate dollars from factor funding to base funding. But one day an economic downturn might prevent the legislature from increasing base funding, forcing the state to violate the constitution. 


In the abstract, mandating increased spending on popular programs is always attractive. But constitutions, as James Madison said, should not contain provisions that require their own “usurpation.” 


In short, constitutions should not write checks that the government might not be able to cash. Littering our state charter with such mandates is poor constitutional hygiene.


Prof. Joshua Dunn is Director of the Center for the Study of Government and the Individual at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.  His research primarily focuses on constitutional history and judicial policymaking.


Jeffco Recall Election Raises Timeless Issues

by Tom Coyne, Guest Editorial

I have spent my career working on organizational performance improvement challenges, which have consistently centered on the same three questions that are at the heart of the election to recall members of the Jeffco Board of Education.

First, do we have a performance problem? 
Many organizations will deny the existence of a performance problem until the truth becomes too painful to ignore. Some candidates in this election apparently believe there is no student achievement problem in Jeffco. Ron Mitchell claims “Jeffco was on the brink of greatness” when the new board majority was elected, while Amanda Stevens cites “the district’s track record of excellence.” The evidence tells a different story. 

Every student in Colorado takes the ACT in 11th grade. It is the last comprehensive measure we have of the cumulative result of the taxpayers’ investment in twelve years (K-11) of their education. 

In 2015, only 44 percent of Jeffco students met the ACT’s “college and career ready” (C&C) standard in reading, only 44 percent in math, and only 40 percent in science. 

Among low-income Jeffco students eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL), just 24 percent met the C&C reading standard, 20 percent met the math standard, and 18 percent met the science standard. However, only 50 percent of non-FRL eligible students met the C&C reading standard, 54 percent met the math standard, and 47 percent met the science standard. 

Between 2008 and 2015, over 27,000 Jeffco 11th graders have failed to meet the C&C standard in reading, over 28,000 have failed to meet the math standard, and over 34,000 have failed to meet the science standard.


That doesn’t look like a track record of excellence, or a district on the brink of greatness. 


And please don’t reply, “But Jeffco outperforms (fill in the blank).” In the real world, that doesn’t matter. If my children can’t do algebra, they aren’t getting the job or into the college they want. In our intensely competitive world, if Jeffco’s children aren’t graduating college and career ready, they’re going to struggle for years.


The second question is: If we admit we have a problem, what will we do? 
Substantial performance improvement always requires substantial change. There are no magic bullets.


The board members that are the target of the recall—Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams (“WNW”)—have supported significant changes to improve student achievement in Jeffco. These changes include the following:
•    Establishing measurable achievement improvement goals
•    Approving a new math curriculum
•    Making free full-day kindergarten available to every FRL student
•    Increasing additional school funding per FRL student from $150 to $850
•    Strengthen-ing local control and accountability by giving principals more authority over their budgets
•    Increasing the rigor of program evaluations to ensure taxpayers are getting value for money
•    Raising pay for starting teachers to attract more talent
•    Basing teacher pay raises on performance rather than seniority
•    Switching to new assessments that provide much faster feedback
•    Revitalizing School Accountability Committees, which give parents and business leaders a strong voice on achievement improvement issues


In contrast, the candidates backed by the recall campaign propose a strategy the key elements of which (based on their websites) include “keeping great teachers in every classroom,” “full-day kindergarten for all students,” and “strong neighborhood schools.”


The third question is: How will we implement our performance improvement strategy? 
Substantial change inevitably generates conflict. Yet too many struggling organizations place conflict avoidance (typically described as a “collaborative approach”) above the urgent need to take action to improve their performance. The result is a poorly implemented strategy that fails to achieve its goals. The election in Jeffco highlights this classic tradeoff. WNW believe that “change is hard,” and a temporarily higher level of conflict is a price worth paying for faster improvement in student achievement results. In contrast, the candidates backed by the recall campaign have placed less conflict and more collaboration at the top of their agenda.


Will History Repeat Itself? 
This isn’t the first time that Jeffco has confronted these three critical questions. In 1997, faced with rising public frustration over poor student achievement results, Jeffco hired outsider Jane Hammond as superintendent. She made many significant changes, and won passage of an award-winning mill levy that tied increased taxpayer funding to improved student achievement. In just one year, Jeffco was halfway to its three-year achievement goal and Hammond was named Colorado’s 2001 superintendent of the year. In 2002 she was suddenly replaced by Cindy Stevenson, a career Jeffco employee. 


Over the next decade, collaboration was a high priority in Jeffco. But student achievement stagnated despite billions in spending. Time will tell if history repeats in 2015.

Tom Coyne is a political Independent. He is a member of Jeffco’s District Accountability Committee.