Who Is In Charge

Proposed budget cuts spare education

Gov. Bill Ritter Tuesday detailed $320 million in proposed state budget cuts and shifts designed to cover the revenue shortfall created by the recession.

The plan proposes no cuts to the formula-driven state support for K-12 schools, projected to total more than $3 billion. Ritter and budget director Todd Saliman told the Joint Budget Committee that K-12 spending is protected by Amendment 23.

The proposal does include an $80.9 million cut in general fund support for the state’s colleges and universities, which already has been trimmed to 2005-06 levels of state support and 2008-09 overall spending. But, the administration plans to back fill that $80.9 million cut with additional federal stimulus funds, which already are being used heavily to support higher ed.

The budget picture may be darker for K-12 in 2010-11. Saliman said that K-12 general fund support is expected to be flat in the proposed 2010-11 budget that the governor will submit to the committee in November. That’s because one requirement of Amendment 23, that general fund school support increase 5 percent a year, will be suspended because state revenue growth has dropped below a level specified in the amendment. Two other key factors in the amendment’s formula are enrollment growth and inflation. Flat enrollment growth and little or no inflation this year, as state economists are forecasting, could mean overall growth in K-12 spending could be as little as 1 or 2 percent in 2010-11.

School districts also receive funding from a separate account, the State Education Fund. The 2009 legislature put a hold on $110 million in the fund’s allotment for schools and will decide in January whether to release it or retain it. Most observers expect lawmakers will not release the funds. (The $110 million and the fund were not part of the Ritter-Saliman plan released Tuesday.)

Commenting on higher education, “That reduction will be fully covered by federal stimulus dollars,” Saliman told the committee during a standing-room-only briefing in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. “We’ll be seeking a federal waiver to enable us to implement this proposal,” he added. He said other states have receive such waivers.

Federal regulations require states to maintain tax-dollar support at 2005-06 levels to be eligible for the stimulus, but that requirement can be waived.

General fund spending is supported by state tax revenues. Colleges and universities also receive substantial support from tuition and fees, plus federal and other grants.

Saliman said the $80.9 million cut in state support will have to be restored in the next fiscal year, 2010-11, under the terms of a waiver.

A news conference followed the JBC meeting, and Ritter was asked if he feels some sort of tax increase for higher education should be proposed to voters. He said that will depend on the recommendations of the Department of Higher Education’s 18-month master plan process, which kicks off next month.

The governor also was non-commital when asked if supports tax changes during the 2010 legislative session. Some lawmakers have been pushing to close some business sales tax exemptions. “I’m not going to try to predict how that discussion will go,” Ritter said. But he did say it would weaken state economic-development efforts to eliminate exemptions that other states also offer.

Overall, the budget-balancing plan appears to be more surgical than across-the-board. The largest percentage cuts are in the departments of agriculture, military and veterans affairs, natural resources, regulatory agencies and in the governor’s office. As with K-12 education, no cuts are proposed for the departments of transportation and labor and employment, which receive no general fund support.

Ritter and Saliman said the plan was designed to minimize as much as possible cuts to human services and medical programs that serve vulnerable Coloradans.

But, Ritter said, “You cannot reduce spending this much without impacting services. … There is a lot of sacrifice Colorado citizens will experience.”

The plan is expected to cut about 266 state jobs, through holding vacant jobs open, layoffs or other steps. State employee pay raises have been frozen until July 2011, and most state workers will have at least four unpaid furlough days.

Cuts of note to other departments include:

Closing 59 beds at the Colorado Mental Health Center at Fort Logan
Closing a 32-bed nursing facility in Grand Juntion
Reducing health care provider rates by 1.5 percent, plus other health cuts totaling $115 million
Changing parole spending by concentrating services on inmates entering parole and spending less on those nearly the end of parole, for a $19 million savings
Eliminating $1 million for Tony Grampsas Youth Services grants
Some spending from cash funds also is being reduced, primarily grants to local governments, especially those in energy production regions.

Reductions that don’t require legislative approval will be implemented Sept. 1 in most cases. Detailed plans will be submitted to the JBC Aug. 24.

Recession-driven revenue drops started last year, and the 2009 legislature had to cut about $1.4 billion from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 budgets. Updated revenue forecasts issued in late June showed that further 2009-10 cuts would be required, which Saliman estimated Tuesday at $318 million. (The gap originally was estimated at about $400 million.) The next formal revenue forecasts will be issued in late September.

General fund spending totals about $7 billion of some $18.7 billion in overall state spending. That grand total includes federal money (for things like health programs) and cash funds such as college tuition, fuel taxes, unemployment insurance taxes, lottery revenues, hunting licenses and other fees. So, a cut of about $320 million represents about 2 percent of total spending.

Governor’s budget cut presentation and details (PDF)
Gov. Bill Ritter and JBC Chair Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, discuss proposed 2009-10 budget cuts

Movers and shakers

Former Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg lands a new gig

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, high-fives students, parents, and staff on the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy in August.

Former Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg has been named superintendent of another organization 9,000 miles away: the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia.

Boasberg will start his new position July 1. He stepped down as superintendent of Denver Public Schools last month after nearly 10 years at the helm of the 92,000-student district. The Denver school board is in the process of choosing his successor.

Boasberg has spent significant time in Asia. After graduating from college, he taught English at a Hong Kong public school and played semi-professional basketball there. He later worked as chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

He and his wife, Carin, met while studying in Taiwan. They now have three teenage children. In 2016, Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live in Argentina with his family. At the time, he said he and his wife always hoped to live overseas with their children.

“This gives us a chance as a family to go back to Asia,” Boasberg said, “and it’s something the kids are looking forward to, as well as my wife Carin and I.”

The Singapore American School is an elite non-profit school that was established in 1956 by a group of parents, according to its website. It now has more than 3,900 students in preschool through 12th grade, more than half of whom are American.

The school boasts low student-to-teacher ratios and lots of Advanced Placement classes, and sends several of its graduates to Ivy League colleges in the United States. Its facilities include a one-acre rainforest.

Boasberg notes that the school is also a leader in personalized learning, meaning that each student learns at their own pace. He called the school “wonderfully diverse” and said its students hail from more than 50 different countries. High school tuition is about $37,000 per year for students who hold a U.S. passport or whose parents do.

Leading the private Singapore American School will no doubt differ in some ways from leading a large, urban public school district. In his time as Denver superintendent, Boasberg was faced with making unpopular decisions, such as replacing low-performing schools, and the challenge of trying to close wide test score gaps between students from low-income families and students from wealthier ones.

“Denver will always be in my heart,” Boasberg said, “and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

it's official

Memphis schools chief Dorsey Hopson calls his work ‘a remarkable journey,’ but seeks new career at health care giant

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announces that he's resigning from the district to take a job with Cigna.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is leaving Shelby County Schools to lead an education initiative at a national health insurance company effective Jan. 8.

Prior to his departure, the school board expects to name an interim before the district breaks for the winter holidays, giving the panel time to seek a permanent replacement, said board chair Shante Avant.

Hopson’s job with Cigna is a new national position in government and education that will be based in Memphis, he said. He called the decision a “difficult” one that he ultimately made because of the demands on his family that are part of his job as superintendent.

“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Hopson said. “I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made together.”

A likely successor the board could tap is Lin Johnson, who was hired in 2015 as chief of finance. Johnson previously was director of special initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education and director of finance and operations for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. He recently overhauled the district’s budget process to be more responsive to student needs rather than to a strict pupil-teacher ratio — a move Hopson lauded as a potential vehicle to reduce gaps in test scores for students of color living in poverty.

Hopson’s future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks, especially after he endorsed Republican Bill Lee for governor in a race that the Williamson County businessman eventually won. A position in the governor’s office, or as education commissioner to succeed Candice McQueen, was considered among the possibilities for Hopson. But Hopson said on Tuesday that he would not be heading to Nashville to work for the Lee administration.

Cigna, Hopson’s future employer, is a Connecticut-based company that manages health insurance for about 19,500 district employees and retirees under a $24 million contract. The company is the third-largest health plan provider in Memphis with about 200 local employees, according to the Memphis Business Journal. In his new role, Hopson will help Cigna expand its services to school districts for health benefits and wellness programs.

“Having an individual with Hopson’s expertise in school administration and school district leadership in this role will be a great asset to Cigna’s consultative work serving K-12 schools,” a Cigna spokesperson said in a statement.

An attorney who had worked for school districts in Atlanta and Memphis, Hopson was named the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools in 2013 following the historic merger of city and county schools.

His hiring came on the cusp of massive change in Memphis’ educational landscape. The district’s student enrollment steadily declined after six suburban towns split off from Shelby County Schools in 2014 to create their own districts, and the state-run Achievement School District continued to siphon off students by taking over chronically low-performing schools in the city. Hopson and the school board eventually closed nearly two dozen schools to shore up resulting budget deficits.

Since then, under Hopson’s leadership, the district has gone from a $50 million deficit to investing more than $60 million in personnel, teacher and staff pay raises, and school improvement initiatives by lobbying for more county funding, dipping into the district’s reserves, closing underutilized schools, cutting transportation costs, and eliminating open job positions. The district has also sued the state in pursuit of more funding, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

“We have accomplished a great deal together, such as eliminating a $100 million deficit, investing more and students, and developing the Summer Learning Academy to prevent summer learning loss. That, in part, is what makes this decision so difficult,” Hopson said. “I would love to see this work to the finish line, but I feel confident that we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader.”

Now, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state-run district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from when Hopson took over. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban school district leaders.

“For the past six years, we have worked together to guide this great school district through monumental changes,” Hopson said. “Through it all, our educators and supporters have remained committed to aggressively increasing student achievement.”