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

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: