Who Is In Charge

Is Round 2 Colorado’s best shot?

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien Wednesday continued to sound cautious about Colorado’s chances in the Race to the Top, telling legislators the state may have a better chance in the second round of competition for a share of $4 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

Dwight Jones and Barbara O'BriendColorado Tuesday filed its first-round application, asking for $377 million. (See detailed story.)

“I’ve been trying to manage expectations a bit about phase 1 because they may select only two or three states, and there are states that are ahead of Colorado,” O’Brien told members of the House and Senate education committees and other lawmakers during an early-morning meeting Wednesday.

“There are states that are ahead of just because of their ability to invest … [but] we continue to be optimistic about chances” in the second round, O’Brien said.

When they unveiled the plan on Tuesday, O’Brien, Gov. Bill Ritter and education Commissioner Dwight Jones all were careful to note that the competition is stiff and that Colorado might not win a grant but still had created a good blueprint for future education reform with its R2T plan.

“It’s not perfect, but we think it’s a really solid plan for Colorado. … It’s a really good plan for Colorado no matter what,” O’Brien said Wednesday.

Jones also spoke to legislators Wednesday, and he defended the Ritter administration’s decision to put development of a new educator evaluation system in the hands of an appointed commission that won’t report back to the legislature until September 2011.

“I know we continue to get criticism in this area, and frankly I don’t agree with the criticism,” Jones said. He said the commission process is “an opportunity to get to a place we all want to get to.”

Many state R2T applications seem to fall into one of two models – collaborative or top-down – and in the last two days Colorado officials have clearly said they chose the collaborative model because they believe it will make reform more achievable. (For more background on the issue, see this EdNews analysis.)

“We have taken a collaborative approach; the governor demanded it,” Jones said. “Hopefully the folks who are scoring our application will take note.”

Jones added later, “’Some may not think it is bold enough, but I think we will be one of the few states that will get it done.”

The Colorado plan proposes to significantly increase math and reading proficiency among Colorado students by 2014 and to trim achievement gaps, which now are about 30 percent, to 10 percent, Jones noted.

Several legislators used the meeting to raise concerns about favorite issues.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, lamented that the state’s application doesn’t say enough about the role of parents. “I would encourage you to think a little more broadly about parent involvement,” she told Jones.

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs and chair of House Education, agreed with that and also complained that the R2T program doesn’t place enough emphasis on “a well-rounded curriculum” or the arts. (Merrifield is a retired music teacher.)

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and House Ed vice chair, in turn agreed with Merrifield and also was concerned that R2T doesn’t seem to place much emphasis on the importance of early childhood education.

O’Brien said the federal government is expected to roll out a separate early childhood grant program in the spring, and “We are going to be applying for that.”

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs and a charter school administrator, asked what the department was doing to ensure charters get a fair shot at R2T money. The program will split grants equally between the state and local school districts. King said his heard complaints that some charters have been shut out of Title I grants, a separate part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Jones said, “I’m not sure I would say charter schools have been excluded” and that “the department does have an obligation to intervene” if that’s the case.

O’Brien and Jones explained that if Colorado passes an initial review, state officials will be invited to Washington in March to make the case for their bid.

That caught the attention of Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, who asked, “So that’s an appropriate place to report on progress we’ve made since Jan. 19?”

Johnston’s planned teacher evaluation and tenure bill has been somewhat sidelined by Ritter’s commission plan, and the senator is now considering what kind of legislation to introduce instead.

Do your homework

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:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”