Who Is In Charge

Garcia gets big education portfolio

See bottom of this story for 9News video of Garcia’s inauguration speech

Updated – Within hours of his inauguration Tuesday morning, it seemed clear that Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia would be the Hickenlooper administration’s go-to person on education policy.

Late Monday afternoon, Gov. John Hickenlooper nominated Garcia to be director of the Department of Higher Education, pending consultation with the attorney general and legislative leaders about an elected official serving as a department head.

Joe Garcia
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia speaks at inauguration on Jan. 11, 2011. (Courtesy 9News)

At midday Tuesday, during a luncheon for students who participated in an inauguration essay contest, Hickenlooper unveiled an executive order creating a new Education Leadership Council.

Where will the council be located? In the lieutenant governor’s office.

Who will chair it? Joe Garcia.

Ever since Hickenlooper chose Garcia as his running mate last year, there’s been widespread speculation – even an assumption – in education circles that Garcia would play a key role on the issue in a new administration.

Such talk also was prompted by the fact that Gov. Bill Ritter made Barbara O’Brien, his lieutenant governor and former head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the point person for education, including such initiatives as the P-20 Education Coordinating Council and the quest for Race to the Top funds.

A Harvard-educated lawyer, Garcia has been president of Colorado State University-Pueblo and of Pikes Peak Community College. He held a cabinet job – director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies – during the administration of Democratic Gov. Roy Romer. Farther back in his past, Garcia was legal counsel to the Colorado Springs District 11 school board.

Garcia also served with O’Brien as a co-chair of the P-20 council, which was most active in the first years of Ritter’s administration and whose work lead to the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids legislation. The Education Leadership Council created by Hickenlooper Tuesday is the successor to Ritter’s group.

A look at the new council

The executive order reads, “To deliver on the collective promise of the state’s recent education reforms and continue the cross-system dialogue that recently facilitated broad agreement on the direction of the future and functions of the state’s education systems, it is imperative that the Office of the Governor continues to provide a meaningful forum through which the state’s leadership can examine the current status of education policies, analyze the systems’ near-term opportunities and challenges, and make recommendations to the Governor, General Assembly, and governing boards regarding potential long-term improvements to the state’s education systems that facilitate the goals of closing achievement gaps in schools, reducing the high school dropout rate, and dramatically increasing the number of postsecondary degrees and certificates earned by the state’s citizens.”

Joe Garcia and John Hickenlooper
Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful Joe Garcia (left) and gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper presented their education proposals Aug. 30, 2010.

The council is to have at least 18 members, including Garcia, the commissioner of education, the chairs of the State Board of Education and Colorado Commission on Higher Education, the chairs of the House and Senate education committees, the executive director of the Early Childhood leadership commission and the director of the Department of Health and Human Services. (Reggie Bicha, a Wisconsin state official, has been nominated for that post.) Those are all busy people, and, as is usual, the executive order says “designees” may fill the slots.

The council is also to include “at least” one school board member, superintendent or principal, teacher, charter school administrator, community college administrator, four-year college administrator, business representative and infant development specialist. The council will be allowed to accept private donations to cover expenses. (Read the full executive order here.)

In a statement Monday on the DHE job, Hickenlooper said, “Joe Garcia is in a unique position to wear two hats in state government. He is a known leader with tremendous expertise in education. He also understands the challenges facing higher education because he’s led a community college and a university. Allowing Garcia to serve in two roles will save money and serve the taxpayers of Colorado without compromising the work of the lieutenant governor’s office or the Department of Higher Education.”

The statement did add, “While it’s unclear whether legislation may be necessary, Hickenlooper is working with leaders in the General Assembly and the attorney general to clarify that the lieutenant governor can concurrently serve in a cabinet position if appointed and confirmed by the Senate.”

The director of DHE supervises a department that has various regulatory, data-gathering and promotional duties, and he also serves as the chief staff person for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, whose members are appointed by the governor. While the commission has some regulatory powers, such as approving tuition plans, Colorado’s highly decentralized higher ed system gives broad powers and independence to institutional presidents and boards of trustees.

Rico Munn
Rico Munn, former director of the Department of Higher Education

The agency has been somewhat of a revolving door in recent years. Ritter had two higher ed directors – David Skaggs and Rico Munn – and there also were two directors during the latter part of Republican Gov. Bill Owens’ administration.

Some commission members have complained that the shifting cast of directors has made it difficult to establish a clear strategic direction for the commission.

The citizens’ panel that drafted the recent higher ed strategic plan debated the issue of whether the director should be appointed by the governor or by the commission, which had that power in the past. But the panel settled on a recommendation that the governor nominate the director after consultation with the commission. (Read the higher ed strategic plan.)

The commission, armed with new powers conferred by the 2010 higher ed tuition flexibility law and the recommendations of the strategic planning panel, seems to be moving toward a more active role in higher ed policymaking. That’s a direction not welcomed by some college presidents.

So Garcia’s becoming director of DHE would put the Hickenlooper administration directly in the middle of the often-tricky politics of Colorado higher ed.

Higher ed leaders endorse Garcia

But, Hickenlooper apparently touched a lot of bases before naming Garcia to the DHE post. The news release announcing the move included endorsements from Bob Schaffer, chair of the SBE; CSU Chancellor Joe Black, Garcia’s former boss; CU President Bruce Benson, who worked with Garcia on the P-20 council; Mesa State President Tim Foster; community colleges President Nancy McCallin, and CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut.

Foster, a DHE director under Owens, said, “His knowledge of state government and his collaborative nature are exactly what Colorado higher education needs today.”

Jim Polsfut
Jim Polsfut, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education

Polsfut, who’ll be sitting next to Garcia at CCHE meetings, said, “I’m certainly looking forward to working with Joe Garcia in his new capacity, as Colorado faces the challenge of maintaining a high quality yet affordable system of public higher education in an environment of diminishing resources.” (News release announcing DHE appointment.)

Garcia’s role seems to be unprecedented in Colorado history. Until a constitutional change in the mid-1970s, lieutenant governors were elected independently (not on a ticket with the governor) and presided over the state Senate.

Governors Dick Lamm, Romer and Owens – each of whom served multiple terms – all had rocky relations with some of their lieutenants, most of whom received fairly minor assignments.

Colorado’s other key K-12 position, commissioner of education, is being filled by interim Commissioner Robert Hammond while the SBE conducts a search for a replacement for Dwight Jones. A new commissioner may not be named until late spring or early summer.

See this news item for what Hickenlooper and Garcia said about education in their inauguration speeches

Garcia’s speech (9News)


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”