Who Is In Charge

JBC mulls testing cost options

Department of Education leaders will face lots of questions on testing costs and a couple of other key issue when they meet with the Joint Budget Committee later this month.

Testing illustrationThe committee was briefed Thursday on proposed CDE spending in 2012-13. (The session didn’t involve state aid to school districts, which was covered at a separate meeting last month – see story.)

As committee analyst Craig Harper noted, the JBC faces a knotty situation with the CDE budget, because the department and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration differ on two key issues – funding for a new state testing system and for implementation of the educator effectiveness law.

Harper himself raised another possibly controversial idea – cutting back funding for the Building Excellent Schools Today program.

“This is a unique situation,” Harper said, referring to the fact that CDE can make direct budget requests to the legislature because it is governed by an elected body, the State Board of Education. “This year there’s a big disagreement” between the administration and the department, he added.

Here are the key differences:

Testing: The department has asked for $25.9 million to pay for development of a new state testing system to launch in 2014. The administration isn’t asking for that money, and budget officials have suggested Colorado should perhaps wait for the expected launch of multistate tests in 2015.

Educator evaluation: The department wants $424,390 from a state cash reserve fund to continue paying the salaries of staff members working on implementation of the educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 11-191. But Hickenlooper has asked for $7.7 million from state tax funds to be spent over two budget years on additional staff members for the project.

Harper’s briefing paper sums up the differences in this way: “It appears that the State Board is requesting $25.9 million General Fund for assessments that the Governor is not requesting … and the Governor is requesting $7.7 million General Fund for educator effectiveness implementation that the State Board is not requesting.”

Harper didn’t make recommendations on the issues other than to suggest the committee closely question CDE leaders about them at a scheduled Dec. 16 hearing.

“This conversation should happen. I think they [CDE] need to be heard,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and JBC chair.

BEST funding questioned

Harper’s briefing paper
  • Testing issues – page 23
  • Educator effectiveness funding – page 32
  • BEST revenues – page 39

Harper did make a recommendation on a third issue – funding of the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program – that’s likely to raise alarms at CDE and in school districts across the state.

He recommended that the committee introduce a bill to limit the revenues that BEST receives from state school trust lands and that the legislature also put limits on the practice of “sweeping” other trust land revenues into general education spending.

The school lands and their revenues are administered by the State Land Board, an arm of the Department of Natural Resources. According to a JBC staff document, in 2010-11 “the Land Board collected a record $120.6 million for the school trust, $46.5 million more than the previous record year in FY 2008-09. … In FY 2010-11 the BEST program received $60.3 million … and $52.2 million [was] diverted into the State Public School Fund for school finance.”

Those revenues may not be as high in the future, Harper said, suggesting it would be prudent to reduce the diversions so more money could flow into what’s called the permanent fund. That fund has been stagnant at about $581 million for the last three years, Harper said. “My recommendation would be that you start growing it again.”

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver

The BEST program already is approaching the point where it will have to scale back on new major grants so it can service the debt on big projects approved in the last few years. Cutting down the revenues from state lands could hasten that.

Democratic Sens. Pat Steadman of Denver and Evie Hudak of Westminster both expressed support for the idea, as did Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood. Steadman is a member of the JBC; Hudak and Summers serve on the Senate and House education committees. Several members of the education committees attended the two hour and 45-minute hearing Thursday. (Get more information about the BEST program in the Education News Colorado archive.)

Delay of new tests raises complicated issues

While he didn’t make recommendations, Harper did provide the committee with lots of detail about the questions involved in delaying launch of new state tests.

He noted department concerns that delaying new tests could put Colorado’s new content standards out of synch with the tests, possibly disrupting state achievement data and threatening implementation of the educator effectiveness law.

“Without the assessments it’s going to be difficult for anyone to implement that piece of Senate Bill 10-191,” Harper said, referring to the law’s requirement that 50 percent of principal and teacher annual evaluations be based on student growth, as measured by statewide and other tests.

Harper’s briefing paper noted that the new tests would cost $25.9 million in 2012-13, $16 million the following year and $15.5 million in 2014-15 – on top of the base $21 million annual cost of testing. Part of the additional cost is due to the addition of interim tests and social studies assessments to the testing system.

The paper included several possible options for reducing those costs, including phasing in new tests, delaying interim tests or delaying the switchover until the multi-state tests are ready. The final CSAP tests were given last spring; transitional tests called TCAPs are to be given in 2012 and 2013.

“The department has concerns about the momentum behind reform efforts” stalling if new tests aren’t launched in 2014, Harper said. “That’s the big-picture concern here.”

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

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

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”