Who Is In Charge

SBE hopeful but realistic on testing funds

Facing a meeting with the Joint Budget Committee in 10 days, the State Board of Education wrestled Tuesday with the possibility that it won’t get the money to develop a full new state testing system that would launch in 2014.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The board and the Department of Education want $25.9 million in 2012-13 to create the tests, but Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to spend the money in a tight budget year. The JBC has posed more than a dozen questions on testing for the board and CDE to discuss during a Dec. 16 meeting with the budget panel.

One of those questions is whether the board proposes the $25.9 million be deducted from the pot of state aid to school districts or be additional spending. CDE budget analyst Jeff Blanford said the department has “no intention” of taking test costs off the top of school aid and wanted to make sure board members agreed. They did so with nods of heads.

Board members and CDE executives believe new tests are needed in 2014 to fully implement the new state content standards and to provide the data needed for operation of the state’s district and school rating system and of the new educator effectiveness law. Alternative, somewhat cheaper multi-state tests won’t be available until at least 2015.

“The reality of getting the full amount for the assessments is almost nil,” said member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District. Members of the JBC have said, “It isn’t going to happen,” she added. Berman is one of two board members who serve as a liaison with lawmakers.

“I think most of us can guess today what the status of this is,” agreed SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District. But, he said, it’s important for the board to send a clear message about the importance of new tests.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond agreed, saying, “This is a matter of awareness. … It’s important to raise this.”

The board also discussed what to do about another anomaly in the budget request – the $7.7 million that Hickenlooper requested for helping implement the educator effectiveness law. That’s money the board and CDE didn’t ask for. Board members went back on forth on whether they should endorse the governor’s request or whether doing so would diminish the importance of their request for testing money. They finally decided to support the Hickenlooper request but incorporate it in their priorities.

Imagine Pioneer Charter appeal loses on tie vote

The second round of the fight between the Falcon School District and the Imagine Pioneer Charter Academy ended in a TKO for the charter Tuesday when the board ended up with a deadlocked 3-3 vote on the charter’s appeal to SBE board of the district’s failure to grant it a charter. The legal effect of the tie is to deny the appeal.

A previous appeal last spring resulted in SBE sending the matter back to the Falcon board for reconsideration. The school board didn’t take another vote on the charter application, leading to the second appeal.

The case is a confusing one, given that there’s already another Imagine charter operating in the district and that the school board originally approved the second school, whose application later was withdrawn.

The district argues that the school’s charter board is a puppet of the for-profit Imagine Schools and that the district therefore has no legitimate charter board to negotiate with.

District lawyer Brad Miller said, “This is a predatory scheme by a for-profit company” and that the charter board is “effectively a powerless board.”

SBE members at times seems frustrated by the confusing situation, but in the end three Republicans, Schaffer; Marcia Neal, R-3rd District and Deb Scheffel, R-6th District, voted in favor of the charter. Democrats Berman, Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, and Jane Goff, D-7th District, voted no.

Member Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, is lawyer Miller’s brother-in-law and recused himself from the vote. Falcon is in Lundeen’s district.

Districts in line for R2T cash

Jill Hawley, Hammond’s chief of staff, briefed the board on the state’s application for the federal Race to the Top consolation round.

If Colorado wins a grant of $17.9 million, participating districts would get half the money. See CDE’s letter to districts here, and see the potential grants to individual districts in this spreadsheet.


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.”