Who Is In Charge

Committee rejects parent notice rule

A tie vote Wednesday afternoon by the legislative Committee on Legal Services effectively killed the contentious State Board of Education rule that requires school districts to inform parents when employees are arrested for certain crimes.

Finger printsThe decision was the latest twist in a long story that has involved extensive negotiation among and multiple votes by board members, consistent opposition by the state’s mainline education interest groups and a lawsuit by the state’s largest teachers union.

The rule has been something of a personal crusade for SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, who was prompted to propose it by badly handled arrest reporting incidents in the Poudre schools. Schaffer lives in Fort Collins and is a charter school principal.

The board unanimously approved the rule last April (see story), a year after Schaffer first proposed it. The rule subsequently was challenged in court by the Colorado Education Association (see story). That case is pending, although a Denver judge earlier this fall denied a motion for an injunction against the rule.

Schaffer said his next move will be “likely to pick up the phone” to see if he can find a legislator willing to sponsor a bill that would put the parent notification rule into law.

The somewhat arcane constitutional question of whether SBE had authority to issue the rule is a central issue in the dispute.

State agency rules are governed by a complex review process. Once issued, rules are in effect until the following May 15. For rules to go into effect permanently, the legislature passes a law every year extending rules beyond May 15.

Lawyers from the Office of Legislative Legal Services review new rules and may make recommendations to the Legal Services Committee, a joint House-Senate panel.

In this case, legal services staff lawyers Michael Dohr and Brita Darling concluding that SBE exceeded its authority and recommended the committee not include the rule in the annual bill to permanently extend new regulations (read their memo). The staff lawyers recommended the parent notice rule not be extended because they concluded the board didn’t have the legal power to issue it.

Much of the one hour and 45 minute discussion Wednesday focused on the somewhat esoteric issue of whether the state board’s constitutional assignment of “general supervision” of schools gives it the power to issue such a rule – particularly considering that the vast majority of SBE rules are issued to implement specific laws passed by the legislature. The notification rule was the board’s own initiative and was not issued to implement legislation.

Michael Dohr and Tony Dyl
Legislative lawyer Michael Dohr (left) and Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl.
Dohr, who presented to the committee, said, “The rules in this case go beyond ‘general supervision.’”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl, a longtime legal advisor to the state board, argued the opposite point of view, saying, “I believe the state board possesses both the constitutional and statutory authority” to issue the parent notice rule.

Committee members discussed the issue at length. Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, warned that affirming the rule was “a dangerous slippery slope” that could expand the board’s authority beyond constitutional limits.

Both Levy and committee chair Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, expressed concerns that the rule requires reporting of arrests, not convictions.

The rule applies to arrests or charging of employees and former employees whose jobs require them to be in contact with students. In most cases, notice must be given within 24 hours of a district learning of an arrest.

Notification is required in cases involving any felony, drug crimes (except for misdemeanor marijuana cases), misdemeanor and municipal violations involving children, misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violations involving unlawful sexual behavior of various kinds, and any crime of violence. Drunken driving arrests are included if an employee’s duties involve transporting students in motor vehicles.

The rule contains no enforcement or reporting requirements on school districts.

In the end, a motion to extend the rule died on a 5-5 vote, with committee Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Two Republicans, Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs and Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, said they had concerns with part of the rule but voted yes on the motion to continue the full rule. The vote means the rule will expire next May 15.

Speaking with reporters after the meaning, Schaffer said the vote means parents could be “stuffed back into the darkness” of not knowing when school employees are arrested and indicated he’ll seek a legislative solution to the issue. He said he hopes the partisan split on the committee “is not a reflection on the substantive policy issue” of protecting children.

Despite the lack of a reporting requirement, Schaffer said, “The rule has worked very well,” adding he’s heard of 10-12 cases in which districts have notified parents since the rule went into effect last spring.

Dyl indicated that although he expects a judge to rule on the CEA lawsuit before May 15, the committee’s action pretty much settles the issue.

Mike Wetzel, a CEA spokesman, said Wednesday evening, “We’re pleased that school districts will be allowed to resume local control in matters of school employee discipline, and educators will not run the risk of permanent damage to their personal and professional reputations should they ever be wrongly accused. The rule did nothing to protect students or help parents, and we hope this is the last we hear of this truly unnecessary measure.”

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.”