Who Is In Charge

Construction grant bids set to be culled

More than $300 million worth of school construction projects will be the table starting Tuesday, when the state Capital Construction Assistance Board opens a three-day meeting to decide its annual grants.

bestThe event is closely watched in the education community, both by districts whose applications are on the line and by schools thinking of applying in the future.

As has happened every year since the Building Excellent Schools Today program was created in 2008, some applicants will go away disappointed. The program, funded by a share of state school land revenues and restricted in how much debt it can incur, can fund only some of the applications it receives.

This year nearly 40 districts and about a dozen charter schools have submitted a total of more than 60 requests. Those bids total about $308 million in total project costs, including $228 million in state funds and $80 million in promised local matches.

The board’s staff is recommending spending up to $10 million in cash grants and a little more than $80 million for larger projects that are financed with debt.

The applications range from a $27,601 request the from Mountain Valley district in the San Luis Valley for security upgrades to a $37.4 million bid to build a new middle school in Fort Morgan.

Last year the board approved about $280 million worth of projects from a list that totaled about $440 million.

Smaller projects such as roof replacements, new boilers and security upgrades generally receive direct cash grants from the BEST program. Big-ticket projects – new schools and major renovations – are paid for through lease-purchase agreements. State and local funds are pooled to pay off those agreements, known technically as certificates of participation, over several years.

The BEST selection process is unique in that the construction board has a certain amount of discretion in making its recommendations and because it makes its decisions request-by-request in an open meeting, unlike the bureaucrats-in-an-office process that governs many grant programs. Applicants also are allowed to make brief in-person pitches to the board, in addition to the voluminous applications they filed months ago.

BEST applications are evaluated on a complicated set of criteria including building conditions and suitability for educational uses, cost and local financial ability to provide matches, among other factors. In some cases the board can adjust matching formulas.

The board’s decisions won’t be the last word on 2012-13 grants. The State Board of Education – and for the first time this year, the legislative Capital Development Committee – will review the construction board’s recommendations later this summer.

Surviving that selection process is only the first hurdle for successful applicants. Many school districts, especially smaller ones, require voter approval of bond issues to raise their local matches. The board selects alternate applications to be considered for awards in November if any of the finalists fail to pass bond issues.

The big requests

Here are the requests with project costs of $10 million or more:

Fort Morgan – $37.4 million to replace a middle school. State share 6.2 million.

Aurora – $31.5 million to replace Mrachek Middle School, including a $25.8 million state share.

Limon – $25 million to build a new PK-12 school in this eastern plains district. $17.7 million state share.

AXL Academy – $20.9 million to construct a new PK-8 building for this Aurora charter. State share $19.7 million.

South Conejos – $19.7 million to build a new PK-12 school for this San Luis Valley district. State share $14 million.

Moffat – $16.7 million for a replacement PK-12 school in this San Luis Valley district. State share $12.1 million.

Swallows Charter Academy – $15.2 million to construct a new PK-12 charter school in Pueblo. State share $10.5 million.

Creede – $14.5 million for a replacement K-12 school in this San Juan Mountains district, one of the most isolated in the state. State share $6.7 million.

Montrose – $14.2 million for a new middle school. State share $7.1 million.

Animas High School – $13.7 million for a new building for this charter school in Durango. State share $11.4 million.

Ross Montessori Charter – $12.9 million for a new building to house this Carbondale K-8 charter. The school was a 2012 finalist but was pulled off the list late in the year because its financing and land-purchase arrangements weren’t complete.

Edison – $10.8 million to renovate and expand the junior/senior high school in this plains district east of Colorado Springs. State share $10.5 million.

Kim – $10.6 million to renovate and add to the PK-12 school in this district south of La Junta. State share $7.9 million.

Independence Academy – $10 million to build a new K-8 charter school in Grand Junction. State share $8 million.

The construction board convenes the selection process at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Adams 12 Conference Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.


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.”