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.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.