Who Is In Charge

Higher education funding boost goes to governor

The proposed $100 million increase in higher education funding is returning to the place where the plan started – the governor’s office.

The House Friday voted 48-16 for final passage of Senate Bill 14-001 – what’s called the College Affordability Act.

The bill will provide $60 million in additional direct funding for state colleges and universities in 2014-15, an 11 percent increase over this year’s budget. The measure also increases funding for state financial aid programs by $40 million, a 42 percent jump. That includes $5 million for state merit-based financial aid, something that hasn’t existed for several years.

SB 14-001 also would cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two school years, the feature of the bill that lawmakers most like to tout. (Current law allows tuition hikes of up to 9 percent – and colleges can seek permission for larger increases from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.)

The idea originated with the Hickenlooper administration, which included the funding plan in the budget it submitted last November. Democratic legislative leaders liked the idea so much they picked it up as a separate bill that became the first measure introduced in the Senate. (Higher education funding – both cuts and increases – has been just a part of the main state budget bill in past years.)

The governor’s original plan included only a gentlemen’s agreement with college trustees that they wouldn’t raise tuition by more than 6 percent next year. Lawmakers, counting on the political appeal of appearing tough on tuition, amended the hard two-year cap into the bill.

Higher education took significant funding cuts during the last two recessions, forcing trustees to raise tuition, which on average provides about 75 percent of college revenues.

The tuition cap prompted a warning on the floor from Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. She said the cap “is going to starve colleges and universities” because it reduces their future flexibility to respond to swings in state support.

The only other bill to fully clear the legislature Friday was House Bill 14-1287, which allows use of some Building Excellent Schools Today funds for schools damaged by declared natural disasters. The Senate voted final approval of the bill, and it goes to the governor because there were no Senate amendments.

The House passed Senate Bill 14-150 on a 38-26 vote. This is the measure that would double Colorado Counselor Corps funding to $10 million a year. The Senate will have to consider minor House amendments.

Three House bills passed Friday and move to the Senate. They are:

  • House Bill 14-1385, which would create an awards program – with trophies – for high schools that show the greatest academic growth every year in their football conferences. 64-0
  • House Bill 14-1376, which would require the Department of Education to create a data system that correlates placement of high school students in classes with their test scores. The idea is to gain more information about how minority and at-risk students are placed in different levels of classes. 37-27
  • House Bill 14-1382, commissioning a study of how multi-district online schools are authorized and overseen. 38-26

Another step on funding bills

The Senate Appropriations Committee Friday morning passed the session’s two significant K-12 funding bills with some important amendments.

The disputed financial transparency section of House Bill 14-1292 was softened less than 24 hours after the House Finance Committee tightened it. (See this story for what finance did and what this dispute is all about.) The appropriations amendment passed 5-2, and the bill passed 7-0.

“I think this actually a step backward,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the prime sponsor of HB 14-1292.

Appropriations approved two notable amendments to House Bill 14-1298, the school finance act. Members removed a proposed sweep of 2014-15 state surpluses into the State Education Fund and added $300,000 in spending for integration of early childhood student data into the state’s K-12 data system. (A separate bill proposing that died earlier in the session.)

Neither bill came up for Senate floor consideration later in the day, leaving those big debates for next week.

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.”