Colorado

Monday Churn: Update on budget cuts

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The Colorado School Finance Project, which tracks K-12 spending and budgets, estimates that district cuts in the upcoming 2011-12 school year could be as high as $287 million. The project released its final report recently, after districts had completed their budgets ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The project’s two sets of numbers are samples and estimates, not a full data collection, but they give an overall idea of the situation.

Some 60 districts responded to a project questionnaire about budget plans. Those responses came up with a range of $191 to $211 million in cuts. Participating districts represent 60 percent of student enrollment statewide. (Read the report.)

The project also compiled a list from information reported in local news outlets. That survey found a range of total cuts from $274 to $287 million for 83 districts covering 90 percent of enrollment. The state has 178 districts. (Get full report and shorter summary.)

School finance legislation passed last spring cut $228 million from total program funding, which covers basic school operating costs from a combination of state and local revenues. (Another $67.5 million will be available to districts next year to partially compensate for enrollment growth and local revenue losses.) But, school districts have additional expenses, other sources of revenue and varying levels of reserves, so total program doesn’t necessarily reflect the full picture of cuts. (Total program funding is about $5.2 billion next year.)

Finally, the project culled questionnaire responses and news reports to spotlight budget trends. That document noted continued use of staff reductions, salary freezes and furlough days by districts. Other cost-cutting steps include increased class loads for teachers in upper grades, reduction of electives and other specialized classes, deferred building maintenance, outsourcing of some functions and higher fees for students and families. (See trend summary.)

A fourth candidate has emerged for the at-large seat on the Denver school board. Baker neighborhood resident John Daniel, 54, filed a statement of intent to run last week.

Daniel hasn’t run for office before and said his political experience consists of serving on the committee that successfully pushed in 2008 for passage of Initiative 100, which requires impounding of vehicles driven by undocumented immigrants. (That measure was repealed last week by the Denver City Council.)

If elected, Daniels said, he’d push to slash 10 percent of the DPS administrative budget, “putting it into teachers.”

Already running for the at-large seat are former City Council member and former DPS employee Happy Haynes, South High School social studies teacher Frank Deserino and Park Hill resident Roger Kilgore, a water resources engineer and consultant.

Good reads from elsewhere

Stack o’ pink slips: The Washington, D.C., schools on Friday fired 206 teachers for poor performance, about 5 percent of the teaching workforce. Most were let go because of unsatisfactory ratings in the district’s evaluation system, which includes meeting student growth targets on standardized tests and also uses multiple observation sessions. Some 75 teachers were let go in 2010, the first year the system was in use. Washington Post

Chiefs look for NCLB out: A group of state chief school officers are exploring ways to use their own accountability systems if Congress doesn’t overhaul the No Child Left Behind law this fall. Some state school leaders said recently that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has signaled he may be open to waivers of the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. New York Times

Education Week also has details on the waiver chatter.

Loans may be in the crosshairs: Mainstream media coverage doesn’t offer much detail on what specific budget cuts are being talked about in the deficit grudge match between President Obama and congressional Republicans. One interesting specific is a proposal, reportedly by conservative GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor, to require students to pay the interest their loans accrue while they’re enrolled in college. Inside Higher Education

AFT to the defense: Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told reporters recently that the union’s local affiliates will defend the rights of teachers caught up in test cheating scandals, including the mess in Atlanta. Weingarten hastened to add that the union doesn’t condone cheating. USA Today

The Churn is published periodically during the summer.

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.