The vote

Denver school board divided over vote to fill vacant seat, ballots show

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board president Anne Rowe.

More than 48 hours after the vote, Denver Public Schools officials on Thursday released vote tallies showing school board members were not united in the appointment of parent activist MiDian Holmes as the next board representative of northeast Denver.

Holmes got enough votes to be one of three finalists, then prevailed 4-2 in a second round of balloting, according to ballots obtained by Chalkbeat in an open records request.

Two board members cast ballots in that round for Jennifer Bacon, board chair of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, an activist group that has criticized some district policies. Bacon is an attorney who works for an organization that trains Teach for America alumni to become school leaders.

Former board president Happy Haynes, who holds an at-large seat, and southwest Denver representative Rosemary Rodriguez voted for Bacon. Board chair Anne Rowe, vice chair Barbara O’Brien and board members Lisa Flores and Mike Johnson backed Holmes, records show.

The disclosure in the past two days that Holmes was convicted for misdemeanor child abuse — and what she shared and didn’t share with district officials about it — put her appointment on shaky ground. (Note: Since publication of this story, Holmes has announced she would step aside and not accept the appointment).

Questions remain about how school district officials vetted the candidates, what they discovered in Holmes’ background check and what they told board members when.

After meeting behind closed doors with an attorney Thursday, the board scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the fate of the District 4 seat.

Also unclear is why district officials did not immediately release the results of Tuesday’s vote on the appointment, which under Colorado law cannot be conducted by secret ballot.

A Chalkbeat reporter immediately requested the vote results after Holmes was chosen. A district official advised that the reporter request the information under Colorado open records law.

The district responded on Thursday evening by providing copies of the ballots.

The vote should have been revealed when it was taken, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an alliance of journalists, organizations and individuals promoting transparency and open government. (Chalkbeat is a member).

“A reporter should not have to do an open records request for a vote that was taken in a public meeting,” Roberts said. “The fact they delayed giving this information is not a transparent way to operate.”

Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who specializes in open meetings law, said: “Public business is not supposed to be conducted in secret. Why not let people know at that time? Now you’ve got a controversial appointment. People ought to be able to know who voted for whom.”

DPS spokesman Will Jones said the delay in releasing the results was bureaucratic.

“Us holding on to the information doesn’t do any good,” he said. “… I have no desire not to give you what you want.”

That the board was split in the final round of balloting is significant given that the six members are united in support for DPS’s brand of school reform. Here are the round-by-round results:

ROUND ONE

Lisa Flores: Bacon, Rachele Espiritu
Happy Haynes: Bacon, Makisha Boothe
Mike Johnson: Holmes, Espiritu
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes, Dexter Korto
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon, Boothe
Anne Rowe: Holmes, Espiritu

ROUND TWO

Lisa Flores: Holmes
Happy Haynes: Bacon
Mike Johnson: Holmes
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon
Anne Rowe: Holmes

Chalkbeat deputy bureau chief Nicholas Garcia contributed information to this report.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

'a bit stuck'

Impasse declared in Denver teacher contract negotiations, prompting criticism from union

PHOTO: Marissa Page
Teachers watch a bargaining session between Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union on June 22.

For the first time in recent history, Denver Public Schools has declared an impasse in ongoing negotiations with the teachers union over a contract governing teacher pay, workload and more.

The declaration means the two sides, which have been bargaining since January, will continue negotiations but with the aid of a mediator. In the past, DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have mutually agreed to mediation without one side having to call an impasse to trigger it, said DPS deputy general counsel and lead negotiator Michelle Berge.

But this year, the union refused. DCTA wanted to keep negotiations as public as possible and avoid private meetings with mediators, said DCTA deputy executive director Corey Kern.

In 2014, Colorado voters approved a change to state law that requires contract negotiations between school districts and employee groups to be open to the public. The Denver teachers union has been taking advantage of the public sessions, inviting teachers to attend and talk to negotiators about their experiences and how various proposals would affect them.

Union leaders see the impasse as a way to silence that voice. Their belief stems in part from the fact that the district wants to use a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which helps resolve collective bargaining disputes free of charge.

Although the bargaining sessions would still be public, the mediator could meet with each side separately in private to help them craft proposals, a spokesman for the service said.

That’s not true public bargaining, Kern said.

He said it’s been DCTA’s experience that “the two parties spend most of the time in two rooms apart and the mediator is shuttling back and forth between those two rooms and talking about issues without the public present.” The two sides’ proposals would be shared publicly, but the public would miss out on hearing the thought processes behind them, Kern said.

Even though the district had requested several times to move to mutually agreed-upon mediation, Kern said DCTA was “blindsided” by the impasse declaration a day after a bargaining session that the union felt was productive.

Berge said the district decided to call an impasse because “a number of challenging issues remain where we’re a bit stuck.” Those issues include how much teachers should be paid, the benefits they receive and how they should be evaluated.

The hope, Berge said, is that a mediator will help the two sides find common ground. The mediator DPS wants to use is someone whom the district and union have worked with before.

“Those of us who are involved, we are deep in on this,” Berge said. “Sometimes we’re emotional. It’s tough stuff. A mediator is an independent person who can step above that.”

The current teachers contract expires Aug. 31. The two sides are scheduled to meet again July 24 at McKinley-Thatcher Elementary School in Denver. There are two bargaining sessions set for late July and five scheduled for early and mid-August.

feedback

Tennessee’s ESSA plan gets solid marks in independent review

PHOTO: Amanda Lucidon/The White House
President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015, surrounded by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and other champions and supporters of the new law.

Tennessee’s proposed plan for school accountability rates strong on measuring academic progress, but weak on counting all kids, according to an independent review released Tuesday by two education groups.

For the most part, the state landed in the upper middle of an analysis spearheaded by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success.

Their panel of reviewers looked into components of state plans  ranging from academic standards to supporting schools under the new federal education law.

“Tennessee has submitted a very solid plan for which they should be proud,” said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. “Their ideas for ensuring academic progress and supporting schools are exemplary. We hope that other states will look for ways to incorporate these best practices.”

The groups brought together education experts with a range of political viewpoints and backgrounds to analyze 17 state plans submitted this spring to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Calling Tennessee’s plan “robust, transparent and comprehensive,” the review praised its “clear vision for reform” and its design of “district and school accountability systems that rely on high-quality indicators.”

The state received the highest rating possible for its proposal for tracking academic progress.

“Tennessee’s plan clearly values both growth and proficiency,” the review says. “Every school, even high-achieving ones, have growth and proficiency targets, and even the growth measure tracks student progress toward grade-level standards.”

The state’s lowest rating — a 2 out of a possible 5 — was for how Tennessee plans to identify and rate schools in need of targeted support for certain groups of students. Reviewers questioned whether the state’s system might mask the performance of some by proposing to combine the scores of black, Hispanic and Native American students into one subgroup.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Tennessee is committed to supporting all students, especially those in historically underserved groups.

“When we say ‘all means all,’ that means much more than just accountability for subgroup performance,” McQueen said in a statement on the eve of the review’s release.

“The state’s accountability framework is designed to hold as many schools accountable for subgroup performance as possible while maintaining statistical reliability and validity, and it provides safeguards to ensure student information is protected,” she said. “In schools where there are a smaller number of students from a specific racial or ethnic category, we are combining them into one group. In doing so, we are actually able to hold schools accountable for more students — more than 43,000 black, Hispanic, and Native American students would be excluded from subgroup accountability if we did not use the combined subgroup.”

Congress passed ESSA in 2015 as a bipartisan law co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former U.S. secretary of education. Signed by President Barack Obama, the law ended the No Child Left Behind era and redirected education policy back to the states.

States have since been working on their accountability plans, and Tennessee was among the first to submit a proposal. The state is now awaiting approval by the U.S. Department of Education, which would make it eligible for receiving federal funds.

For a breakdown of analysis on state plans including Tennessee’s, visit Check State Plans, an interactive website that spotlights the best elements of ESSA plans and those that fall short.