attempt at compromise

Denver school board approves new DSST building on shared campus, pledges support for Northfield High

PHOTO: Ann Schimke
Northfield High School opened in fall 2015 with about 200 freshmen.

The Denver school board unanimously voted Thursday to place a charter school on the same campus as year-old Northfield High School over the objections of some Northfield parents and students, but not without making specific promises to support the school.

Charter high school DSST: Conservatory Green will be located in a separate building from Northfield on the Paul Sandoval Campus in northeast Denver starting in the fall of 2018. The school will open in the fall of 2017 in a temporary space on the nearby Samsonite campus while a new, 500-student building is built for it on the Paul Sandoval Campus.

“The driving goal, at least the lens I’m looking through, is how can we place good bets on things that have good track records of working so that more parents and more students have the opportunity to participate in them?” board member Barbara O’Brien said.

By placing a link in the high-performing DSST charter chain on the same campus as Northfield High, “we’re almost guaranteeing” that more students will have a high-quality option, she said.

Northfield High is the district’s first new comprehensive high school in more than three decades. The school’s vision is to serve a diverse student population, offering every student the opportunity to participate in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.

In making the move, the board made a number of pledges to vocal Northfield parents, many of them from Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood. A separate resolution, also passed unanimously, says Denver Public Schools will do several things to address parents’ concerns, including:

— Review enrollment at Northfield High in the spring of each year through 2019 and expand the school as necessary to meet the enrollment commitments.

— Add a new parking lot with at least 100 parking spaces by fall 2017, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as construction permit delays.

— Work with Northfield High to create a library that meets the International Baccalaureate authorization standards no later than fall 2018.

— Fund and build a full-service cafeteria to serve all students on the Paul Sandoval Campus — and renovate the temporary cafeteria into additional classroom or office space — by fall 2018.

— Continue to explore options for adding athletic features on the Paul Sandoval Campus commensurate with campus enrollment and funding availability.

— Provide the staff time and funding required for Northfield High’s application to be certified as an International Baccalaureate school.

— Guarantee every student in the boundary a seat at Northfield High, making available at least 35 percent of seats to families in surrounding neighborhoods.

— Provide marketing and recruitment support to Northfield High leadership.

— Provide appropriate shared campus support based upon campus enrollment to promote a positive working relationship with all schools on the Paul Sandoval Campus.

Board members said it’s rare for the board to make such specific promises to a school but they hoped it assured the community that DPS is committed to making Northfield a success.

The new, $22.4 million building for DSST will be funded with money from the $572 million bond issue approved last month by Denver voters. Parents and students from Northfield High took issue with that use of funds, saying they believed the 500 extra seats promised in the bond proposal would go toward expanding Northfield High, which serves just freshmen and sophomores this year and will expand to serve juniors and seniors over the next two years.

The district’s website contributed to the confusion. Until recently, a DPS webpage showing the projects proposed for “Northfield High School at Paul Sandoval Campus” under the 2016 bond said “addition of 500 seats at the Paul Sandoval Campus.”

The words “Northfield High School” have been removed from the page so it now simply says “Paul Sandoval Campus.” Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones said he requested the change after a parent pointed out that the original wording was misleading.

But some parents were still upset. If we can’t trust DPS to provide us with accurate information about the bond, parent Dipti Nevrekar asked, “how can we trust you with our children?”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg apologized for the wording on the website.

Northfield High sophomore Jack Seward also addressed the board. He said some students are concerned that putting a DSST on the campus will “hinder” Northfield High’s growth and asked the board to “carefully consider” the implications of doing so.

But board members repeated the district’s pledge to build more seats for Northfield when necessary. DPS officials said they anticipate asking voters to approve another bond issue in 2020, which would build out the last 500 seats at the high school. The district expects Northfield serve 1,200 to 1,500 students over time — and possibly up to 2,000 students by 2030.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Dipti Nevrekar’s name.

Detroit

Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent

 

Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”