From the Statehouse

DPS-PERA merger a done deal

Monday May 4 update

The bill to merge the Denver Public Schools Retirement System into the state Public Employees’ Retirement Association was approved by a 51-14 House vote Monday morning.

Since there were no House amendments, the bill now goes to the governor.

Text of Friday May 1 story follows

The proposed merger of the Denver Public Schools Retirement System into the statewide Public Employees’ Retirement Association received preliminary House approval late Friday morning.

Some Republicans expressed concern that the merger will leave taxpayers statewide on the hook for under funded big-city pensions, and that perhaps the larger problems of PERA should be addressed first.

The bill contains guarantees that DPS will remain solely responsible for the $800 million on debt it acquired in the past to strengthen its pension system.

The recession has severely dented the reserves of both PERA and DPS. PERA officials are preparing an analysis of the system for presentation to lawmakers next fall, along with recommendations for reform. Many experts believe the current system is “unsustainable” and that contribution increases, benefit cuts and other major changes have to be made in public employee pensions.

Denver is the only school district in the state with its own pension plan; employees of all other districts belong to a schools section within PERA. They’ve been several abortive attempts to merge the plans, driven by the problem that the separation makes it unattractive for many Denver teachers to move to other districts or for mid-career teachers to move into DPS, because benefits can’t be transferred.

DPS leaders feel that makes it even harder for them to get good teachers into struggling schools.

The Denver plan is better funded than the state plan, but Denver spends a relatively high amount per teacher on pensions.

The key element of SB 09-282 brings Denver retirees and teachers into PERA as a separate unit. An important amendment added in the Senate Finance Committee specifies that neither DPS nor PERA will be liable for the other’s prior liabilities.

In addition to providing pension portability for teachers who move in and out of DPS, supports say the merger will provide operating efficiencies, give DPS retirees a better health plan and benefit from bringing non-teaching DPS workers into the system.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.