Who Is In Charge

Highed ed flex bill dies

Senate Bill 09-295, the higher education financial flexibility bill, died in the Colorado Senate Wednesday on the last day of the 2007 legislative session. What killed it was a House provision that would have given community and four-year colleges the ability to seek local property and sales taxes.

The proposal started out in a much more ambitious form that would have given colleges control over their tuition rates and state financial aid for their students, perhaps setting the higher education system on a path toward more expensive tuition for all students but additional financial aid for needy students.

The bill was introduced late in the session, and lawmakers weren’t ready for such a major policy change on such short notice. Gov. Bill Ritter also opposed it. Those sections were quickly dropped from the measure, leaving it only with provisions to give colleges some exemptions from state financial rules, streamline the approval process for construction projects colleges fund with their own money and greater flexibility for enrolling foreign students, who pay higher, non-resident tuition.

The bill got interesting again on Monday, when the House added to SB 09-295 the language of another higher ed financial bill that had been killed in a Senate committee last Friday.

That measure, House Bill 09-1362, was intended to allow community and four-year colleges to partner with local governments and seek voter approval for sales or property taxes that would help support the colleges. (The bill was killed in the Senate because the bill threatened to get way too complicated because other sectors of higher ed were trying to horn in on the action.)

When SB 09-295 came back up in the Senate late Wednesday afternoon, it quickly become clear that House amendment had opposition.

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village and a former CU regent, moved that the Senate stick with its original version.

“This will not include any of the research institutions,” complained Schwartz, a reliable defender of CU. (Colorado higher education is in such dire financial straits that colleges scrap for every dollar.)

The Senate voted 18-17 to reject House amendments, effectively killing the bill because there was no time on the session’s last day for a conference committee. Schwartz and four other Democrats joined all Republicans to successfully pass her motion.

Senate President Pro Tempore Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood and the bill’s sponsor, tried to change some minds for reconsideration but was unsuccessful.

The House had given 63-2 approval to SB 09-295 Wednesday morning.

The Senate earlier had agreed to House amendments and unanimously repassed Senate Bill 09-290, which contains the same changes in the college construction approval process as SB 09-295 did. Members of the Capital Development Committee intended SB 09-290 as a backup in case SB 09-295 failed, and it turned out they were wise to do that.

Senate Bill 09-226, the food allergy bill, also crossed the legislative finish line on Wednesday. The Senate voted 25-10 for the amended version. The House approved the bill Tuesday.

The original bill would have required the State Board of Education and local school boards to adopt policies on caring for students with food allergies, training of school staff and provision of anti-reaction devices in schools. The bill was much amended, and as it ended up primarily applies existing state law regarding asthmatic children to students with food allergies. As amended, the bill will have the SBE issue guidelines.

Some of the last day’s longest debate in both houses was focused on House Bill 09-1366, which would change state law on taxation of capital gains and raise an estimated $7.1 million this fiscal year and $15.8 million next year.

The House passed it 37-28 and the Senate 21-14.

While the bill doesn’t directly affect education now, it could be the forerunner of similar bills to come in 2010 that might provide revenue for schools and colleges.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, touts this as the first in a series of tax bills the legislature could pass without voter ratification, in keeping with a recent state supreme court decision. Romer estimates there are up to $3 billion in tax breaks that could be ended in order to raise state revenues.

Also Wednesday, a common version of Senate Bill 09-285 finally was passed. This is the measure that would include career and technical education programs in the new statewide dual enrollment bill created by House Bill 09-1319, which passed on Tuesday.

In other action

Even though everyone was anxious to go home, the Senate spent 20 minutes debating Senate Joint Resolution 09-050, which would have required every legislator to attend a certain number of Joint Budget Committee meetings.

There’s been a lot of grousing this year – at least by Republicans – about the JBC. Chair Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, thinks the rest of the legislature just doesn’t understand what the committee does and that it would be helpful if the other 94 members had to watch the process. The debate mostly picked a lot of old scabs about the JBC.

The resolution failed on a 16-19 vote.

The Senate did approve three other resolutions: HJR 09-1025, creating an interim committee on school safety; SJR 09-044, creating an interim committee to study school safety, and SJR 09-056, the purely ceremonial resolution touting why Colorado’s education reform achievements make the state a good candidate for Race to the Top funds.

Lawmakers did not take up Gov. Bill Ritter’s veto of a footnote in Senate Bill 09-259, the 2009-10 long appropriations bill. The footnote would have allowed state colleges and universities, under a certain combination of financial circumstances, to raise 2009-10 tuition more than 9 percent. As it stands without the footnote, 9 percent is the ceiling for tuition hikes, although community colleges and four-year schools are likely to approve lower increases.

(In case you’re wondering why so much of this story is about the Senate, that’s because the House was much more efficient about it last-day work and spent much of the day in recess waiting for the Senate to catch up.)

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.