Who Is In Charge

‘Ideal’ system would cost billions more

Funding an “ideal” K-12 education system could cost nearly $9 billion a year, compared to the $6.1 billion currently spent.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and education Commission Dwight Jones confer before start of meeting.
Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and education Commission Dwight Jones confer before start of meeting.

That’s what Department of Education officials told the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission Thursday.

The panel devoted much of its meeting to a discussion of school finance. Among other things, the group had asked CDE to provide an estimate of what an “ideal” system would cost.

The answer was about $2.8 billion a year more than the approximately $6.1 billion spent from state aid, federal grants and local property taxes.

What makes up that $2.8 billion? Here’s how Vody Herrmann, CDE school finance director, broke it down, if it were in place for the current school year:

  • $1.2 billion – Bring current spending to national per-pupil average.
  • $269.5 million – Raise teacher salaries to national average.
  • $151 million – Institute full-day kindergarten for all students.
  • $174.6 million – Provide half-day preschool for all 4-year-olds.
  • $123.8 million – Pay for dual high school/college enrollment for one-third of 12th graders.
  • $1.13 billion – Increase time in school by 20 percent.
  • $74.6 million – Hike in categorical spending required by increased school time. (Categoricals are funds earmarked for transportation, special education and other specific programs.)
  • $65.1 million – Extra kindergarten and preschool costs required by increased school time.

“We know $2.8 billion in this environment is … pie in the sky,” said commission chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. But, he asked education Commissioner Dwight Jones to comment on what he thought about the “ideal” system.

Heath’s reference to the environment meant the state’s continuing revenue and budget crisis probably will mean state aid to school districts will be trimmed nearly 2 percent in the current, 2009-10 budget year, according to CDE.

Noting carefully that the commission had asked CDE to develop the estimate, Jones said, “In no way is this a budget I’m suggesting or a dollar amount I’m recommending.”

But, he went on to make these comments about specific ideas:

  • Teacher pay: “A quality teacher makes a significant difference. … We also know we have to stay competitive in the state in terms of teacher salaries.”
  • Longer school days and years: “We’d be asleep at the wheel” to ignore growing national discussions about this idea. But, Jones said, “Time alone does not guarantee you anything. … It’s how we shape that day.”
  • Preschool and kindergarten: At-risk kids particularly need “that solid foundation,” Jones said, adding, “Kids need to on grade level [in reading] by 1st grade.”
  • Dual enrollment: Referring to high school dropout rates and college attendance rates, Jones noted, “I would say right now we’re not doing that very well.”

“Those are big ideas that we really have to grapple with … in some cases it is going to take more money; it is going to take more time,” Jones said.

The commission is trying to come up with proposals to better ensure the long-term stability of state finances, which have been battered by the recession and by Colorado’s conflicting constitutional provisions.

The panel is in the middle of lengthy briefings and discussions about the big-ticket areas of state spending – K-12, transportation, corrections, health care and higher education, which is on Friday’s commission agenda.

There are six legislators and 10 citizen members on the commission. The citizen members range across the ideological spectrum, and some observers have low expectations about what agreements the commission can reach.

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newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: