Who Is In Charge

Fiscal panel starts to make choices

The statehouse commission assigned to study the state’s uncertain financial future is being asked to recommend – two more studies.

CapFiscalStab101509Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder and chair of the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission, asked members Thursday for their support of three measures he wants considered by the 2010 legislature. They are:

• Creation of a 23-member appointed commission to review the conflicting financial provisions in the state’s constitution. Under Heath’s plan, the legislature would have to submit creation of the commission to the voters in November 2010. If voters approved the panel, it would study the issue and could submit proposed changes directly to the voters in 2012. “We have all of these issues out there, and I don’t think in the framework of the legislature we can solve them,” Heath said. “It would create a third way to amend the constitution.”

(A loose coalition of civic groups already is working on a possible fiscal fix for submission to voters in 2011.)

• A resolution through which the legislature would create a privately funded expert panel to study the state’s entire tax system. The panel would report back to the legislature with recommendations by the beginning of 2011 “so the legislature can deal with those issues and put something on the 2011 ballot.” Heath estimated the cost at $1 to $1.5 million.

• A bill that would give state colleges and universities greater flexibility in how they spend their budgets. “That bill is being worked on … I can’t be as specific as I can be on the others,” Heath said. “It doesn’t, I guess, give them all the freedom they want.” For example, Heath said, he hasn’t decided whether to include college flexibility to set tuition rates. “I’m struggling with that, frankly.”

The committee is on a tight deadline. It doesn’t meet again until Nov. 4 and 5, but the five bills it’s allowed to propose have to be sent to members of the Legislature Council on Nov. 6. Only the commission’s six legislator members are allowed to vote on bills.

Thursday those lawmakers voted 4-2 (Dems vs. GOP) to have Heath’s fiscal reform idea drafted and 6-0 for drafting of the tax study and higher education flexibility measures.

The lawmakers also agreed unanimously to have these other ideas drafted as possible bills: Rainy day fund legislation, creation of dedicated funding sources for state building maintenance and highways, establishment of an office of regulatory reform and elimination of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. (That last one was suggested by citizen commissioner Kirvin Knox, a retired CSU administrator.)

The legislator members will vote at the next meeting on which bills to forward to legislative leaders.

The commission was created by the 2009 legislature – after a fair amount of partisan wrangling – and has spent nine previous day-long meetings listening to hours of number-filled testimony by state agency heads, economists and advocates.

As part of that fact-finding process, state agency heads were asked to estimate their “ideal” budgets. Commission staffers toted up those wish lists and told the committee Thursday that the “ideal” state budget would be about $27 billion a year, compared to about $18.5 billion now.

Also Thursday, commission members finally got the chance to speak individually.

While the comments highlighted some of the ideological differences among commission members, they also reflected at least some broad agreement on issues like the need for a state rainy day fund, better support of higher education, studying the state’s tax system and being more strategic and results-oriented about state spending.

Here are some snippets of what members said, in the order they spoke:

Carol Boigon, Denver City Council member – “We want a lot of things and we don’t want to pay for them. We are delivering less than our people want … but frankly more than we can pay for right now.”

Amy Oliver Cooke, conservative talk shøw host – “The numbers are seriously dizzying. … I do disagree that more money automatically means better services … the question is how we spend it.”

Renny Fagan, CEO Colorado Non-profit Association – “Our path is unsustainable unless we make significant changes. … Our revenue system is inadequate and constitutional conflicts need to be fixed. … In the end those two issues will be resolved by the voters.”

Marty Neilson, president Colorado Union of Taxpayers – “We need to think about cutting spending. …I thank God every morning and I thank Douglas Bruce for TABOR.”

Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner –  “Much of the current funding crisis will resolve itself as the economy comes back,” but the legislature needs more flexibility, and the state tax code needs a thorough review.

Knox – “We don’t have enough resources to do the things we need. … I do think we need to do a tax study.”

Timothy Hume, Walsh rancher and banker – “We should continue to be a low-tax state, but we also can’t continue on the path we’re on. There is a middle ground.”

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen – “I really am concerned about spending our children’s future.”

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver – “We really have to understand what the people of this state truly want. … I truly believe we do not have the revenue in this state for what the people think they want.”

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray – “I believe the amount of money we will be allowed to spend … is an adequate amount of revenue to fund the core functions of government over the long run.”

Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs – “For the past 30 years we’ve had a really condescending view of government … we constantly lose sight of how government benefits us. … Government does an awful lot right.”

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, vice chair – “At the end of the day we have to have a discussion about the amount of revenue we have in this state.”

Heath – “It’s absolutely inconceivable to me that we have one of the richest states … and not be able to provide for our citizens.”

Unable to attend Thursday’s meeting were citizen members Jonathan Coors, government relations director of CoorsTek;  Donna Lynn, president of Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and Cris White, COO of the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

Use this link for a directory of stories that includes reports on past commission meetings.

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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: