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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Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”