Who Is In Charge

Now it’s education’s turn for cuts

More than $260 million, nearly 4.6 percent, would be cut from state total program support for K-12 schools under the 2010-11 budget unveiled by Gov. Bill Ritter on Friday.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter discusses his proposed 2010-11 budget on Nov. 6, 2009.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter discusses his proposed 2010-11 budget on Nov. 6, 2009.

The state’s higher education system would see a decline in state and federal stimulus support from the current $706 million to $650 million. But, total college and university spending would grow slightly to about $1.98 billion, because the governor is proposing another 9 percent tuition increase for Colorado resident students.

Support for K-12 largely has been shielded from cuts during previous slashing of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 state budgets. College and university spending has been held to stand-pat levels only with the help of federal stimulus funds.

The legislature is expected to cut $110 million from current K-12 spending after it convenes in January. If that cut is made, the base would be reduced and Ritter’s new cuts would net out to about $150 million.

With state revenue projections continuing to drop and stimulus money due to run out in 2011, the administration has been forced to propose cuts, transfers and revenue increases to cover a shortfall in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The governor’s K-12 and higher ed spending plans set the stage for extensive debate and hard bargaining over the meaning of Amendment 23, the constitutional formula that drives state school spending, and over whether college and university boards should be given greater financial freedom to manage their campuses.

Cuts in K-12 support could translate into larger class sizes, job losses, frozen salaries and other unpleasant economies at schools across the state.

Overall, Ritter is proposing $7.1 billion in state general fund spending in 2010-11, down from about $7.5 billion this year. (The grand total of annual state spending is in the $19 billion range, including federal, cash and other funds.)

The governor also is suggesting that the legislature end 13 tax exemptions and credits to raise nearly $132 million in new revenue. Those could be controversial with lawmakers, particularly a plan to raise $15 million by charging sales taxes on candy and soft drinks. Those proposals also are expected to spark a debate over whether the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and subsequent court interpretations allow the legislature to make such changes.

The governor proposes, but the legislature has the final word on the state budget. The Joint Budget Committee will hold budget hearings this month and next, and a new revenue forecast in late December could change the picture. The final budget won’t be adopted until next April, after March revenue forecasts are issued.

What they’re saying

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards: “When you look at the overall picture, this is a fairly modest cut.” She said CASB has been telling school boards to plan their budgets for three levels of cuts – 4, 6 and 8 percent. “This is just the first chapter; we’re a long way from knowing what the full picture is … there are so many things that can happen between now and April.”

She added, “I’m surprised it’s not 6 percent. The governor’s done the best he can do. … It’s going to be a real battle once it hits the General Assembly.” Urschel predicted any challenge to the budget on Amendment 23 grounds wouldn’t come until later, “when things shake out.” She added CASB still is telling school boards to plan for larger cuts.

Karen Wick, lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association: She was diplomatic in her response, saying it’s important to consider what the voters’ intent was when passing Amendment 23 and that the better way to deal with the budget crisis is by looking “at those tax loopholes.” CEA is part of a coalition that’s lobbying the legislature to not make the $110 million 2009-10 cut.

Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives: He said the “unsettling” thing to him about the plan is the tax exemptions. “If those don’t pass the cuts to K-12 could grow.” Calling the plan “an unprecedented cut,” Caughey said, “We’re going in the wrong direction completely … and we’re not addressing the constitutional problem that’s limiting our ability to fund our schools adequately.”

If Amendment 23 was supposed to be a floor for education spending, Caughey said, “Now there’s a big hole in the floor.”


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.”