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.”

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.