Who Is In Charge

JBC tosses around touchy scenarios

Closing colleges or privatizing universities are radioactive issues that Colorado legislators don’t much like to talk about, but the Joint Budget Committee members and others were forced to do just that on Wednesday.

They learned closing colleges could save less than you might think, and letting universities go private would require breathtaking tuition hikes.

Scenarios for those two things were part of a briefing paper presented to the committee during a hearing that formally opened JBC consideration of state higher education spending in 2010-11, one of the many very tough issues lawmakers face in trying to balance that budget.

CapJBCLogos111809Spending on colleges and universities, neither partially protected like K-12 funding nor mandated like Medicaid and some other state-federal programs, took a beating during the recession at the start of the decade and has taken an even harder blow during the current downturn.

The higher ed budget is being held together with federal stimulus funds, but those run out after the 2010-11 budget year.

Here’s a little budget history:

  • In 2008-09 state colleges received about $555 million in state tax funds, $151 million in stimulus money and $1.2 billion in tuition revenue.
  • For the current 2009-10 budget, declining state revenues have forced Gov. Bill Ritter to propose trimming state tax support in the middle of the year to about $330 million and backfilling with $376 million in federal money. (Tuition revenue is roughly $1.3 billion.)
  • In 2010-11, conditions in the stimulus law will require the state to take tax support back up to $555 million, but there will be only about $95 million left in stimulus cash. Overall higher ed spending would remain stable at about $1.9 billion, but only with the help of yet another 9 percent tuition increase.

Eric Kurtz, the JBC staff analyst who handles higher ed, outlined those familiar figures and tough choices during the two-hour briefing Wednesday afternoon.

But things got more interesting when he turned to four “briefing issues” – closing colleges, privatizing universities, proportional cuts to all colleges and eliminating the $8.2 million in financial aid given to students who attend private Colorado colleges and trade schools. (JBC staff analysts regularly give the committee such background on budget alternatives for information and discussion, not necessarily as recommendations.)

Kurtz wrote a closing scenario that used Northeastern Junior College in Sterling as an example, and he built his privatization scenario around the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Closing and privatization are possibilities that sometimes are mentioned around the Capitol but which to date haven’t been discussed seriously because of their political sensitivity.

Such sensitivity was clearly on display Wednesday as lawmakers reacted to Kurtz’ scenarios.

“I think we need to close two or three four-year institutions,” said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. He warned that starvation budgets could threaten the accreditation of major campuses. “If we want to defend the accreditation of some of our larger institutions, which smaller institutions do we close?”

Romer suggested the JBC hire a consultant to study every state college, one by one, and examine the budgetary and economic implications of closure.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, piped up that the same sort of triage should be done for all state agencies.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, warned, “We also have to consider the ripple economic effect. For some communities their community college is the major employer.” (Romer, McNulty and Court were among several non-JBC members who sat in on the briefing.)

JBC Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, seemed uncomfortable with the whole discussion, saying, “For the record, I don’t know of any proposal to close any college.”

“This is a dead serious conversation,” Romer replied. “We’re at the tipping point where these decisions have to be made.”

“Sen. Romer, let’s take this discussion up later,” Pommer said.

(Pommer earlier had joked with Kurtz, saying that next time he created such a scenario it should perhaps be for a fictional institution, like “Mars Community College.”)

Here’s a brief rundown on Kurtz’ two scenarios. (Use the link below to read his full analyses.)

Closure – Northeastern Junior College: Kurtz said he chose the college as an example because it has a relatively high cost per student. Direct state support is now about $4.5 million a year (not counting the federal aid). But, if even 40 percent of students went to another state college and drew support there, the savings would be reduced, plus the state would have to pick up Northeastern’s debt. Net savings would be only about $2.4 million, Kurtz calculated. And, that doesn’t include the loss of tax revenue from out-of-work college employees and broader losses to the economy in northeastern Colorado. Northeastern is the third largest employer in the region.

(One interesting sidelight to Kurtz’ report was his comment that Northeastern students could drive 40 minutes to Sidney, Neb., and find cheaper tuition at the community college there – even as non-residents – than they pay in Colorado.)

Privatization – CU-Boulder: Kurtz calculated that the campus could replace state tax support (but not federal stimulus money) and “go private” in just two years – but doing so would require 18 percent tuition increases for Colorado students in each of those years.

Tuition hikes would have to rise to 22.5 percent a year if CU followed current state policy and set aside 20 percent of new tuition revenue for increased financial aid.

Boulder is the campus most frequently mentioned when privatization comes up. Most recently the idea was kicked around in a legislative study committee last summer. The idea was quickly pooh-poohed by CU President Bruce Benson and committee chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, a staunch CU supporter.

Department of Higher Education officials will appear before the JBC at another hearing in early December to answer budget questions.

Read the full briefing paper

  • Closing colleges scenario – page 23
  • Privatization scenario – page 27
  • Proportional reductions scenario – page 31
  • Cutting financial aid for students at private colleges scenario – page 34

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

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

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”