Who Is In Charge

Quick action urged on K-12 cuts

Lawmakers need to act quickly next year to make necessary cuts in state school aid, an analyst suggested Thursday to the Joint Budget Committee – and a host of other legislators.

CapCDEBud120309The six-member JBC held its first staff briefing on proposed aid to K-12 schools for 2010-11, spending that’s threatened by the state’s fiscal crisis. The panel was joined by a dozen current or past members of the House and Senate education committees, who peppered JBC staff with questions and at times dominated the discussion.

Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed cutting nearly $300 million – basically a 6.1 percent across-the-board cut to all school districts – from the amount that state support would otherwise total in 2010-11 if school finance formulas were applied in the normal fashion. Total state and local school support is about $5.7 billion.

School aid grew 4.9 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10 because of the provisions of Amendment 23, which requires the annual amount of aid to grow by inflation, enrollment growth and a 1 percent bonus.

The A23 formula traditionally has been used with virtually  all parts of state school aid, but Ritter is proposing it be applied only to what’s called “base” funding. Other multipliers known as the “factors,” used to equalize funding among districts relative to their costs, would be cut.

Some interests, primarily the Colorado Education Association, have raised alarms that such a move would be unconstitutional. But, many others in state government and the education community seem resigned to such a move. There wasn’t a peep about the constitutional questions during Thursday morning’s briefing.

JBC analyst Carolyn Kampman, in both her testimony and her briefing paper, told the committee that lawmakers need to act quickly on two issues next year so that school districts have adequate time to plan for cuts.

First, the legislature faces a Jan. 29, 2010, deadline to pull back $110 million in the current 2009-10 budget. School districts were told last spring not to spend their shares of that money until the 2010 legislature decided whether it needed it back.

“It’s a very short time frame to get a supplemental [a mid-year budget adjustment] passed,” she warned. “I think that the rescission should be higher, but that would be hard for districts.”

Referring to Ritter’s proposed cuts, Kampman’s briefing paper said, “If the Joint Budget Committee intends to include this proposal as part of its budget balancing plan for the General Assembly’s consideration, the committee should discuss this plan with leadership and members of the education committees to ensure that the necessary statutory changes can be enacted in a timely matter.”

Kampman said Ritter’s plan would require changes in school finance law. She also said, “You’re going to need to pass [the governor’s plan] unless someone else has a really good idea.”

Fretting about future financial demands

Analyst Bernie Gallagher, who teams with Kampman on education issues, briefed lawmakers on some of the potential costs of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the 2008 law that created a multi-year program of new content standards, new statewide tests, greater alignment of K-12 and higher education and other reforms.

The full program is a few years away from having an impact in the state’s classrooms, and an outside study of what it might cost has only just started and won’t be finished until the autumn of 2011.

Gallagher noted that the Department of Education has guesstimated that creation of a new, more sophisticated online testing system could cost up to $80 million, and that raised some lawmaker eyebrows.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder
Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder

“Why wasn’t this in the fiscal note?” asked JBC Chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, referring to the cost-estimate document attached to most legislative bills.

“There was no way to quantify it at the time,” Kampman noted.

“We understood there was going to be a big fiscal note” but that costs were to be nailed down later, said Sen. Chris Romer- D-Denver, a CAP4K sponsor.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and the legislature’s foremost critic of CSAP tests, said, “I’d like to know where they [the CDE] are going to get the money.”

“The department may just turn around and say, you passed the law, you figure it out” Pommer commented.

That part of the briefing ended with Pommer asking, “Do you have more to say about CAP4K, or have you shocked us enough?”

The JBC returns to K-12 spending on Dec. 11, when CDE officials will appear to answer questions about the 2010-11 budget. Judging from the number of questions lawmakers asked Kampman and Gallagher to relay to the department, it could be a long hearing.

JBC staff briefing paper on 2010-11 Department of Education budget


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.”