Who Is In Charge

Mascot bill likely to raise hackles

Wednesday roundup
– Banner bill OK’d
– Tax study advances

A bill introduced Wednesday would require public and charter high schools to get state approval to use Native American-themed nicknames.

Basically, Senate Bill 10-107 would mandate that any public or charter high school “that uses an American Indian mascot to either cease using the American Indian mascot or obtain approval for the continued use of the American Indian mascot or another American Indian mascot from the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.”

The deadline for doing that would be July 31, 2013, and any school that ignored the law after that date would be fined $1,000 a month.

Lamar High School mascot logo
Lamar High School Savages logo

No count was immediately available on how many schools have such mascots. Colorado does have several teams named the Indians. La Veta High School’s teams are named the Redskins, and Lamar High School uses Savages.

Brace yourself for lively committee and floor debates about cultural sensitivity, political correctness, legislative meddling, local control and school traditions.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams and Rep. Nancy Todd, both Aurora Democrats, along with nine Democratic cosponsors in both houses.

Wednesday was a lively day for introduction of education-related bills. Here’s a rundown:

• Senate Bill 10-108: This expected proposal by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, would allow non-public colleges and universities to participate in the state system of common core courses, which are transferable among institutions. Higher education interests are expected to oppose this strongly.

• Senate Bill 10-101: The measure would allow Colorado Mountain College to offer bachelor’s degrees “in areas that meet the needs of the communities within its service area.” CMC receives some state support and is a local district college with several campuses in the central mountains. It currently offers two-year degrees. The bill has broad bipartisan sponsorship, led by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

• Senate Bill 10-091: This is the Republican version of a proposal to require school districts to post their financial information online. Sponsors are Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. A Democratic version, House Bill 10-1036, is already in the hopper. It’s backed by school districts, whose lobbying helped kill a GOP version of the idea in 2009.

• Senate Bill 10-089: Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, is proposing that the State Board of Education be required to issue a “religious bill of rights” protecting the religious expression of students, parents and school employees. School districts would be required to follow the document, would have to allow religious opt-outs of classes and course materials and school board members could be individually sued if they didn’t follow the law. The conservative Schultheis has an unsuccessful track record with these kinds of bills in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

• Senate Bill 10-088: The measure would allow community college students to choose majors when pursuing their associate degrees. It’s seen as a way to help ease course transferability between community and four-year colleges. Sponsors are Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Massey. The community college system is behind this bill.

• House Bill 10-1157: This measure would allow counties, with voter approval, to levy sales or property taxes to help support a state four-year or community college located within the county. Sponsored by Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, the bill is the 2010 version of an idea floated late in the 2009 session but which died when a larger bill was defeated.

• House Bill 10-1153: Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, is proposing  changing the composition of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association board so that a majority are not PERA members (beneficiaries). For instance, there would be two members from the School Division instead of the current four. Such a big change proposed by a solo member of the minority party has little chance. The bipartisan PERA overhaul, Senate Bill 10-001, wouldn’t make any changes in the board.

A couple of new education bills popped up Tuesday. House Bill 10-1136 by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, would require schools to hold two “safety protocol” drills a year, in addition to plain old fire drills. (King earlier introduced House Bill 10-1054, which would impose safety training requirements on colleges.) A King safety proposal failed last year in the face of complaints about cost.

Scanlan (and a host of other lawmakers) introduced House Bill 10-1131, which would set up grants in the Department of Natural Resources for programs designed to get kids outdoors. This one reportedly is a project of Lt. Gov. O’Brien. Funding? You guessed it – “gifts, grants and donations.”

The lieutenant governor and sponsors will tout the bill at an 11:15 a.m. news conference Thursday on the Capitol’s west steps, or inside the west doors if the weather’s bad.

Get the easy ones out of the way first

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday quickly gave 8-0 approval to Senate Bill 10-018, which would set up a fund to buy banners and trophies for schools that are recognized by the state’s three school awards programs.

“I think history is being made today by the sponsors of this bill. I don’t believe I’ve ever sponsored a bill with Rep. Merrifield,” said King, the Senate prime sponsor. The House sponsor is Rep. Mike Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat. King is a staunch supporter of charter schools; former teacher Merrifield is a vigorous defender of traditional public education.

Since the state has no spare cash these days, the program would be funded by the usual “gifts, grants and donations.” King said, “Rep Merrifield and I will help out and go out annually and raise the money.” Estimated annual cost of the awards is $4,200.

Tax study resolution moves to House

A resolution that would commission the University of Denver to conduct a comprehensive study of state and local tax structures won final Senate approval on a 34-1 vote.

The cost, estimated at about $750,000, would be covered by private donations.

“We have not looked at the tax structure of this state since 1958,” noted sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. That’s when DU and CU-Boulder did a joint study. The legislature was still considering some of those recommendations into the 1980s.

“We live in a completely different world now,” noted Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

The only no vote on Senate Joint Resolution 10-002 was cast by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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.