Who Is In Charge

$110 million K-12 cut a done deal

Thursday roundup
– Easy vote for transparency bill
– Rep. King’s bad day
– For the record

Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday afternoon signed Senate Bill 10-065, the measure that cuts $110 million from current state K-12 support and specifies that the state won’t cover $20 million in higher-than-projected enrollment and at-risk student increases.

Just a few hours earlier the House voted 56-7 to pass the bill.

The $110 million amounts to nearly a 2 percent cut for school districts. The money was approved by the 2009 legislature with the proviso that school districts couldn’t spend it until Jan. 29 (this Friday) so that the 2010 legislature could pull it back if financial conditions warranted.

Ritter, still scrambling to balance the current 2009-10 budget, has included the $110 million in his calculations.

The cut has made education advocates grumpy, but few legislators saw any alternative. The Colorado Education Association testified twice in committees against the bill, saying school districts need the money and that the cut violates Amendment 23.

Among those voting against the bill Thursday were Democratic Reps. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster and Judy Solano of Brighton, all members of the House Education Committee and retired teachers.

Even deeper cuts of 6 percent or more are proposed for state K-12 support in 2010-11.

Smooth sailing for transparency bill

The House gave easy preliminary approval Thursday to House Bill 10-1036, which requires school districts, charters and BOCES to post online information about budgets, audited financial statements, salary schedules, check registers, credit and purchase card payments and investment performance.

The bill has a three-year phase-in period, starting this July, and a Department of Education advisory committee will develop templates that districts can use.

The bipartisan bill was developed starting last summer with the advice of school districts. A 2009 Republican-backed transparency bill was defeated in the face of district concerns about cost.

Cosponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, acknowledged district involvement in the bill by saying, “I would like to thank all the vested interests.”

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, a sponsor of the 2009 attempt, asked several questions about the new bill during floor discussion but seemed satisfied with the sponsors’ answers.

Representatives rejected a proposed floor amendment by Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, that would have allowed districts to also post information about how corporate tax breaks, state aid cuts and mandated programs affect their budget.

Pommer, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, is at the center of the bitter fight over the proposed repeal of several business tax exemptions to help balance the state’s 2009-10 budget. Slowed down by extensive testimony, most of it opposed, the House Finance Committee worked for more than 12 hours Wednesday and early Thursday but passed only some of the bills on party-line votes.

That committee will resume its effort at 8 a.m. Friday.

It wasn’t his day

CU Police Chief Joe Roy
Joe Roy, chief of the University of Colorado-Boulder Police, testifying at the Capitol Jan. 28, 2010.

Rep. Steve King’s afternoon probably started to really go downhill as soon as Joe Roy started testifying to the House Education Committee Thursday.

King, a Republican former policeman from Grand Junction, this year proposed House Bill 10-1054, which would require state colleges and universities to give 45-minute orientations to new students about how to respond in critical incidents.

A much more expansive school and college safety bill by King went nowhere last year, defeated in large part by opponent concerns about cost.

This year’s proposal is much more modest – and King made it repeatedly clear to the committee that he was open to almost any amendments – but the uniformed and armed Roy found plenty of fault with the measure.

Roy is chief of the University of Colorado-Boulder Police. Reading politely, rapidly and crisply from a written statement, Roy provided all sorts of reasons to vote no. King’s face got longer with every sentence.

Not that previous witnesses had done King any favors. Victim-and-safety advocate John Michael Keyes had concerns that some of the language in the bill is obsolete. Keyes’ daughter, 16-year-old Emily, was killed by an intruder at Platte Canyon Hill School in 2007.

Two officers of the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority were concerned that the bill didn’t address campus fire safety.

After an hour, committee chair Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, mercifully laid the bill over, saying it needed amendment too extensive to do during a committee hearing.

In other action

Here’s a quick rundown of other education bills passed Thursday:

  • House Bill 10-1028 – Universal application for early childhood services (House final approval)
  • House Bill 10-1034 – Credentialing of school speech-language pathology assistants (House preliminary approval)
  • House Bill 10-1037 – Continuation of supplemental online program (House preliminary)
  • House Bill 10-1071 – Qualifications of CSU forestry employees (House preliminary)
  • Senate Bill 10-018 – Donation-funded School awards program (Senate final)
  • House Bill 10-1064 – Requires prep athletes to appeal eligibility rulings through internal procedures before requesting outside arbitration (House Education 11-1)

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.