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.

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.