Who Is In Charge

Jeffco rejection of Lotus charter stands

The State Board of Education Wednesday deadlocked on an appeal filed by the Lotus School for Excellence II, a charter organization that wanted to open a science and math school in Jefferson County.

The Jefferson County school board rejected the Lotus application last October and had turned down a previous application in 2008. Lotus, which operates a middle-school charter in the Aurora school district, appealed the 2009 decision to the state board, as is allowed under state charter laws.

The state board’s inability to reach a decision means the ruling by the Jeffco school board stands.

In documents filed with the board, and in arguments by lawyer Allen Taggert Wednesday, the school district argued that Lotus hadn’t demonstrated adequate academic performance at its 242-student Aurora school, expressed concerns about the level of parent involvement in Lotus operations and said Lotus’ high student attrition rate raised questions about financial viability.

Lotus argued that Jeffco misinterpreted student achievement data and also disagreed with the district’s claims about parent involvement and student attrition.

Data from the Department of Education’s SchoolView website shows that the Lotus Aurora school has lower-than-average math test scores but higher-than-average student growth.

The state board first deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to reject the appeal. Three Democratic members, Elaine Gantz Berman, Jane Goff and Angelika Schroeder voted yes while Republicans Peggy Littleton, Bob Schaffer and Marcia Neal voted no. The vote was reversed on a motion to return the case to the Jeffco board, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Republican member Randy DeHoff wasn’t present for the vote.

Schaffer, SBE chair, argued that parent interest was a more important factor in granting a charter than the wishes of a government agency such as the school board. Lotus reportedly had more than 230 parent letters of interest in the Jeffco school last year. Jeffco currently has 13 charter schools.

Lotus opened its Aurora school in 2003.  A year ago the Aurora school board conditionally renewed the charter for three years but imposed extra financial reporting requirements on the school. (See Aurora Sentinel story about that decision.)

Last November the St. Vrain Valley school board unanimously rejected an application by Lotus to open a charter school at a church in Longmont.

Go here for links to documents filed by both parties in the Jeffco case.

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.”