Who Is In Charge

Tuition policy back in play

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JBC goes for Ritter 2010-11 plan

Updated 9 p.m. Feb. 24, 2010

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee Wednesday agreed in concept to a proposal that would allow state colleges and universities to set their own tuition rates – subject to Colorado Commission on Higher Education review.

During a four-hour session, the panel accepted a concept proposed earlier in the week by a subcommittee. The essence of the idea is that for four years, starting in 2011-12, college and system boards would develop financial plans including tuition rates, allocation of financial aid for policies for ensuring access for middle- and lower-middle income students. The plans would have to be approved by CCHE.

Part of the new system could involve reducing direct state aid for some schools, like the University of Colorado and the School of Mines, that have greater ability to raise tuition. That would free more state money for outstate four-year colleges and community colleges, whose students are more sensitive to costs.

Department of Higher Education staff will draft the wording of the proposal by Friday. It will be circulated among steering committee members over the weekend, with their revisions due by Monday. Steering committee co-chairs Jim Lyons and Dick Monfort will approve the final version, which will go to Gov. Bill Ritter next week and to the commission at its March 5 meeting.

If the commission and Ritter approve the plan, it would go to the legislature to consider for inclusion in a higher education financial flexibility bill is being held up in the General Assembly until the executive branch weighs in.

The steering committee isn’t making any recommendations about higher education funding in 2010-11. The Joint Budget Committee already is moving ahead with a plan for next year, having voted Tuesday to accept Ritter’s proposed college-by-college allocations (see story).

See earlier story below for more details about the emerging debate on tuition at state colleges and universities.

Feb. 22 story – Allowing state colleges to set their own tuition rates, long considered off the table for the 2010 legislative session, is gaining momentum as a partial fix to higher education’s immediate financial woes.

For the last several years the legislature has set ceilings on how much state colleges and universities could increase tuition each year. The percentages have varied year to year; the ceiling for this year was about 9 percent, and the same figure is proposed for next year.

Gov. Bill Ritter has been a strong proponent of keeping tuition hikes modest, arguing that doing so was necessary to maintain college access for low- and middle-income families. As recently as last summer Ritter told lawmakers that he wouldn’t sign financial flexibility legislation for colleges if it gave tuition control to college and university boards.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Now the landscape has changed because of the ever-increasing financial pressures on higher ed and because of Ritter’s announcement that he won’t run for reelection in November.

Ritter said last week that he is open to tuition flexibility, and a higher education education advisory panel appointed by the governor is discussing this week whether to give college boards some tuition flexibility starting in the 2011-12 school year.

Tuition flexibility was the main subject of discussion Monday at a meeting of the Sustainability Subcommittee of the Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

The subcommittee agreed to the idea of a new system that would allow governing boards to set their own tuition and financial aid policies, subject to state review, with some state tax support redirected to colleges that are less able than others to raise tuition significantly.

That idea is being refined by Department of Higher Education staff and will be discussed by the full steering committee Wednesday.

While Ritter created the steering committee and its advisory panels to develop a long-term plan for the state’s higher ed system, they also are under pressure to suggest some short-term fixes for the higher ed financial crisis.

(The state’s budget woes have forced the legislature to reduce tax support of colleges and universities, which also happened during the last recession. Higher ed overall revenue has been maintained only with tuition increases and federal stimulus funds. The federal money runs out after the 2010-11 budget year, setting higher ed for 2011-12 cuts of perhaps $100 million or more. That’s the immediate crisis state leaders are struggling with.)

Two key Senate leaders told the subcommittee Monday that action needs to be taken now.

“There’s a real desire to act this year … solving this [financial] piece of it,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, noting the bipartisan political will is in place. “We have a real opportunity to do something … whatever it is.”

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said, “We hope in the coming week you will come out with some rocket science” on the financial issue.

Morse is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 10-003, which in its current form would give colleges and universities more flexibility in various financial procedures but not – for the moment – in tuition. The Senate has delayed hearings on the bill until after the steering committee makes its recommendations, if any.

Morse said he believes tuition flexibility is now on the table, and he supports it. “The real money [for higher ed] is in tuition flexibility” because state tax support “is going to continue to go down.”

Jim Lyons, cochair of the steering committee, said, “The key to this [financial problem] is tuition flexibility that protects access” for low- and middle-income students.

Subcommittee member Kelly Brough, agreed. “We have to provide some tuition flexibility.” Brough is president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Various speakers acknowledged that prospect of dramatic tuition hikes, even if only at some colleges, carries risks.

Flexibility “is fraught with political peril,” Penry said.

“Tuition bothers me more than anything … it scares the hell out of me,” said Dick Monfort, chair of the subcommittee and cochair of the main steering committee.

Subcommittee member Gary Reiff noted higher tuition “is just a hidden tax … you can’t ignore that fact,” But, he added, “It’s progressive, and that’s OK.” Reiff is a corporate and real estate lawyer who’s served on various higher ed boards in the past and currently is a member of the state Transportation Commission.

Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education, gave the subcommittee five options to consider at Monday’s meeting. They were:

  1. Maintaining the proposed 2010-11 funding system into 2011-12. That basically involves rolling state aid back to 2005-06 levels, which would mean overall cuts.
  2. Allowing colleges and systems to become self-governing authorities, similar to the Colorado Housing Finance Authority or University Hospital. Under such a structure colleges would be free to set tuition as they like. (This idea is being pushed by some college leaders and Colorado Concern, a business and civic group.)
  3. Using a system of flat per-student funding to fund all colleges. This would help fast-growing institutions like Metro State and the community colleges and hurt more stable schools, such as rural colleges. The current hold-the-line system doesn’t compensate institutions for enrollment growth.
  4. Allowing schools with the ability to do so to raise tuition by up to 20 percent in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Some state tax support would shift to other colleges, and tuition increases would be held down for lower-income students. (It’s generally felt that larger, more competitive schools like CU, CSU and the School of Mines have the market power to raise tuition substantially while smaller regional schools like Adams State and Western State don’t. Higher education leaders also believe it’s necessary to keep tuition relatively low at community colleges, with their high percentages of low-income schools.)
  5. Requiring institutions to present specific plans for tuition increases and financial aid allocation to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. This option also would include some shifting of tax dollars to smaller schools.

Subcommittee discussion Monday indicated a preference for option 5, with elements of option 3 included.

It seemed fairly clear that people weren’t much interested in the authority model.

“I don’t think the authority model becomes what we do,” said Penry.

“The authority model is not going to be fully discussed here,” Munn said.

EdNews backgrounder on the higher ed strategic planning process

JBC goes along with Ritter funding plan

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday voted 4-2 to accept the Ritter administration’s allocation plan for college and university spending in 2010-11, rejecting a staff recommendation that likely would have sparked a nasty political fight.

The Ritter plan basically cuts state and federal stimulus support for each college and university back to the level of state support in 2005-06. (Stimulus rules forbid reducing support to lower than levels in that budget year.)

The problem, at least for some colleges, is that between 2005-06 and 2008-09 some institutions received higher percentage increases in state support than others. That was part of an effort to help those colleges get closer to spending levels at comparable institutions around the country.

The governor’s plan basically wipes out those gains. Metro State takes the biggest hit in the Ritter plan, along with Western and Adams state colleges. The University of Colorado system and the School of Mines would be least affected.

JBC staff analyst Eric Kurtz proposed a plan he called more “equitable.” It would have hit CU and Mines harder while delivering the lightest blows to Metro, Adams and Western.

Kurtz said his plan would give more state and federal money than the governor proposed to every school except Mines and CU.

The briefing paper prepared by Kurtz noted that with expected 9 percent tuition increases, Mines would get “a 5.6 percent boost in total funding and CU a 4.1 percent boost. These increases are more than any other institution.” (The JBC Tuesday also approved the 9 percent ceiling on resident undergraduate tuition increases.)

(Tuition has become the major source of Colorado college and university funding. Because of increased tuition revenue, the state system will have more money next year than in 2009-10.)

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge and JBC vice chair, praised Kurtz for his work but said she wasn’t up for a fight over a new formula. “We can’t win. … I lean in the direction of the governor’s proposal.”

Kurtz wasn’t surprised by the committee’s reaction. Just before Keller spoke, he quipped, “I’m sure CU and Mines will be the downfall of this staff recommendation.” Various college lobbyists sat in on the hearing, including Tanya Mares Kelly-Bowry, CU vice president for government relations.

Keller; chair Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder; Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, voted for the governor’s allocation plan. Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, were opposed.

Read the Kurtz proposal

End of an era

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg smiles as he checks out the new lights on the football field at the Montbello campus earlier this month.

Tom Boasberg paused on his way out of the elementary school and held his phone to his mouth. The October sky was growing darker, and the Denver superintendent had just half an hour to get across the city in rush-hour traffic.

“Montbello High School,” he said in a low tone, enunciating each word so his phone would understand his destination.

GPS will still get you there, but the high school doesn’t technically exist anymore. In late 2010, nearly two years into Boasberg’s tenure, he advocated for closing Montbello High and replacing it with three smaller schools. The oft-cited statistic at the time was that just six of every 100 Montbello freshmen graduated ready for college. Boasberg — and a majority of the school board — thought the district could do better.

Now, in the waning days of his superintendency, Boasberg was headed back to Montbello for a celebration. The small schools that share the campus had just reopened their library after months of renovations and years of not having a full-time librarian. Plus, the football field was set to switch on its first-ever stadium lights — a big deal in a neighborhood with a proud history of excelling at high school sports and the packed trophy cases to prove it.

The upgrades were the result of relentless advocacy at public meetings by coaches, parents, and other residents. The scenes resembled countless others that played out over Boasberg’s near-decade at the helm of Colorado’s largest school district, which he led through a steady stream of big and sometimes unpopular changes to try to improve its schools.

His legacy is deeply entwined with those changes. Supporters hail him as the engine behind an urban success story with an impressive track record of turning around struggling schools. State test scores rose steadily under his watch. The high school graduation rate increased by 15 percentage points from 2010 to 2017. And district enrollment, once anemic, surged by more than 14,000 students, which some see as proof of parents’ confidence.

“There’s been a continuity over a period of time that provided stability, capable leadership, and direction,” said Bill Kurtz, founder of DSST, Denver’s largest homegrown charter school network. “That’s not the typical trajectory of a lot of large, urban public school districts.”

But critics point to stubborn problems that haven’t gone away. Schools, on the whole, remain segregated by race and family income in a district where a majority of the nearly 93,000 students are black and Latino and come from poor families. Test score gaps between more and less privileged students haven’t closed. And parents and residents of the neighborhoods most affected by controversial reforms continue to feel the district ignores their concerns.

Most everyone would lay the district’s failures and successes at Boasberg’s feet. However, even his harshest detractors agree that if nothing else, he was driven.

“He wasn’t a superintendent that just put out fires,” said Corey Kern, deputy executive director of the Denver teachers union, which butted heads with Boasberg on a multitude of issues over the years. “He had a clear vision of where he wanted the district to go.”

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Boasberg answers questions from kindergarteners in 2009 soon after being appointed superintendent.

That’s perhaps surprising given that Boasberg, whose last day is Friday, never intended to be superintendent. He came to work for Denver Public Schools from a private-sector telecommunications company in 2007, recruited by then-Superintendent Michael Bennet.

The two are childhood friends. Boasberg, 54, grew up in Washington, D.C., in the ’60s and ’70s. Living in what he described as a newly integrated neighborhood and attending a newly integrated school — which was private, not public — he said he learned the importance of “not misjudging or undervaluing people because of who they are or the color of their skin, but ensuring people get the respect and opportunities they deserve.”

As a child, he dreamed of becoming a civil rights lawyer. But though he earned a law degree, he did not make his career in the courtroom. He worked for a time in Hong Kong, including a stint as a junior high school English teacher. He also served a higher-profile stint as the chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

When Bennet asked him to join Denver Public Schools, Boasberg said he was drawn to it for the same reasons he’d once wanted to fight for people’s civil rights in court.

“As I got older, I recognized that, obviously, the law plays an incredibly important role” in driving equity, he said, “but I think our schools play an even more important role.”

At the time, Denver was the lowest-performing large school district in Colorado. It was also a few years into a big shift. Bennet was the first leader in years who hadn’t come from an education background, and he was shaking things up. He had a strategic plan full of lofty goals and some controversial ways to achieve them, including closing struggling schools. Student test scores, while still far below the state average, were beginning to show growth.

Boasberg was hired as the chief operating officer and tasked with overseeing the behind-the-scenes departments, such as food services and transportation, that make schools run. Gifted with numbers and a knack for efficiency, he earned high praise in that job, including from those who would come to dislike his policies as superintendent.

When Bennet was tapped in early January 2009 to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, the school board scrambled to find someone who would continue what Bennet had started. Board members quickly settled on Boasberg, who was voted in on Jan. 22.

From the start, Boasberg made plain his ambition.

“The opportunity for us, and the challenge, is not to rechart our direction or search for our destination,” he said after the vote, which his parents flew in from D.C. to watch alongside his wife and three children, “but to accelerate our reforms and do the work that will enable us to reach our goal of becoming the best urban district in the nation.”

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Boasberg high-fives Damian Lopez, 4, as he arrives in August for the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy, a district school that serves students in preschool and kindergarten. The high-five was Boasberg’s signature greeting.

Both supporters and critics view Bennet and Boasberg as something of a package deal. When asked to reflect on Boasberg’s tenure, most people start with Bennet. But while the two remain closely aligned on policy, their personalities are vastly different.

Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, who is thought to be on the short list to succeed Boasberg, provided an evocative example.

“One of my strongest memories of Michael Bennet is if you were in an elevator with him, he talked to everybody,” she said. “Tom is not nearly as extroverted, but he’s very approachable.”

Tall and fit, with rimless glasses and short hair that has grown more gray over the years, Boasberg often dressed for the job in khakis and polo shirts. When he showed up at a middle school in a suit and tie last week, people remarked on his attire.

He’s more comfortable with data and details than with crowds, though longtime observers note he’s gotten better over the years at addressing packed auditoriums and schmoozy fundraising galas. He’s a naturally soft speaker, a patient listener, and a deep thinker. His default expression is serious, but he’s also quick to crack a joke (often of the dad variety).

“He’s articulate and charming,” said Paul Hill, founder of a Seattle-based think tank called the Center on Reinventing Public Education, who has known Boasberg for years and supports his reforms, “but he’s not somebody that gets the troops riled up.”

He is somebody who gets things done. For his entire tenure, he had the backing of a majority of the district’s seven-member school board, and Denver voters twice approved tax increases to funnel more money into the schools. The initiatives he successfully pushed for include:

Many of those elements make up what’s known as the “portfolio strategy” for managing schools, and Denver’s deft execution of the model has made it a darling among charter school advocates. It has also made the district a cautionary tale to traditionalists and teachers unions who think independently run charter schools are “privatizing” public education.

For his part, Boasberg doesn’t want the portfolio strategy to be the thing that defines his legacy.

He points instead to much lower profile, more methodical work as his biggest achievement: a collection of district programs meant to raise the quality of its teachers and principals, which research shows is one of the most important factors in student success.

“Above all, it’s been around talent,” Boasberg said of the district’s strategy, and “just a real deep belief that this work is extraordinarily hard and challenging. The level of skill we need from our teachers, our school leaders, our district-level folks is very, very high.”

The initiatives include a cadre of residency programs, some of which give student teachers hands-on experience in the classroom and another that allows aspiring principals to spend a year working under veteran school leaders who act as mentors. Three-quarters of the new principals hired this year came up through one of the district’s programs.

One of the initiatives Boasberg is proudest of has standout teachers spend half of their time teaching students and the other half coaching other teachers. The arrangement is meant to help the other teachers improve and keep the district’s strongest teachers in the classroom.

Justin Jeannot, a teacher coach at Abraham Lincoln High School, said the opportunity to become a leader without having to give up teaching has kept him in Denver Public Schools.

“I have found purpose and a home in teaching students,” said Jeannot, who became a teacher after a career in engineering, “but it has been much nicer to be in a district that really is trying to be on the cutting edge of harnessing the leadership power of their teachers.”

PHOTO: Susan Gonzalez/Chalkbeat
Boasberg receives a pin to mark his fifth year on the job. His lanyard grew more crowded by the end of his tenure.

Counted among those who think Boasberg will leave the district in better shape than he found it are school principals who took advantage of the flexibilities he afforded them, the founders of Denver’s biggest charter school networks, and advocates who believe so wholeheartedly in the portfolio strategy, they wish Boasberg would have been even more aggressive.

They see his legacy as one of setting aside ideological squabbles about which types of schools — charter or traditional — are best, and instead focusing on what would serve students.

“It’s always been about quality for him, not about ideology,” said Chris Gibbons, the founder of STRIVE Prep, which began with a single charter school in Denver and now has 11.

Mike Vaughn, who served as Boasberg’s chief communications officer for five years, said although his former boss had good political instincts and was able to anticipate who might be mad about a particular decision, “his calculus was always a family calculus: ‘How can we better serve families and give our families better schools?’”

Many say Boasberg has done that. A decade ago, a quarter of the city’s school-age children didn’t attend Denver Public Schools. Their parents opted instead for private or suburban schools they thought were better. That’s no longer the case.

“What’s happened in this era over the last 10 or 13 years is there’s an expectation that if you live in Denver, you should be able to send your kid to a good school,” said Van Schoales, CEO of A Plus Colorado, an advocacy group that supported many of Boasberg’s initiatives.

Others said Boasberg will be remembered for decentralizing district decision-making and pushing his school principals to think like entrepreneurs.

“One of his big mottos was, ‘Don’t wait, lead,” said Sheldon Reynolds, principal of the Center for Talent Development at Greenlee, a district-run elementary school that had a history of low test scores. Reynolds competed for the chance to restart it with a new program. “To know that from the top down, that’s the message — that spoke to me.”

Still others pointed to Boasberg’s commitment to equity, which included giving schools extra money to educate students with higher needs, such as those living in poverty, and doling out millions of additional dollars each year to the most academically struggling schools.

Equity is one of the six shared core values that district employees chose in 2012. Boasberg remembers the day that a thousand people brainstormed them in a huge banquet hall as one of the most fun of his tenure.

The core values have given way to a tradition where employees shout out their colleagues for demonstrating one of the values, which earns that person a small pin to fasten to their work-badge lanyard. Boasberg’s lanyard is full of them.

“Everyone who comes to work in the Denver Public Schools is extraordinarily mission- and values-oriented. That’s why we’re here,” Boasberg said, reflecting on what prompted the tradition. “What we sought to do is to say, ‘What an unbelievable strength that we have. How do we bring that together? How do we celebrate that?’”

That feeling is one of the things Boasberg said he’ll miss the most about working for the district. He does not have immediate plans for what he’ll do next beyond spending more time with his wife and kids. The family lives in Boulder, a city 30 miles northwest of Denver.

“That thought of getting out of bed on the morning of the 20th — probably I’ll get up a little bit later that morning — but I will deeply, deeply miss the shared mission here and the incredible group of people,” Boasberg said, referring to the day after he steps down.

Teacher Rebecca Erlichman said she’s appreciated having a shared vision under Boasberg.

“Even when you’re super stressed out, you know you’re all working toward a common goal,” said Erlichman, who is in her 11th year of teaching at Godsman Elementary School. “There’s something that’s really empowering about that.”

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Boasberg sits in a meeting with school board members in 2017.

But not everyone felt empowered by Boasberg. Students, parents, teachers, and residents whose schools and neighborhoods were in the crosshairs of his most controversial policies say he will be remembered for disregarding community voice.

Time and again, they said, district officials called meetings to gather community feedback on an unpopular proposal, dutifully wrote down people’s concerns in colored marker on white butcher paper, and then did whatever they were going to do anyway.

“You get a dog and pony show: D.P.S.,” said Jeff Fard, a Denver Public Schools graduate, parent, and black community activist. “I’ve sat through too many of those meetings where they’re listening to the community and they go out and do the exact opposite.”

“It doesn’t matter if you speak in a low, soft tone to our faces,” said Candi CdeBaca, a graduate who founded a nonprofit that trains youth to advocate on education issues. “What matters is what decisions you are making, or you are failing to make, behind closed doors.”

Even those who think Boasberg was a great leader admit that community engagement was an area of weakness for him.

“Maybe it was the type of decisions we had to make that were really hard,” said Mary Seawell, who served on the school board from 2009 to 2013 and was a Boasberg ally. But, she said, “it didn’t get better, it just deepened. I’m talking about parents who walked in, in good faith, to a gymnasium and ended up leaving disappointed.”

Recently retired teacher Margaret Bobb, who taught in the district for decades and was active in the teachers union, said teachers often felt the same way. Boasberg’s support for evaluating teachers based on student test scores, and his defense of a pay-for-performance system that some see as favoring one-time bonuses over salary raises, made his insistence that teachers are the most important ingredient in a good public education seem disingenuous, she said.

“As I reflect on Tom, it’s been 10 years of lip service to teachers but not anything tangible that shows he believes in their intrinsic value,” she said.

Others say that for all his talk of equity, Boasberg did not do well by teachers of color. Recent efforts to diversify the teaching force have barely moved the needle, perpetuating an environment where 76 percent of students are students of color but 73 percent of teachers are white. A report commissioned by the district in 2016 found that black teachers, who make up about 4 percent of the teaching force, felt isolated and passed-over for promotions.

Some educators of color have another interpretation of the district’s acronym: Don’t plan to stay.

Still others blame Boasberg’s commitment to school choice for exacerbating gentrification in Denver by making it easier for wealthier families to move into working-class neighborhoods, knowing they don’t have to send their children to the neighborhood schools.

Critics say all of that has hurt students of color and those from low-income families. While their test scores have risen over the years, they continue to lag behind those of their white and wealthier peers. Black and Latino students, and those living in poverty, have also borne the brunt of the district’s practice of closing low-performing schools.

Azlan Williams was a junior at Montbello High in 2010 when Boasberg proposed phasing it out and replacing it with three smaller schools. He went with his parents to the community meetings, and he remembers the anger and the pleas for more time to turn things around. Williams, who was a good student and star basketball player, also remembers the disappointment when they didn’t get it, and how his school, home of the Warriors, felt different after that.

“It was like the air came out of the school,” he said.

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Boasberg chats with teacher librarian Julia Torres, left, and the district’s director of library services, Caroline Hughes, middle, in the renovated library on the Montbello campus.

More than half an hour after leaving the elementary school for the Montbello campus, Boasberg walked into the new library around 6 p.m. There was comfy new furniture, $30,000 worth of new books, and five new flat-screen TVs that students in a book club organized by the new librarian used earlier that day to Skype with the author of a novel they’d just read.

The hard-won renovation “restores that sense of respect that the children do deserve nice things,” said librarian Julia Torres, who previously taught English at one of the schools on the campus. “This has been a huge confidence booster.”

Boasberg argues that the closure of Montbello High achieved its intended goal: better opportunities for the students in far northeast Denver. He points to the numbers as proof. In 2010, 333 students graduated from high schools in the region. This year, 768 did.

“Students are feeling more challenged, they’re getting more individualized supports, and the culture at our secondary schools is stronger,” Boasberg said recently.

There were no big speeches in the library, no ceremonial ribbon to cut. Just chit-chat and a tray of finger sandwiches. As the sky turned black, a small group headed outside. It included Boasberg; his deputy, Cordova; two school board members; three principals; and two of the football coaches who’d agitated hardest for the changes.

The field was flooded with light so white and sharp that it made everything look as if it were in high-definition. The head coach trotted over to shake Boasberg’s hand. It was a much different scene than when the coach had shown up at school board meetings to air concerns that his players, who come from several small schools but play together as the Warriors, had no lights and varying bell schedules that made it hard for everyone to get on the field before dark.

“I don’t have nothing else to ask you for,” coach Tony Lindsay said, laughing and grasping Boasberg’s arm, his breath visible in the chilly night air. “Now I gotta do my thing.”

Boasberg and the others watched the players practice for a minute before huddling in a circle. The principals thanked the district. Boasberg thanked the principals. He also thanked the coaches and community members for their advocacy — and their criticism.

“We needed to get to work here and make some really necessary improvements,” Boasberg said. “This is a night I will remember for a long time.”

Afterward, he stopped to chat with a group of teenage girls standing on the sideline. He asked what they thought of the lights. “Pretty good,” one said. And the library? The girls told him they didn’t go to school at Montbello. They went to a different small high school, one of the original three that had replaced Montbello High but had since moved to another location in the neighborhood. Their school, they said, doesn’t have a library.

As Boasberg turned to walk back into the building, he recounted the story to a school board member. Even though he was set to step down as superintendent in little more than a week, he hadn’t stopped thinking about the future of the district.

“I told them, ‘You’re next,’” he said.

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Boasberg addresses school officials, members of the media, and football coaches under the new lights.

New mayor

Illinois charter PAC ready to spend millions in Chicago elections

PHOTO: Creative Commons

A pro-charter Illinois PAC will expand its focus from statewide politics into Chicago’s upcoming mayoral and alderman elections, with a plan to infuse millions of dollars into contested races where education is at issue.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for urban public education,” Andrew Broy, president of INCS Action, a political action committee that advocates for charter schools in Illinois, told Chalkbeat. “We expect to spend a seven-figure sum in each of these races.”

INCS Action is the political advocacy arm of the Illinois Network for Charters Schools, and in the past has advocated for lifting a cap on charters statewide and against a statewide charter moratorium.

The expansion of charter schools is a live-wire issue in Chicago, with some advocates arguing that the growth of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, pushes out resources for neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Charter advocates, meanwhile, argue the charter school model offers a faster way to bring high-quality education to students in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools has 121 charter schools, down 7 percent from two years ago when the teachers union negotiated a cap on charter enrollment.

The upcoming elections make up just one part of a the network’s larger legislative agenda, with three of its five legislative goals already in place, Broy said. They’ve established the state charter school commission, secured charter funding equity in Illinois, and created a 10-year renewal term for charter contracts, he said, adding, “we still need to secure state facility funding and lift the cap on charter schools nationwide.”

INCS Action has not yet named the candidates it will support, but said its criteria for endorsement include contested races featuring candidates with different positions on charter schools. “For aldermanic races, if we can impact 2,000 or 3,000 votes in a ward, that offers a lot of opportunity,” Broy said.

Aldermen can introduce city-level resolutions against charter openings or ban a charter’s expansion into their ward or, if they are supportive, offer tax-increment financing for charter school buildings or other investments.

The Chicago Teachers Union also runs a PAC, through which it has supported candidates at the state, mayoral and aldermanic levels. The union opposes charter expansion. 

Broy expects his group will support candidates by sending out mailers, canvassing and telephoning voters.

According to election finance data obtained by Illinois Sunshine, the INCS Action PAC has already contributed more than $65,000 to the campaigns of state-level candidates for congressional seats in Illinois since Sept. 11. The largest sums went to the campaigns of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Burr Ridge, the House minority leader, and Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton.

In state-level races, INCS Action has been a heavy hitter since it started in 2013. This past spring, the organization said in a press release that 13 of the 15 primary candidates for Illinois’ state Senate and House of Representatives supported by the group won their primaries.

The next governor could play a big role in the future of charter schools in Illinois, and by extension in Chicago, but Broy says the committee has declined to endorse a candidate because of the amount of spending required to sway a candidate or the election. The committee gets more bang for its buck focusing on local races.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker have staked out opposing positions on the charter debate, with Rauner a supporter of charter schools, while his opponent says he’d place a moratorium on opening new charters.

Meanwhile, Broy said his political action committee will soon begin throwing money into campaigns he believes they can win. “In some races, we see a pathway to victory with our support.”