Who Is In Charge

JBC votes to cut leadership academy, counselor corps

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday accepted a staff recommendation to cut the School Leadership Academy and the Colorado Counselor Corps programs in the Colorado Department of Education.

The decision came during committee figure setting for CDE’s administrative and special-programs budgets. The committee did figure setting last week for the bulk of CDE’s budget – aid to school districts (see story “K-12 cuts could top $500 million”).

Both the academy and the corps programs were created by legislative action in the more optimistic spring of 2008, when the state still had spare revenue to devote to extra education programs.

The leadership academy, a Project of Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, is intended to provide principal training. In 2009-10 the program has a budget of $25,000 in federal stimulus funds, provided by Gov. Bill Ritter because the legislature had no state money to fund it. The CDE proposed a 2010-11 budget of $75,000 and part-time staffing, paid from the SEF.

The push for the counselor corps was led by Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora. School districts can apply for state funds to hire extra counselors. The program is designed for schools with dropout and graduation rate challenges. The program got an initial $5 million from the SEF, and the department wants another $5 million from the same source in 2010-11.

The SEF is a separate pot of money that is funded by a small portion of state income tax collections and by whatever transfers legislators choose to make from the state’s main general fund. The SEF used both for special programs and to help top off state aid to school districts. The fund is dwindling, but lawmakers may need to tap it for school aid to relieve some of the pressure on the general fund. So, programs like the leadership academy and counselor corps are vulnerable in this tight budget yet.

Other special CDE programs dear to hearts of some legislators probably won’t be in the 2010-11 budget because the department did its own cutting and didn’t request any funding. Those include the Family Literacy Education Fund, state aid to boards of cooperative education services, civic education, financial literacy, Colorado History Day, funding for the Innovation Schools Act, summer school aid, Dropout Prevention Activity Grants and Regional Services Cooperatives.

The committee didn’t specifically discuss analyst Bernie Gallagher’s leadership and counselor recommendations before approving them.

Committee members did raise some questions about the cost of CSAP testing.

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge
Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge (file photo)

“Can we start saving some of the $20 million we spend on CSAPs,” asked Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge and JBC vice chair. “$20 million on testing just bothered me right from the start. That’s a lot of money.”

Under terms of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law, the state will be moving to a new testing system over the next couple of years.

JBC chair Rep. Jack Pommer. D-Boulder, said testing “is supposed to be shorter and cheaper once we get there” but there will be high costs for implementation.

Gallagher noted the previous – he called it “pie in the sky” – CDE estimate of $80 million for a new system.

Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, wondered if it would be possible for the state to take a one-year testing “holiday” to save money. Similar suggestions have been made in the past by other legislators. CDE officials always patiently explain that federal NCLB requirements make that impractical.

Gallagher also warned that other provisions of CAP4K will require money to implement and “the state will need to strategically prepare for these expenditures.” (An outside consultant is studying those potential costs.) Gallagher, citing his interpretation of media reports, also raised doubts about whether Colorado can count on federal Race to the Top funds to help pay some of those costs. “It sounds like our state is challenged in winning the full $377 million.”

During figure setting for a department, a committee analyst prepares a detailed proposal for the department’s budget, including dollar amounts that will be included in the annual state budget, the long appropriations bill. The committee sometimes has to tweak the numbers before the long bill is introduced late in the session, and the bill is subject to amendment as it moves through the House and Senate.

As part of that process, other CDE programs could be on the chopping block later, depending on the state’s financial situation.

In their figure-setting documents, analysts include what are called “ugly lists,” programs that could be cut if necessary but trims that the analysts aren’t formally recommending.

Gallagher’s CDE ugly list includes 11 programs. The largest seven are:

  • Transfer Read to Achieve cash fund to general fund – $6.5 million
  • Eliminate the Closing the Achievement Gap program – $1.8 million
  • Stop covering school lunch costs for students eligible for reduced prices – $850,000
  • Ending a similar cover-the-gap program for school breakfasts – $700,000
  • Cutting supplemental online services and funding – $530,000
  • Trimming another school breakfast program – $500,000
  • Eliminating CDE’s content specialists – $437,392

Full JBC briefing paper (see pages 65 for the leadership program, 71-72 for the counselor corps and 96-98 for the “ugly list”)

For the record

Tuesday otherwise was a quiet day for education news. The Senate gave unanimous final approval to House Bill 10-1037 (continuation of supplemental online program Senate Bill 10-062 (technical changes in categorical programs).

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

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.”