Who Is In Charge

SBE turns back charter appeal

Randy DeHoff and Bob Schaffer
State Board of Education Vice Chair Randy DeHoff (left) checked something on his laptop while Chair Bob Schaffer consulted a law book during a charter school hearing on Sept. 16, 2010.

The State Board of Education got a lot done Thursday, especially considering that members (and many others in the board room), were in on a secret they couldn’t talk about until after 4 p.m.

That was when education Commissioner Dwight Jones announced he’s one of three finalists for superintendent of schools in Las Vegas (see story).

Before that secret was out, board members managed to handle a complex and tense charter school case, pass resolutions opposing three budget-busting ballot measures, approve another resolution on violent video games and OK application for federal funds to support abstinence-only sex education.

Here are the details:

Charter appeal

The board voted 4-3 to deny a request by the Community Leadership Academy charter school in Commerce City, which wanted the board to revoke the exclusive chartering authority of the Adams 14 school district.

If the school’s request had been granted, it would have cleared the way for it to seek supervision by the state Charter School Institute. It was the first time that a charter school has challenged a district’s exclusive chartering authority, which in essence gives a district first right of review of charter applications.

In legal papers filed with board and in the arguments of its lawyers Thursday afternoon, the school alleged the district had shortchanged it in various financial matters and therefore had violated state charter school law and should be stripped of its chartering authority.

Lawyer Eric Hall, representing the school, said moving to institute supervision would be “a critical step in taking the school from good to great.”

Among the school’s claims were that the district didn’t provide the administrative services it should have, changed formulas to prevent the school from receiving federal Title I funds, mishandled funds for English language learners, didn’t give the school funds it was due from federal impact reimbursement related to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal site, refused to allow the school to participate in the Colorado Preschool Program and didn’t provide promised food and transportation services to the school.

“Adams 14 has consistently shown hostility toward this charter school,” dating back to 2004, the school’s filing read, and shown “a pattern of violations of the charter schools act.”

The district’s formal answer was equally pugnacious, reading, “CLA has struggled to achieve its stated academic mission” and detailing past problems at the school with nepotism, violations of the open meetings law, parent complaints about discrimination and failure to follow the terms of its charter.

The brief denied that the district had done anything wrong in most financial matters. It said a mistake in allocation of federal summer school money had been corrected, and the Department of Education had made a mistake in allocation of funds for English language learners.

The school also requested that CDE finance experts do an audit of the financial issues. In most cases, the department found for the school district, a fact district lawyer David Olson mentioned repeatedly in his arguments.

Four members voted for the motion to uphold the school district’s chartering authority, including Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District; Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District; Jane Goff, D-7th District, and Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District. Peggy Littleton, R-5th District; Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, and Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, voted no.

Thumbs down on ballot measures

DeHoff proposed three resolutions putting the board on record as opposing amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. All board members supported opposition to 60 and 61. Schaffer voted no on the resolution opposing Proposition 101, saying he supports the part of the proposal that would roll back the specific ownership tax.

Sex ed a bit divisive

The board voted 4-3 to instruct Jones to apply for some $700,000 in federal grants from the Abstinence Education Program. Jones had sought board guidance on the issue partly because, he said, Gov. Bill Ritter has decided the state shouldn’t apply for the funds. (As a separately elected body, the board can act on its own.

After a bit of carefully worded discussion around the board table, Gantz Berman, Goff and Schroeder voted no.

Video games resolution passed

The board voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution supporting a federal court case filed by some states that seeks to establish the right of states of regulate kids’ access to violent video games. Littleton pushed for the resolution.

Gantz Berman, who voted no, said, “I don’t think it’s within the jurisdiction of the state board.”

At the request of Schaffer, Littleton agreed to delete some of the “whereas” clauses that made sweeping statements about the danger of video games. Schroeder was the only other no vote.

Who cares about R2T rejection?

Jones, in a morning briefing to the board, repeated his belief that Colorado is on the right path to education reform despite rejection of its Race to the Top application. He said the department is exploring ways to proceed with and fund a variety of yet-to-be-implemented legislation. He also said CDE is planning a statewide “listening tour” this fall to re-enlist districts in reform efforts.

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.”