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.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.