Who Is In Charge

SBE races fly under political radar

If history, voter registration and fund raising are any indications, the State Board of Education after Tuesday’s election will look similar to the board that’s been operating for the last two years.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The board has four Republicans and three Democrats now, and most observers expect those numbers won’t change, but there will be at least two new faces in seats that are being vacated.

The new group faces major tasks in the next year, including the hiring of a new commissioner, implementation of the educator effectiveness law and selection of a new testing system.

And the new board will face a changed political landscape, with a new governor and possible changes in party control at the legislature.

Here are snapshots of candidates in this year’s races:

2nd District

Kaye Ferry (R) – A businesswoman and active party member, she also served 19 years as executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association. (Website)

Angelika Schroeder (D) – An accountant and former Boulder School Board member and college professor, Schroeder was named to the board in 2008 to fill a vacancy and is on the ballot for the first time. (Website)

5th District

Karl Beck (D) – The Colorado Springs resident is studying to be a teacher and has worked in the non-profit sector. (Website)

Paul Lundeen (R) – A businessman and investment advisor from Monument, Lundeen also has worked in politics and journalism. (Website)

6th District

Debora Scheffel (R) – A resident of Parker, Scheffel has extensive education experience and specializations in literacy, special education and assessment. She’s a special assistant to the commissioner for literacy, dean of the school of education at Jones International University and formerly taught at the University of Northern Colorado. (Website)

William Townend (D) – A retired medical researcher who started his career as a teacher, Townend lives in Aurora. (Website)

History of SBE races

State board races are generally low-profile affairs, with very modest campaign spending and little visibility for many voters. (For example, in 2008 273,994 votes were cast for the two candidates in the race for the 6th District seat in the U.S. House, while 258,288 votes were case for the two SBE candidates in that district. There was a similar under vote in the 3rd District.)

Election results for SBE candidates historically mirror voter registration patterns in individual districts. A review of election results back to 1996 shows that Democrats have won every SBE election in the 2nd District, while Republicans always have won in the 5th and 6th districts. (District boundaries changed somewhat for the 2002 election because of the 2000 census.)

Among active registered voters, the 2nd District currently is 38 percent Democratic, while Republicans are at 47 percent in the 5th and 43 percent in the 6th. Unaffiliated voters are the second-largest group in all three districts.

In the last 16 years, all SBE incumbents who sought election (including those appointed between elections) were victorious.

This year, Schroeder, Lundeen and Scheffel lead in fundraising in their respective races (see this story for details).

Candidates on the issues

Education News Colorado surveyed the six candidates for their view on state education issues. Here’s a summary of what each said:

2nd DISTRICT

Kaye Ferry
Kaye Ferry

Kaye Ferry

  • School funding: “My first guess would be that education has a lot of waste in the system. … Education, like every other component of government, needs to take a long hard look at how it operates and cut back like everyone else.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “There’s no need to move at record speed, it’s far more important to pick the right person. It will have to be someone unafraid to confront the status quo because we know that hasn’t worked.”
  • Common Core Standards: Favors rescinding Colorado’s adoption.
  • Testing: “Education has to be about more than that [testing] but it also must have some methods for measuring not only what the students are learning but how we stack up against other states and other countries.” Open to Colorado participation in a multi-state testing program.
  • Race to the Top: Would want to review the criteria if the program is extended but generally is concerned about losing control to the federal government.

Angelika Schroeder
Angelika Schroeder

Angelika Schroeder

  • School funding: She didn’t comment in detail because board members are defendants in the Lobato v. Colorado school funding lawsuit but did say she feels constitutional change probably will be required.
  • Selecting a new commissioner: Wants a new commissioner who can continue Jones’ strong relationships with a wide variety of education groups and interests. “While there remain some areas of needed improvement and alignment, I do not support bringing in a new leader to take us in a new direction. The current efforts have not had enough time or work to see them through.”
  • Common Core Standards: “Using common core standards for our students just makes sense.”
  • Testing: Supports a new testing system that has shorter tests, faster results and both formative and summative tests. Supports including results on a student’s transcript. Supports participation in multi-state tests while reserving the option for Colorado to withdraw.
  • Race to Top: Would support reapplying but only if district backing of the state plan is stronger than was the case with the last application.

5th DISTRICT

Karl Beck
Karl Beck

Karl Beck

  • School funding: “I really don’t think that it is the amount of money that is spent per student as much as how it is spent.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “The commissioner should have experience both in business and education. … I think the replacement should be found as soon as possible.”
  • Common Core Standards: “I truly believe that there should be some common core standards that are taught to all students in math, science and language arts.”
  • Testing: “We must also remember that some of us may know the curriculum in question but do poorly on tests. One solution may be to develop other ways to test our students.”
  • Race to the Top: Supports applying if the program is continued.

Paul Lundeen
Paul Lundeen

Paul Lundeen

  • School funding: He says schools need to figure out how to “provide an increasing level of service when increased dollars aren’t necessarily available.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “I would like to see a visionary who’s not afraid to challenge well-worn, shopworn conventional ideas.” He complimented Jones’ work but said, “Does that mean we stay exactly on the same path? Probably not.”
  • Common Core Standards: “I believe that education should be local” and generally leans toward state standards.
  • Testing: “Deserves more attention and study on my part.”
  • Race to the Top: “We’re looking for funding wherever we can get it” but doesn’t want “to get sucked into some common denominator, a lower common denominator.”

6th DISTRICT

Debora Scheffel
Debora Scheffel

Debora Scheffel

Scheffel did not respond to EdNews’ questions. On her website she writes, “We must preserve what is best about public education and reform those aspects that do not serve our students and families well” and that focus needs to be placed on “parental choice and involvement, accountability, teacher empowerment and instructional excellence.”

In a May interview with the Colorado Statesman, Scheffel said she believes her special education background would be helpful on the board, supports the educator effectiveness law, wants to make sure the public is getting excellence in exchange for education funding and supports financial help for parents who place special needs children in non-public schools.

William Townend
William Townend

William Townend

  • School funding: “K-12 education is not adequately funded under the present structure. …
    The best short-term solution is increasing operational efficiency. This should start with a complete and careful cost accounting, followed by a cost benefit analysis for all programs.”
  • Selecting a new commissioner: “I would like to see a commissioner who is at least as committed to sensible change as Dr. Jones. I would like to see greater change. … I would certainly favor someone who would set individualization and use of 21st century technology as priorities.”
  • Common Core Standards: Does not support state participation in the program.
  • Testing: Supports quick turnaround testing that helps teachers work with students who are lagging and supports use of multi-state tests.
  • Race to the Top: Favors reapplication only after a careful cost-benefit analysis.

All candidates who responded to the survey said they generally support the directions established by recent education reform legislation, including the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the Innovation Schools Act, the new district accountability system and the new educator effectiveness law. Townend expressed some concerns about the innovation schools and educator effectiveness laws.

About the SBE

The board has operated in relative public harmony since the 2008 election, which brought one newcomer, Republican Marcia Neal of the 3rd District, to the board. Democrats Elaine Gantz Berman of the 1st District and Jane Goff of the 7th District also were elected that year but had been appointed earlier to fill vacancies. Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District was elected in 2006.

Leaving the board are Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, after one full term and Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, vice chair, the board’s longest serving member and former head of the Charter School Institute. He was first elected in 1998.

Members are part-time, unpaid and can serve two six-year terms. (Map of districts.)

Controversy

Boundary lines of proposed South Loop high school drive wedge between communities

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke
About 30 speakers weighed in on a boundary proposal for a new South Loop high school at a public meeting at IIT.

The parent, wearing an “I Love NTA” T-shirt, said it loudly and directly toward the end of the public comment section Thursday night. “It sickens me to be here today and see so many people fighting for scraps,” said Kawana Hebron, in a public meeting on the boundaries for a proposed South Loop high school on the current site of National Teachers Academy. “Every community on this map is fighting for scraps.”

The 1,200-student high school, slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year near the corner of Cermak Road and State Street, has become a wedge issue dividing communities and races on the Near South Side.

Supporters of NTA, which is a 82 percent black elementary school, say pressure from wealthy white and Chinese families is leading the district to shutter its exceptional 1-plus rated program. A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County in June by parents and supporters contends the decision violates the Illinois Civil Rights Code. 

But residents of Chinatown and the condo-and-crane laden South Loop have lobbied for an open-enrollment high school for years and that the district is running out of places to put one.

“I worry for my younger brother,” said a 15-year-old who lives between Chinatown and Bridgeport and travels north to go to the highly selective Jones College Prep. She said that too many students compete for too few seats in the nail-biting process to get into a selective enrollment high school. Plus, she worries about the safety, and environment, of the schools near her home. “We want something close, but good.”

PHOTO: Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools
The “general attendance” boundary for the proposed South Loop high school is outlined in blue. The neighborhoods outlined in red would receive “preference,” but they would not be guaranteed seats.

One by one, residents of Chinatown or nearby spoke in favor of the high school at the meeting in Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They described their long drives, their fearfulness of dropping off children in schools with few, if any, Chinese students, and their concerns about truancy and poor academics at some neighboring open-enrollment high schools.

But their comments were sandwiched by dissenting views. A member of South Loop Elementary’s Local School Council argued that Chicago Public Schools has not established a clear process when it comes to shuttering an elementary and spending $10 million to replace it with a high school. “CPS scheduled this meeting at the same time as a capital budget meeting,” she complained.

She was followed by another South Loop parent who expressed concerns about potential overcrowding, the limited $10 million budget for the conversion, and the genesis of the project. “It’s a terrible way to start a new high school – on the ashes of a good elementary school,” the parent said.

The most persistent critique Thursday night was not about the decision to close NTA, but, rather, of the boundary line that would determine who gets guaranteed access and who doesn’t. The GAP, a diverse middle-class neighborhood bordered by 31st on the north, 35th on the South, King Drive to the east and LaSalle Street to the west, sits just outside the proposed boundary. A parade of GAP residents said they’ve been waiting for decades for a good option for their children but have been locked out in this iteration of the map. Children who live in the GAP would have “preference” status but would not be guaranteed access to seats.

“By not including our children into the guaranteed access high school boundaries – they are being excluded from high-quality options,” said Claudia Silva-Hernandez, the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. “Our children deserve the peace of mind of a guaranteed-access option just like the children of South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.”

Leonard E. McGee, the president of the GAP Community Organization, said that tens of millions in tax-increment financing dollars – that is, money that the city collects on top of property tax revenues that is intended for economic development in places that need it most – originated from the neighborhood in the 1980s and went to help fund the construction of NTA. But not many of the area’s students got seats there.

Asked how he felt about the high school pitting community groups against each other, he paused. “If we’re all fighting for scraps, it must be a good scrap we’re fighting for.”

The meeting was run by Herald “Chip” Johnson, chief officer of CPS’ Office of Family and Community Engagement. He said that detailed notes from the meeting will be handed over to the office of CEO Janice Jackson. She will make a final recommendation to the Board of Education, which will put the plan up for a vote.

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.