Who Is In Charge

Dems hunt for K-12 answers

Legislative Democrats know they don’t like Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2011-12 budget, but they don’t yet know quite how to soften the blow to K-12 education.

“The budget we pass won’t be the same as the governor’s proposal,” Senate President Brandon Shaffer told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t know how it will be different.”

Sens. Brandon Shaffer and Bob Bacon
Senate President Brandon Shaffer (left) and Sen. Bob Bacon weren't nearly as cheerful as they looked in this photo as they talked to reporters about K-12 budget cuts on Feb. 16, 2010.

Hickenlooper’s budget plan, unveiled Tuesday, proposes cutting K-12 spending for next year by $332 million from current levels. That cut would reduce average per-pupil funding from $6,823 to $6,326 and make total program spending about $5.1 billion.

The governor’s K-12 spending plan would be $836 million below what full 2011-12 funding would be under the terms of Amendment 23. Details in this story.

Legislators, lobbyists and others at the Statehouse weren’t blindsided by the Hickenlooper plan; a cut of $300 million to $400 million had been widely expected.

Still the actual announcement had a shock effect, which was still rolling through the Capitol Wednesday.

The subject came up as the House debated 2010-11 budget balancing bills, as the Senate Education Committee discussed non-budget bills and during a Senate Democratic caucus after the morning floor session ended.

“In my mind the legislative session just started” with Hickenlooper’s announcement, Shaffer said.

The Senate president and education committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, met with reporters Wednesday afternoon to talk about their commitment to education funding and about – without many specifics – what they hope to do about it. Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, was supposed to participate but was held up on the House floor, trying to scrape a little extra education money out of 2010-11 budget balancing bills.

Shaffer and Bacon evaded saying what level of K-12 would be acceptable to them.

One reporter asked if Hickenlooper’s budget was “dead on arrival” in the legislature. Bacon replied, “I certainly hope in part it is DOA.”

But the two talked only in general terms about what can be done to reduce the K-12 bite.

Hickenlooper has proposed setting a 4 percent general fund reserve for next year instead of the 2 percent sometimes used in tight budget years.

“That may be a point of discussion,” Bacon said.

Hickenlooper pointed out to reporters Tuesday that cutting back to a 2 percent reserve would only free up about $100 million and suggested that wouldn’t make much of a difference. Shaffer said Wednesday, “In my world $100 million is a lot of money.”

“I can’t tell you where the money is” to help education, Shaffer said. “This is a negotiation.”

The two also mentioned Senate Bill 11-001, a measure they are cosponsoring.

The bill would create a temporary and somewhat convoluted system to funnel an undetermined amount of money to K-12 schools. It would work like this: If the balance in the state general fund next December is larger than the March 2011 estimate of general fund revenue, the difference would go into a Knowledge-Based Economy Fund and then given to the Department of Education in January 2012. The money then would be distributed to school districts to partially offset cuts. Monday from audit recoveries also would be swept into the fund.

No fiscal analysis has yet been done on the bill, and Shaffer couldn’t estimate how much money it might raise.

Both agreed the revenue probably would be modest.

Shaffer also said money for education is “not going to come from one place,” adding, “There will be other initiatives that will come forward,” without being specific.

The president also has introduced Senate Bill 11-109, which would allow citizens to contribute to education through income-tax check-offs. He acknowledged that wouldn’t raise much money.

In response to a question, Shaffer said he wasn’t going to try to raise education funds by selling off the Pinnacol workers’ comp insurance company. That’s been a radioactive issue in recent sessions. “That’s not where I’m going.”

Raiding state cash funds, a popular tactic in past downturns, probably isn’t much of an option, Shaffer said. “I unfortunately think most of the cash funds are tapped out.”

Both men vowed to at least make education funding an issue of intense debate this session.

Shaffer noted that last year it took the Senate only six minutes of floor discussion to approve cutting some $265 million from K-12 support.

“We’re not going to let that happen” this year, he said.

And Bacon has talked about structuring the annual school finance bill in such a way as to draw attention to the magnitude of education cuts.

In other action

• It was the House’s turn Wednesday to work through the long list of Joint Budget Committee bills designed to balance the current 2010-11 budget. Consideration of the bills was moved up on the schedule.

Debate on the bills largely mirrored that in the Senate. The House did pass a Democratic amendment to give schools any excess funds over a proposed 2.3 percent reserve.

• The Senate Education Committee approved two measures, Senate Bill 11-111 and House Bill 11-1077.

The first is the bill by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, to create a study panel that would examine ways to attack the state’s college remediation problem. Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, wondered if such a panel is necessary, given the new executive branch education commission being organized under Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

The committee did pass the bill, which now will require approval from Legislative Council, the leadership committee that has to OK all legislative studies.

Senate Ed also passed House Bill 11-1077, which would clean up state laws on special education and gifted and talented students.

• The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee killed Senate Bill 11-075, which would have required state regulation of inflatable amusement devices such as “bouncy castles.”

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”