Dougco decision: Black or blue?

Instead of being beaten black and blue by state cuts in education funding, the Douglas County School District will try to opt for one or the other.

The district unveiled two possible 2011-2012 budgets Tuesday night, a “blue” one and a “black” one. Both are in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2011-12 budget, which would slash education funding by $332 million.

For Douglas County, that equals $465 per student.

The blue budget is the more draconian measure and was called a “live within our means” budget by Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen. It would be implemented if school board members decide not to ask voters for a tax increase for operating dollars in November.

If the board agrees to seek additional funding from voters, they’ll use the black budget. In either case, the district will make up an expected shortfall of $25 million resulting from less revenue and greater pension and health insurance costs. But the means will differ.

Elements of “blue” budget

Under the blue budget, the single biggest chunk of savings would come from cutting per-pupil allocations to schools.

Elementary schools would receive $200 less per student while middle and high schools would receive $300 less per pupil, for a total savings of $13 million.

Another $5.6 million in savings would come from instituting four furlough days for district employees, according to Bonnie Betz, the district’s chief financial officer.

Other pieces of the blue plan include cutting $2 million from the central office.

“Black” budget uses reserves

Under the black budget, most of these cuts would be avoided because of the use of reserve funds, Betz said.

The district would pull $14.4 million from reserves to offset the expected shortfall in 2011-12.

Furlough days would be avoided and so would cuts in per-pupil allocations to elementary schools. Middle and high schools would still see $100 less per pupil. Central office reductions would still total $2 million.

The use of the reserve funds would be a one-time option to “get us through next year,” said Assistant Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Considering a tax question

Board President John Carson said a tax question will certainly be considered, but the board took no action at Tuesday’s meeting except to release details of the two proposed spending plans to the public. Only four board members were present at the meeting, held at Cresthill Middle School in Highlands Ranch.

Betz outlined a potential ballot question that would cost $7.50 for the average homeowner in Douglas County, based on a home valued at $337,500.

If approved, the increase would bring an additional $20 million in 2012, growing to $27 million in 2015.

That additional revenue would void the worst-case scenario of the blue budget, Betz said.

Charting the financial need

Douglas County voters have twice declined to approve tax increases for operating dollars in recent years, said Susan Meek, the district’s communications director.

One result is the amount of funding from operating increases, or mill levy overrides, has decreased in Douglas County from $700 per student in 2004 to less than $400 per student in 2010, Betz said.

At the same time, the district has added more than 14,000 students and, with more than 56,000 students, is the third-largest school district in the state.

Betz produced a chart showing Douglas County, one of the state’s most affluent districts, receives fewer dollars than other large metro-area districts in state education funding, which takes factors such as poverty into consideration. In 2010-11, for example, Dougco is receiving $6,541 per student compared to Denver’s $7,232 – a difference of $691.

Add dollars that districts currently receive for tax operating increases into the mix, and the gaps between Dougco and some other districts are even greater. Dougco receives $7,123 per student in both state funding and mill-levy dollars compared to Boulder’s $8,676 – a difference of $1,553.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.