Who Is In Charge

Bill would give colleges greater freedom

A bill introduced in the House Tuesday would give state colleges and universities greater autonomy in use of student fees, personnel matters and construction projects, plus additional flexibility in other administrative areas.

House Bill 11-1301 has bipartisan sponsorship and is being pushed by the University of Colorado, according to several higher education lobbyists. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs and assistant majority leader. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass and a former CU regent.

The bill has been assigned to the House State Affairs Committee, not to House Education.

The overall thrust of the bill appears to reduce the number of Colorado Commission on Higher Education and other state agency requirements that institutions now have to meet.

CU-Boulder campus view
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder

Provisions of the 43-page measure would:

  • Specify that guaranteed tuition contracts cover tuition, not fees.
  • Give governing boards greater control over student fees and reduce the role of the CCHE in that area.
  • Remove the requirement that the commission approve institution plans to set up non-profit arms.
  • Give governing boards the power to indemnify their contractors.
  • Give institutions greater autonomy in their information security programs.
  • Allow institutions greater freedom to dispose of surplus property and discretion in making purchases from correctional industries.
  • Allow college presidents greater freedom to create positions not covered the state personnel system, hire contractors, rehire retired employees for longer periods of time, offer employee incentive programs and authorize administrative leave for classified employees.
  • Provide colleges greater freedom in handling construction projects, including removal of the current requirement that colleges get student input if they want to use tuition revenue as security for auxiliary facilities.

A 2009 law gave state colleges additional flexibility in handling their construction projects, and a 2010 law gave them significantly expanded power to set tuition rates – but with the oversight of CCHE.

The 2010 higher education plan developed by a citizen panel recommended a stronger regulatory role for CCHE, an idea that’s been resisted both publicly and privately by some college presidents.

Some presidents, especially Bruce Benson of CU, also repeatedly have cited steadily declining tax support for higher education as an important reason for giving colleges more freedom to manage their own finances

Counselor Corps gets its funding back

Proposed 2011-12 funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps has been on a roller coaster ever since budget deliberations starts months ago.

The Joint Budget Committee proposed cutting it to about $2.5 million, the Senate bumped it back to $5 million and the House took the number back down to $2.5 million.

Tuesday, meeting as a conference committee to reconcile the different House and Senate versions of Senate Bill 11-209, the long appropriations bill, the JBC voted 4-2 to restore $5 million for the corps.

The final version of the budget still has to be approved by both houses. But by this time of the session, the other 94 lawmakers are so sick of the budget they usually agree to the JBC’s compromise version.

The committee deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to restore $30,000 in funding for family literacy centers, another Department of Education program.

Two studies advance, two die

The Legislative Council gathered first thing Tuesday morning for a new job – prioritizing and then voting on bills and resolutions that propose various legislative studies to be done after the session ends.

Three related to education were on the list of 12.

Approved was Senate Bill 11-111, which proposes a study of how to help students negotiate school transitions (like middle to high school) and how to reduce college remediation rates. Also approved was Senate Bill 11-133, which proposes a study of school discipline methods and which methods are inappropriately used.

The panel defeated House Bill 11-1184, which proposed studying of new ways to fund higher education. Also defeated was Senate Joint Resolution 11-033, which proposed a panel to review a University of Denver tax study that a previous legislature requested. That study isn’t finished.

While Legislature Council long had had a role in deciding which interim studies are supported with legislative funds and staff, a recent law has given it expanded power to prioritize projects and vote them up or down, just like a regular committee in either house.

So, members were feeling their way through the sometimes-cumbersome process, punctuated by jokes and laughter during the more confused portions of the 90-minute session.

The measures that survived Tuesday’s review still have to be passed by the full House and Senate to go into effect.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: