Future of Schools

Monday Churn: Tax campaign launched

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Sen. Rollie Heath has been talking about it for months, but today he formally launched the campaign for a ballot measure that would raise state taxes for five years to provide additional revenue for state schools and colleges.

Heath, a Boulder Democrat and one-time candidate for governor, first raised the idea in February, shortly after Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed cutting K-12 spending for next year by $332 million. The cut subsequently got whittled to about $228 million.

Since then Heath has been testing the waters, getting ballot language approved and has started to circulate petitions. His plan would raise state personal and corporate income tax rates to 5 percent from the current 4.63 percent. The state portion of sales taxes would go from 2.9 to 3 percent. The additional revenue could be used only for public schools and the state’s higher ed system and couldn’t be used to supplant existing funding. The measure sets 2011-12 spending for schools and colleges as a floor. Ballot measure text.

The higher rates would be in effect from 2012 to 2017 and are projected to raise more than $3 billion over that period.

Having survived his first legislative session, Hickenlooper already is thinking about next year. Speaking Friday during an event sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the governor mentioned several possible issues for 2012 – including looking into faculty tenure at state colleges and universities. More in this Denver Business Journal article.

Whether faculty tenure is an issue that needs to be dealt with is an interesting question, given that full-time tenured faculty are in the minority in Colorado.

Summary 2009 data compiled for EdNews by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education shows that the state had 12,984 full-time faculty members and 12,984 part-timers. Of full time faculty, 3,808 held tenure, 2,729 had tenure track status and 6,447 had neither. Of part-time faculty, 12,829 did not have tenure or weren’t on the tenure track.

The data did not break out faculty by type of institution. Generally, tenure part-time and non-tenured faculty are most common at community colleges.

In case you missed it, fewer than 500 students applied for vouchers in the Douglas County pilot program starting this fall so a lottery, tentatively scheduled for today, won’t be necessary.

Douglas County School District officials announced a total of 543 applications were received by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline. But 48 applications were determined to be ineligible, leaving 495 eligible students.

According to the program requirements, applicants must be district residents currently enrolled in a district school for no less than one year to be deemed eligible.

Families will be notified this week which private schools they may attend. District officials said they’re still finalizing contracts with the 33 schools that have applied for the program.

Visit the district’s website or read EdNewsprior coverage to learn more.

What’s on tap:

TODAY

The Colorado State University Board of Governors meets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the CSU Denver office, 410 17th St., suite 2440.

The Denver school board holds a work session starting at 4:30 p.m. at 900 Grant St. The agenda includes three new innovation school proposals.

Also in DPS, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez will meet with Superintendent Tom Boasberg and students at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College to talk about school-based efforts to reduce suspensions and to build a culture of student responsibility and positive behavior. It’s from 1 to 2 p.m. at the school, 19535 E. 46th Ave.

TUESDAY

The Douglas County school board meets at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. Agenda.

The St. Vrain school board holds a joint meeting with the Longmont City Council at the Longmont Public Library.

THURSDAY

The Denver board convenes a regular meeting starting at 2 p.m. at 900 Grant St., followed by a public comment session at 4:30 p.m. Agenda.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Special treatment: Advocates say D.C. charter schools are excluding students with disabilities. Washington Post.

Adding up: New York state education officials are increasing the weight of student test scores in teacher evaluations. New York Times.

Record graduates: Metro State celebrated its largest-ever spring graduating class. Denver Post.

Note to readers: With the legislature adjourned and the school year ending, the flow of education news changes. Because of that, the Daily Churn is going on a flexible schedule. We’ll continue to post the Churn when there’s news you need to know, but it won’t necessarily appear every weekday.

Making ends meet

Detroit teachers who get second jobs to supplement low salaries might soon have to disclose those gigs

PHOTO: Photo courtesy of Dawn McFarlin
Dawn McFarlin, shown here wearing a shirt from her T-shirt company, is one of many Michigan teachers with a second job.

Teachers in Detroit’s main school district could soon have to tell their supervisors if they are supplementing their salaries with a side job.

The school board’s policy committee last week approved a new policy that says the district  “expects employees to disclose outside employment” and bars employees from working a second job while on any kind of leave.

The policy, which will get more review, including a minimum of two reads before the full school board, before being adopted and put into practice, comes amid a wholesale overhaul of district rules. The school board is reviewing and implementing a host of new policies as part of the ongoing transition from the old Detroit Public Schools district to the new one, the Detroit Public Schools Community District.  

Frequent changes to district policies under the five emergency managers who ran the Detroit district in recent years means that it’s unclear whether the employment disclosure policy is new, although the rules for outside employment under the current employee code of ethics do not require employees to disclose their second jobs. It’s also unclear how many teachers and district staffers the policy might affect, whether any kinds of second jobs might be prohibited, and how the district might use information about teachers’ side gigs.

What is clear is that educators say intervening in teachers’ outside employment does not make sense, given how hard it is to make ends meet as a Detroit educator right now.

“The bottom line is until you start paying teachers enough money, until then, people have to do what they have to do to make ends meet,” said Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. “It’s really none of their business about what teachers do on their off time unless it’s a conflict of interest.”

Such conflicts, in which a teacher’s second job might interfere with his or her ability to fulfill responsibilities to the district, are exactly why the policy is needed, said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

“As we’re rebuilding the district, we really want to avoid as many conflict of interests as possible,” Vitti said. “We’ve seen instances where there are conflicts of interest at the district level at the school level with all employees, so we’re just trying to be proactive with the culture of the district.”

Vitti said the step is intended to “prevent some of the ills of the past,” though he did not offer any specific examples.

But the district’s history is littered with costly and embarrassing scandals that might have been averted if closer attention were being paid to employees’ outside jobs. In one extreme example, a district official created tutoring companies, then billed for services she never delivered.

Vitti also pointed out that many other districts require full disclosure of outside employment. His former district, Duval County Public Schools in Florida, is not one of them, according to an employee handbook posted online. There, employees are not expected to disclose their outside employment, nor are they barred from working other jobs while on leave. But they are not allowed to sell anything to other teachers nor to parents of their students.

If implemented, the policy in Detroit could affect large numbers of teachers. About 19 percent of Michigan teachers reported having a second job as of 2014, according to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Detroit, where teacher pay is especially low, that number could be even higher. Vitti has vowed to increase teacher pay, and a new contract ratified last summer gave teachers their first real raise in several years. But that was not enough to bring teachers back to where they were when they took a 10 percent pay cut in 2011.

Dawn McFarlin, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher, launched her T-shirt company as a side gig as a way make extra money. After years without a pay increase in the city’s schools, she’s now working in another district, but she’s still hawking shirts to her former colleagues. Her top tee says “I Teach in the D” on the front.

So far, she’s sold about 500 shirts at $25 each, mainly to friends and through her Facebook page. She said she uses the profits to pay bills and fund her children’s travel expenses for sports.

“As a teacher, I know how it feels to be in the grocery store, trying to make ends meet,” McFarlin  said. “I was thinking of the struggle teachers go through, and that’s how the shirt came about.”

Here’s the complete policy that the school board is considering. Board members will review the policy next at the full school board meeting in February, where the public can address the board.

“Outside employment is regarded as employment for compensation that is not within the duties and responsibilities of the employee’s regular position with the school system. Employees shall not be prohibited from holding employment outside the District as long as such employment does not result in a conflict of interest nor interfere with assigned duties as determined by the District.

The Board expects employees to disclose outside employment. The Board expects employees to devote maximum effort to the position in which employed. An employee will not perform any duties related to an outside job during regular working hours or for professional employees during the additional time that the responsibilities of the District’s position require; nor will an employee use any District facilities, equipment or materials in performing outside work.

When the periods of work are such that certain evenings, days or vacation periods are duty free, the employee may use such off-duty time for the purposes of non-school employment.

This policy prohibits outside supplemental employment while on any type of leave.”

testing testing

New York won’t apply for federal program that would have allowed for ‘innovative’ state tests

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

A major makeover of the state’s English and math tests is not in the cards, top state education officials said Tuesday.

New York will not apply for a federal pilot program that would have allowed the state to experiment with different kinds of math and English tests for grades 3-8, officials announced Tuesday. Last May, the state indicated it would apply.

The decision — which was based on the state’s conclusion that developing new tests would be too expensive — largely shuts the door on major testing changes, such as having students complete projects or submit examples of their work.

Creating “innovative assessments” for the math and English tests is a “very, very, large project,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “If we did it in some other areas, I think that we would have a lot more success with less costs,” she said, referring to subjects like science and social studies, as well as the exams that high school students must pass in order to graduate.

The move is likely to rankle parents who have led the charge to boycott state exams in New York, which has been rocked by one of the largest opt-out movements in the country. Though the state has already made some changes to the tests, including shortening them and giving students unlimited time to complete the material, these parents have called for more. Last year, nearly one in five families chose to have their children sit out of the tests.

Lisa Rudley, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, a group that helped organize the opt-out movement, said she hadn’t expected major changes to come from the pilot program. But she’s disappointed that the state isn’t looking separately to take a new approach to its annual tests.

“I am frustrated as someone who opts their children out,” Rudley said. “If we have to do an assessment, it should be a value for the student and teachers to drive instruction.”

State officials say that more changes are not feasible right now. The state is already in the process of shortening the tests from three days to two and reworking test questions to match the state’s newly revamped learning standards.

“The fact that there is no additional federal funding available to implement the pilot means the Department must focus its resources on more immediate assessment priorities,” said education department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis. “We will continue to look for opportunities in the future should resources allow.”

Elia said the state is interested in experimenting with new tests in science, social studies, and for graduating students. State officials gave few additional details, but said the science tests should be “hands-on” and mentioned creating a “capstone” project for graduating students.

“Those are all things that are still on the page for a different approach for assessment,” Elia said.