Who Is In Charge

Lobato 8/10: Teachers have a say

The first teachers to testify in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit took the stand Wednesday on the eighth day of trial.

Fourth-grade teacher Matt Keefauver and science teacher Justine Bayles each choked up a bit as they described the financial challenges facing the Montezuma-Cortez schools and the academic challenges facing their students.

Lobato v. State illustration“We have no classroom budget” for supplies, Keefauver said. “I buy those things out of my own pocket.” Keefauver said he has an herb-growing business, works at odd and summer jobs and gets a small salary as Cortez mayor pro-tem, all providing income he uses to supplement his salary and provide things for his students.

A 15-year teacher, he said he looks on the profession as “a calling,” but said he’s rethinking his work. “I never ever thought I’d be put into a position where I’d have to consider giving it up … I can’t make ends meet.”

Bayles, who was born on the Navajo Reservation, teaches middle school science and coaches basketball. She said she and the other science teacher have to coordinate lessons so they can swap textbooks day to day. There aren’t enough books for both rooms or for students to take home, she testified. “There are no homework assignments because I don’t have enough books for each student.”

Asked about her students’ futures, Bayles said, “I would say a majority of them will not be college ready.”

District Judge Sheila Rappaport also heard about life in an ultra-small district from witness Buck Stroh, superintendent in Creede.

Asked if thinks his students are receiving a “thorough and uniform” education, as the state constitution requires, Stroh said, “If you would define thorough and uniform to just the three Rs, I think we are doing an outstanding job.”

Stroh said Creede will have no more than 75 students this school year. The district is among the state’s 10 smallest, and is the only district in Mineral County. The nearest towns are about 40 miles in either direction, he said.

Highlights of the day

TONE: After seven days of articulate but often-dry testimony, Keefauver and Bayles struck the first real emotional note at the trial.

QUOTE: “I don’t believe our kids get a thorough and uniform education. … I don’t think our kids are getting a well-rounded education.” Ty Ryland, president of the school board in the 260-student Sierra Grande district in the San Luis Valley

MANEUVERING: Lawyers for the state chose not to cross-examine Keefauver or Bayles.

DOCUMENTS: Read detailed background on the case here and see our archive of Lobato stories.

UPCOMING: A variety of witnesses from Colorado Springs District 11, Boulder and Pueblo are expected to take the stand Thursday. On Friday, DPS CFO David Hart and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy are scheduled to testify.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”