The plaintiffs in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit ended presentation of their case with another story of a struggling school district, just hours before lawyers for the state will begin presenting their case with testimony from Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.
Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio was the final witness presented by the plaintiff-intervenors in the case, a group of parents from four districts, including Greeley, Mapleton, Rocky Ford and Sheridan. The districts aren’t plaintiffs.
The larger original group of plaintiffs in the case includes parents and several school districts, including Aurora and Jefferson County. Both sets of plaintiffs share the central claim that the state’s school funding system doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement for a “thorough and uniform” system of schools, as detailed in the education standards set in law by the legislature.
The second group of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also are stressing the inadequacy of state funding for English language learners, poor students, early childhood education and school buildings.
Ciancio’s testimony followed a now-familiar pattern set by superintendents of other districts. Lawyers walk a witness through a detailed list of questions about district poverty rates, percentages of English language learners, achievement statistics, budget challenges, aging computers and crumbling buildings, invariably ending with a question that requires a superintendent to acknowledge that with current resources he or she can’t ensure that all students in the district will meet state achievement requirements.
The final piece of the pattern is cross-examination by lawyers for the state, who ask each witness glass-half-full questions about awards won by the district, achievement gains, new buildings, tax increases approved and the like.
Mapleton is an 8,000-student (including online) district in southwest Adams County, next to Thornton and north of Denver. Its students are 72 percent Hispanic, 37 percent English language learners and 61 percent free lunch, according to exhibits shown during Ciancio’s testimony.
Those percentages have grown significantly in just a decade.
Ciancio said the combination of those characteristics “creates a very complex environment for classroom teachers.”
She said that with appropriate resources “I know … that all of them (at-risk) students would reach proficiency” but that “there’s just not enough to go around.
“I’m proud of the fact that we are able to do so much with so little.”
Earlier in the day, Mary Wickersham, chair of the state Capital Construction Assistance Board, testified at length about school building needs around the state. Wickersham, who helped write the legislation that created the Building Excellent Schools Today grant programs, said, “it has not” solved the state’s school building needs.
She noted that the statewide building survey done after the BEST law passed found nearly $18 billion in school renovation and construction needs.
On Monday, MALDEF lawyers tried to paint a broader picture of demographic changes in the state’s schools through the expert-witness testimony of Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and former director of the U.S. Census.
Murdock testified about a report he compiled for the plaintiffs, a document that notes the growing Hispanic population in Colorado, especially in younger age groups.
“Our overall conclusion is that the state of Colorado is undergoing very dramatic changes in its population … and unless steps are taken to ensure that all people” receive an adequate education, “We’re looking at the potential for Colorado to be a poor and uncompetitive state,” Murdock said.
Highlights of the day:
QUOTE: “The most expensive education is one that kids drop out of.” – Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio
MANEUVERING: Trials like the Lobato case are elaborately scripted events, which lists of potential witnesses and the nature of their testimony traded by the lawyers long before trial starts. Lawyers typically take depositions of opposing witnesses and research their claims.
So there was some surprise Tuesday when Assistant Attorney General Nick Heinke got up to say the state wanted permission to call former state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, as a rebuttal witness. She had not previously been on the state’s list of potential witnesses.
Lawyers for both sets of plaintiffs raised all sorts of objections, and District Judge Sheila Rappoport told Heinke the state would have to submit a formal written request and other documents before she would rule. He has until Thursday to do that.
Heinke said Anderson recently approached the attorney general’s office, saying she wanted to testify to rebut previous witness testimony about the school finance act of 1994. The plainspoken Anderson is generally respected as someone who knows her way around school finance.
UPCOMING: Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is expected to be the headline witness as the state opens its defense case.
According to a disclosure filed by the attorney general’s office before the trial started, “The lieutenant governor may testify that while financial resources are necessary in the delivery of quality education opportunities, other factors also impact the successful delivery of quality education opportunities to K-12 students, such as effective classroom teachers and school building leaders. The lieutenant governor may also testify that additional funding for K-12 education does not necessarily equate to improved quality education opportunities, and that additional money alone may not close achievement gaps or increase graduation rates.
“He may testify that, even so, the current budgetary limitations on K-12 funding must not excuse districts from delivering quality education opportunities to Colorado’s school children.”