Who Is In Charge

Lobato 8/23: Trial tone set to shift

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.

Lobato v. State illustrationMapleton 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.

Mapleton Public Schools

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.”

Other witnesses

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.

DOCUMENTS: Read Mapleton’s three-year performance report and take a look at its improvement plan.

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.”

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.