Who Is In Charge

Lobato 9/1: One last speed bump

Colorado’s education commissioner and a top higher education official tried to minimize the cost of education reform during defense testimony in the Lobato school-funding trial Thursday, and time ran out before the state could put its last witness on the stand.

Lobato v. State illustrationRobert Hammond, commissioner of education, and Matt Gianneschi, deputy director of the Department of Higher Education, were the state’s biggest-name witnesses.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs and a lawmaker with long experience in school finance, was supposed to testify in the cleanup position. But other witnesses – and the lawyers examining them – ran long, delaying King’s appearance in the witness chair until Friday. A few rebuttal witnesses and closing arguments also are to be squeezed in on the final day.

The central claim made by the plaintiffs is that the state’s finance system doesn’t meet the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” education system. They want the courts to order the legislature to come up with a new, constitutional system.

In addition to Hammond and Gianneschi, lawyers for the state also called John Andrews, Republican former president of the state Senate, to the witness stand. Here are the highlights of what each said:

Hammond: Supported lawsuit before he opposed it

Robert Hammond
Robert Hammond

Early in his testimony, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carey Markel asked Hammond if he’d once supported the lawsuit, which was filed in 2005.

“I did. I supported it,” he said. At the time, he was a senior administrator in the Boulder Valley schools.

Asked if his thinking has changed, Hammond said, “It has.” But his explanation was cut off for procedural reasons (see TONE section below).

Hammond also said he knows that the current financial situation “is tough for those school superintendents, and I have a lot of sympathy for them.”

On cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyer Kathleen Gebhardt and David Hinojosa showed Hammond a long series of documents – studies, department memos, legislative documents and even an Education News Colorado article.

The documents made references to various education costs, budget cuts, costs of new programs and the like. The two would ask if, say, a legislative document estimated new state tests would cost so much. He invariably answered, “yes” or “correct.” (It’s an old cross-examination technique.)

Hammond agreed that full implementation of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids “does” require resources, and that roll-out of the new educator evaluation system is currently being funded with foundation grants.

Asked if that was enough, Hammond said, “Not yet. We’re getting there.”

Gianneschi: Costs unknown until plan in place

Matt Gianneschi
Matt Gianneschi

Now a key aide to Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Gianneschi was the top education advisor to former Gov. Bill Ritter and a key architect of the CAP4K plan.

He praised that program, saying, “I think CAP4K was one of the most important events in Colorado education history” and that “Colorado has made, I would argue, remarkable progress” in education reform.

Asked if CAP4K’s requirements of new standards, tests, special diplomas and P-20 system alignment will cost the state and districts additional money, Gianneschi said, “Maybe. … We don’t know because CAP4K’s not been implemented. … We won’t know until it’s implemented. At this point it [cost] is purely speculative.”

Gianneschi said, “I am sympathetic” to the plaintiffs’ claims, noting his wife is a teacher.

Andrews: Public schools needed … for now

John Andrews
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
John Andrews

Andrews served six years in the state Senate starting in 1999. A founder of the Independence Institute, he now runs a similar organization, the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University.

Although he said “there’s no issue more important and dear to me than educational excellence” and praised the “well-functioning fairness” of state school funding law, he had no detailed testimony to offer about the rationale for legislative decision making on the matter.

On cross-examination, plaintiffs’ lawyers noted that Andrews sponsored legislation to post the 10 Commandments in schools and require the teaching of patriotism.

Assistant Attorney General Nick Heinke undoubtedly pre-empted a defense question when he asked Andrews if he’d once signed a “declaration” urging the privatization of education.

Andrews said he had signed a declaration that states, “I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.” The statement is circulated by a group named the Alliance for the Separation of School and State.

On cross-examination, Andrews said that idea is “aspirational” and that public schools have an important role to fill in the meantime. “My vision is … learning and education can and ultimately should be offered by the same free and open marketplace” as many other goods and services. “Maybe in 50 or 100 years, America will be there.”

Highlights of the day

Lobato trial site
Site of Lobato trial in Denver City and County Building

TONE: There’s an elephant in courtroom 424. One side of the elephant is labeled “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” and on the other is the phrase “Other state programs.” Two overarching policy question looming over the Lobato case are how an increase in education spending would affect other state programs, and how increased school spending would be raised, given that the state constitution requires voters approval for tax increases.

But those issues can’t be discussed during the trial, because District Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled before the trial started that the sole legal issue to be decided was whether the school funding system is constitutional.

That means witnesses can’t talk about how other state spending demands or TABOR limits affect school spending. Hammond, Gianneschi and Andrews all inadvertently started to cross that line Thursday, only to be stopped by objections that were upheld by Rappaport.

QUOTE: “Somebody read my dissertation. Finally, finally.” – Gianneschi after plaintiffs’ lawyer Geoffrey Klingsporn asked about it during cross-examination. Gianneschi wrote about replacing state revenues with alternative revenues in higher education (more info here).

DOCUMENTS: Refresh your memory about the trial with EdNews’ archive of Lobato coverage. The plaintiffs’ website has a list of witnesses who testified and links to transcripts of the first 13 days of the trial. Links to key legal documents in the case can be found on the attorney general’s website.

COLOR: During cross-examination, Hinojosa asked Hammond about the Greeley schools. Several Greeley parents are among the plaintiff group represented by Hinojosa.

The lawyer asked if Hammond knew how Greeley was handling budget cuts. “I can’t speak to how they’ve allocated their resources,” said the commissioner. “I haven’t looked at that district in great detail.”

“They have outstanding leadership in Greeley, wouldn’t you agree? Best superintendent in the state?” asked Hinojosa.

“I would say so,” replied Hammond, who’s married to Greeley Superintendent Ranelle Lang.

By the way, Rappaport shut the down trial down shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday out of consideration for the court reporter’s tired fingers.

UPCOMING: Expect a full final day. Then the participants can bug out for the holiday, leaving Rappaport to ponder the testimony of more than 80 witnesses, tens of thousands of pages of documents, transcripts and other materials (including a few videos) and ultimately to issue her ruling.


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.”