Who Is In Charge

Prop. 103 battle joined

The political fight over raising state taxes to fund schools and colleges started in earnest Thursday with dueling news conferences over an opposition study about the possible impact of Proposition 103 on employment.

Victor Mitchell of Save Colorado Jobs
Victor Mitchell of Save Colorado Jobs

While supporters of the Nov. 1 ballot measure have been organized for some time – they had to gather signatures to get the proposition on the ballot – Thursday also marked the coming-out party for a Republican-oriented opposition group, Save Colorado Jobs.

Victor Mitchell, a GOP former state representative from Douglas County, introduced the group during a Capitol news conference. He was flanked by several current Republican members of the legislature.

Conveniently for reporters, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, and Wade Buchanan of the Bell Policy Center were hovering in the background, ready to offer their take on Mitchell’s claims.

Mitchell’s focus at the news conference  was on a paper done by economist Eric Fruits of Portland State University in Oregon.



  • State income tax rate would rise to 5 percent from 4.63 percent
  • State sales tax rate would go to 3 percent from 2.9 percent
  • New rates are same as those in effect in 1999
  • Higher rates would end in 2017

Revenue use

  • Proposition would raise an estimated $3 billion over five years
  • Additional revenue could be spent only on preschool programs, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities
  • Legislature would decide how to split revenues
  • Spending would have to be in addition to levels of 2011-12


A Save Colorado Jobs news release claimed the paper found Proposition 103 “would kill nearly 119,000 jobs over the next five years and chase away $218 million in potentially taxable income over the same period.”

That does not mean, as Heath and Buchanan were happy to point out, that current jobs would be lost. Fruits projected that growth in new jobs might be slowed by higher taxes. The paper projects 14.3 percent job growth over five years without new taxes and 12.9 percent if Proposition 103 passes.

The paper actually was written last April and covered Heath’s plan and tax proposals by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute. (Read full paper.)

Mitchell’s news conference and Heath’s and Buchanan’s subsequent chat with reporters provided a preview of the talking points each side likely will stress during the 45-day campaign.

Proponents: Heath, drawing on his background in business, economic development and government repeatedly argues that there’s no better economic development tool that a strong education system. He believes businesses won’t be deterred by what he calls a “modest” and temporary increase in tax rates. Heath sees the measure as a stopgap to stabilize K-12 and higher education funding, both of which have been slashed in recent years.

Opponents: Mitchell stressed his belief in the “job killing” dangers of the proposal and that tax increases are dangerous in a weak economy. He also said, “K-12 education is not lacking funding, it is lacking structural reform” and suggested vouchers and more charter schools as solutions to education problems. He also invoked a familiar Republican whipping boy – teachers unions – and said, “We are up against the Colorado Education Association.”

The CEA is a powerful political force in Colorado but was initially lukewarm about Heath’s plan and was the last major education group to endorse it – after Heath and his allies had gained enough signatures to get on the Nov. 1 ballot.

The campaign ahead

Sen. Rollie Heath and Wade Buchanan
Sen. Rollie Heath and Wade Buchanan

This is the first statewide election since 1999 with only one initiative on the ballot. There also are no statewide candidate races on the ballot this year.

So voters have only Proposition 103 to focus on.

Mitchell said, “I think we’re going to have a surprisingly high turnout” because of voter concerns about taxes and big government.

Heath didn’t predict turnout but believes voters will support the measure because of rising concerns about school budget cuts.

Mitchell repeatedly declined to say how much his campaign hopes to raise, while Heath said his target is about $300,000.

Both promised, as politicians like to do, that their campaigns would be “grass roots.”

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: