Colorado

Jimenez: “I have never overspent”

Denver Public Schools board member Arturo Jimenez has notified district officials that he has no intention – contrary to prior comments he has made – to repay the $1,153 by which they say he overspent his personal account last year.

Arturo Jimenez, center, talks with supporters at his election results watch party Nov. 1.

In an e-mail distributed on Wednesday and obtained on Friday by Education News Colorado through a request under the Colorado Open Records Act, Jimenez refers to public discussion of board members’ spending as “ridiculousness, initiated and exaggerated during the most recent campaign season.”

And, he states, “I never incurred any expenses that were not related to my work on the Board. In addition, I have never ‘overspent,’ under Board practice as it existed prior to the new policy clarification.

“Just to clarify once and for all, I will not be ‘paying back’ any expenses to DPS. In fact, much of the expenses that I charged to the DPS Board credit card were expenses that should have properly been charged to other departments in the district.”

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Jimenez could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The seven DPS board members are permitted to charge up to $5,000 per fiscal year for expenses related to their service to the district. Spending by board members came under scrutiny last year when then-board president Nate Easley confessed at the conclusion of the Aug. 18 board meeting that he believed he had overspent his account by $843, and was writing a check to reimburse the district by that amount.

A subsequent EdNews investigation showed that two board members, Jimenez and Andrea Merida, had both exceeded their limits. Merida’s overage far exceeded that of Jimenez; records showed she had overspent by $7,427, with at least $4,000 of her total going to restaurants and coffee shops. She has defended those expenses as “the cost of community engagement.”

Jimenez initially raised questions about the district’s accounting after the tallies for his overage changed, from $1,623 over down to the $1,153, but said, “If there are overages, I will pay them back.” Merida at first said she would not pay the overage, then quickly reversed herself, before ultimately claiming she had attempted to repay the district, but that Easley had rebuffed her offer – which Easley has denied.

Easley, whose public comments on the issue had triggered the controversy, was ultimately found through recalculations by the district to be under the $5,000 limit by the amount of $202.

In the wake of publicity concerning board member spending, the board passed a new policy Oct. 20 clarifying the way board members’ $5,000 can be spent, how it is to be reported and providing that their spending be posted online quarterly. The policy is not retroactive to the 2010-11 fiscal year, and does not mandate that overages from that year be repaid.

Seawell authored a guest commentary Wednesday in The Denver Post, highlighting the new policy. In the piece, she stated, “It is important to note the Board of Education did not exceed the budget for total board spending last fiscal year.

“The combined amount budgeted for member spending was $35,000 … and the board as a whole came under the amount,” she wrote. “For this reason and because the new policy is not retroactive, no board member is required to repay expenses incurred doing legitimate board business.”

Jimenez wrote to Seawell on Wednesday, copying the board office, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and district legal counsel John Kechriotis, thanking Seawell for “all of the clarification” provided by Seawell’s Post commentary.

“It should have been done earlier in your presidency to avoid repeated embarrassment to the entire district,” he wrote. “Altogether, it is a pleasant surprise that we agree and unpleasant to have to read it online.”

Seawell, at the time that the spending controversy erupted, was the board’s treasurer and in that role she took the lead in fashioning the new spending policy. An at-large representative in her first term on the board, she was elected Nov. 17 by her colleagues to serve as the board president.

In his letter to Seawell and the district, Jimenez also states that he has not signed an authorization to receive a new district credit card and that he is “not sure” he will do so “until you can assure me that procedures are in place so that ‘others,’ and they know who they are, will not be allowed to utilize our board expenditures for political fuel.’’

Jimenez won election to his second four-year term serving northwest Denver in November, holding off challenger Jennifer Draper Carson by a 142-vote margin. His spending did not become an issue in the campaign.

Merida told EdNews in early December that “I am now covering all my own expenses,” including those the board policy stipulates are eligible for reimbursement. Referring to the previous year’s overspending, she said, “that’s how I’m making it right.”

Seawell declined comment on Jimenez’s email.

“My goal was to let people know this board is moving forward together,” she said of her Post commentary. “I don’t think commenting on the specifics of his email is helpful for our relationship or for the board as a whole. ”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.