Who Is In Charge

House debates “unfunded mandate”

Allowing high school students to take college classes before graduation usually is a feel-good issue that attracts wide legislative support. A 2009 upgrade of what’s call concurrent enrollment passed both houses unanimously.

Colorado CapitolBut House Bill 12-1043, which would create opportunities for students who are ahead of schedule in their high school studies, has had heavy going in the House, primarily because of fears about what it would cost school districts.

The bill would apply to high school students who start their senior years needing less than a full year’s worth of classes to graduate. Such students could choose to take college classes, and districts would be responsible for paying college tuition up to $3,176 a year. Districts would continue to count such students as enrolled and receive per pupil funding, which averages about $6,500 a year statewide.

A key issue is student choice; existing concurrent enrollment programs require district approval for students enrolling in college classes.

Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton and sole sponsor of the bill for now, had the bill amended in the House Education Committee to meet some district concerns.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for some House Democrats, who criticized the bill during floor debate.

“Here we are about to pass another unfunded mandate,” said Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The intent of the bill is good … the problem is the bill doesn’t come with any additional funding,” added Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County.

A Hamner amendment to make the program optional for districts was defeated, but the House did give voice approval to a Kerr amendment that says school districts wouldn’t have to implement the program until per-pupil funding returns to levels of 2008-09, the last year before school budget cuts began.

Conti returned to the microphone to defend the bill, saying, “There has been a lot of confusion on this issue.”

Then, Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, stepped to the podium and exercised the majority leader’s prerogative, laying the bill over until Tuesday.

Estimated cost of tax holiday trimmed

Committee amendments made to the sales tax holiday bill would trim the amount of lost state revenue from about $5.8 million a year to about $4.5 million, according to a new legislative fiscal analysis released Monday.

House Bill 12-1069 would create a three-day sales tax holiday during the first weekend in August during which school supplies costing $50 or less, clothing not costing more than $75 and computer equipment costing $1,000 or less would be exempt from state sales taxes. (The House Finance Committee reduced those amounts from those proposed in the original bill.) The holiday would run annually through 2016. Counties and cities would be free to decide whether to exempt such items from their portion of the sales tax.

During a Feb. 8 meeting of the committee, Chris Howes of the Colorado Retail Council argued that a tax holiday actually would increase state revenue, based on the experience of other states.

But the legislative fiscal analysis sticks with its estimate of a tax loss. The latest analysis reads: “Sales tax holidays tend to attract more shoppers into stores, which often relates to increased sales on taxable items that would not have occurred otherwise during the holiday period. This increased spending may partially offset the loss of sales tax revenue to the state and local governments due to the sale of exempt items during the sales tax holiday. Increased sales, however, may only represent a shift of purchases as consumers wait for the anticipated tax holiday to purchase items that they were already going to purchase at some point.”

Contracts bill passes on party-line vote

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins
Senate Bill 12-051 sparked a bit of a floor fight on preliminary Senate consideration last Friday, but the bill received final approval Monday with no debate. All 20 Senate Democrats voted yes, and all 15 Republicans voted no.

The bill would direct school boards to “consider” adopting contracting policies that would include the factor of “whether the contractor understands the culture of the affected school and will execute the contract in a manner that supports student success.”

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is carrying the bill in the Senate. The House prime sponsor is Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee.

No debate on digital learning study

Massey also is a prime sponsor of House Bill 12-1124, which passed the House 64-0 on Monday. The measure would require the state Department of Education to hire a Colorado-based consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of digital education and report back to the State Board of Education, the governor and the legislative education committees by Jan. 31, 2013. (Get more details in this story about committee consideration.)

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, is carrying the bill in the Senate.

In other action

Concealed carry bill: In another piece of parliamentary maneuvering Monday on the House floor, House Bill 12-1092 was sent back to the House Judiciary Committee. The measure received preliminary floor approval on Feb. 14 – after addition of a Democratic amendment that broadened the definition of school property on which the bill wouldn’t apply.

The bill would give people who have a legal right to carry handguns the ability to carry them concealed without obtaining a separate concealed weapons permit. Several Democrats questioned the need to send the bill back to committee, but the motion carried on a 34-30 votes. Gun rights bills are a Republican priority in this election-year session.

Another ASSET delay: Senate Bill 12-015, the ASSET bill that would create a special category of college tuition for undocumented students, has again been laid over, this time to the Senate floor calendar for Feb. 27. The measure is awaiting final Senate approval, but supporters are trying to drum up additional support outside the Capitol before sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock
Philosophical grousing: A relatively minor bill consumed nearly an hour Monday afternoon before the House Education Committee voted 8-5 to pass House Bill 12-1218. The measure would extend the sunset date of the Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission, a legislative study panel, from this coming July 1 to July 1, 2017.

Some Republican members wondered if the group’s work overlaps with other state committees and complained that government is getting too deeply involved in families.

“I have a big concern about how we’re inserting ourselves younger and younger into private citizens’ lives,” said Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield and committee vice chair.

“I too have a great deal of concern at government getting too much into families’ lives,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. But she and Massey joined the panel’s six Democrats to send the bill to the House Appropriations Committee on an 8-5 vote.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

Share your thoughts on Boasberg’s exit here:

reading list

These 12 stories help define Tom Boasberg’s tenure leading Denver’s schools

PHOTO: Chalkbeat File Photo
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg, center, with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a DPS student on the opening day of school in 2011.

Tom Boasberg, who today announced his plans to step down as Denver’s schools superintendent, leaves behind nearly a decade of high-profile debates and decisions that reshaped the city’s public school system and made plenty of local and national headlines.

For years, Boasberg’s tenure featured sharp political divides among the city’s school board. His school improvement efforts, notably in the city’s Far Northeast neighborhood, garnered mixed results for students. And his embrace of nontraditional school management, the so-called “portfolio model,” has earned him national praise.

Here’s a chronological look back at a dozen stories that defined his nearly decade of leading Denver Public Schools.

Denver Public Schools “therapy” forges progress

In 2009, at a daylong meeting attended by Denver school board members, Boasberg, and a therapist, the superintendent and the board appeared to forge closer ties after a divisive school board election. The session at the tony Broadmoor Hotel included coaching board members and Boasberg through some difficult conversations about their respective roles – and Boasberg’s job security.

More shared campuses, still controversial

One of the first waves of school reform policies the district embraced was locating multiple schools on one campus. While Boasberg didn’t start the district’s practice of placing charter and district-run schools on shared sites, his administration did continue it — much to the dismay of some schools’ staff and community members.

Boasberg’s school improvement efforts in Far Northeast Denver take off

One of the superintendent’s earliest — and most ambitious — school turnaround strategies was to overhaul schools in the city’s Far Northeast neighborhood. The neighborhood, which serves a majority of black and Latino students, had the highest concentration of the city’s lowest-performing schools.

Boasberg: Manual’s shortcomings are my responsibility

No school in Denver has been subject to more improvement efforts — by multiple superintendents — than storied Manual High School. After some minor improvements, the school took a turn for the worse and by 2014 was once again the city’s lowest-performing school. After dismissing the school’s principal, Boasberg took ownership of the school’s downfall.

Denver Public Schools ‘ahead of the curve’ with proposed facilities policy

After years of opening and closing numerous schools, DPS began to formalize the process. One of its first stabs at systematizing its “portfolio model” was a facilities policy. The policy, which applies to both charter and district schools, would tie placement decisions to schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns, and other district priorities.

Why Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg landed an unprecedented six-month break

In January of 2016, Boasberg took off for six months with his family for a trip to Latin America. The uncommon stability of Denver Public Schools made his respite possible, observers said.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s vision for giving more power to schools, annotated

Denver Public Schools has long strived to be more decentralized and less top-down. More than a year after the school board granted school leaders more autonomy, Boasberg penned a document detailing how he envisions the district should function under that philosophy. Here we explain and provide context for Boasberg’s memo.

Efforts to better integrate Denver middle schools proving tough, analysis finds

One way Boasberg and Denver Public Schools attempted to fight school segregation was the creation of “enrollment zones.” The idea was that extending boundaries and asking students to choose from several schools within them would increase integration in a gentrifying city where many neighborhoods are segregated. But there was little evidence of success six years in.

Inside the rocky rollout of Denver Public Schools’ new school closure policy

Another policy Boasberg and the Denver school board created to guide its portfolio strategy was the “School Performance Compact.” Boasberg insisted the school closure policy was not the leading strategy to try to achieve the district’s improvement goals. The policy, he said, took a back seat to initiatives such as better coaching for teachers and improved reading instruction for young students. Instead, Boasberg described the policy as “a little bit of a safety mechanism” to be used when “these strategies don’t work and where over a period of time, kids are showing such low growth that we need to have a more significant intervention.”

Denver Public Schools retooling equity measure, presses forward on scoring schools

Denver’s well-established – and sometimes controversial – school rating system got an update in 2017 when the district added a new “equity measure.” Despite some pushback from school leaders, Boasberg and the district pushed forward with scoring schools based on how well they closed the gap between students who performed well on state tests (usually white and middle-class) and those who didn’t (usually black and Latino from low-income homes.)

Denver schools chief: Removing DACA protections for undocumented immigrants would be ‘catastrophic’

Boasberg took on a new role in the Trump era. The typically reserved superintendent regularly sought to reassure students, parents, and his own employees that he would protect them from any apparent overreach by the new administration. He also regularly spoke out in favor of Congress protecting the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. “Our schools and our community are strengthened by our city’s rich diversity and open arms,” Boasberg said. “The DACA program has helped bring wonderfully talented and critically needed teachers to our classrooms and has provided peace of mind and legal status to thousands of immigrant children and families who make our city and our schools great.”

Large achievement gaps in Denver highlighted by new national test data

Despite years of change, Denver’s achievement gap has barely budged. That fact was reinforced earlier this year after DPS received its scores from the tests known as “the nation’s report card.” At the time Boasberg said the latest scores confirmed the district needed to continue to focus on closing its gaps. He repeated his concern about the gaps when he discussed his exit with Chalkbeat.