Who Is In Charge

Bargaining sunshine bill moves

House Bill 12-1118, which would make school district-union bargaining sessions open to the public, passed the House State Affairs Committee Thursday on a 5-4 party-line vote.

Colorado CapitolAll the witnesses who appeared supported the bill, but several education interest groups oppose the measure, and it could face problems if it gets to the Democratic controlled Senate.

Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, supported the bill and described the current practice of closed bargaining as kind of anomaly in the context of state open meetings law.

That law requires any meetings be open when two or more elected officials participate. But bargaining often is delegated to administrators, allowing for closed bargaining.

Only two Colorado school districts, Poudre and Mesa, currently have public bargaining, according to the Colorado Education Association. Colorado Springs District 11 bargaining is partly open, according to board member Bob Null, a D11 board member who testified for the bill.

(Earlier this week, the leader of the union in Douglas County called for open bargaining in that district, something that school board leaders said they also are interested in – see story.)

Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, also pitched the bill as a natural extension of state open meetings law and argued that parents and taxpayers are increasingly interested in the inner workings of district budgets as services such as busing are cut and fees for activities and supplies rise.

Democratic members of the committee raised issues from the start, repeatedly questioning Conti and witnesses about the need for and the advisability of the bill. The committee took testimony and chewed on the bill for two hours.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she’d received an email from union, district and board leaders in Jefferson County opposing the bill.

“I’m concerned that we are going against the local elected schools boards. … Why should we in the legislature force this upon them?”

In addition to the local control argument, Democrats argued that public meetings could distort negotiations. “There are delicate negotiations, and I could see the potential for incredible grandstanding,” Court argued.

Board member Null from D11, saying his district hasn’t been able to fully open bargaining because of union resistance, said, “We need a mandate from the state.”

The bill is formally opposed by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association. The Colorado Association of Schools Boards lists itself as “monitoring” the bill. No opponents testified, as sometimes happens when lobbyists feel confident a bill will be defeated later in the legislative process.

Five committee Republicans voted for the bill while four Democrats voted no.

Including Conti, the bill has a dozen GOP House members as cosponsors but no sponsors from either party in the Senate yet.

There are about 60 collective bargaining agreements in effect in Colorado school districts, two-thirds of them covering teachers and the rest other employees.

Read the bill text here

A short afternoon for Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee Thursday voted 7-0 to approve House Bill 12-1072, which would direct state colleges and universities to set up systems for evaluating adult students’ military, professional and life experiences as a way to earn college credit.

Some colleges already do that, and there are existing tests to evaluate life experiences and place students. But bill sponsors want to expand the practice as a way to help increase Colorado’s college completion rate.

Army veteran Daniel Warvi testified that he was able to translate military and professional experience into two years’ worth of credits at the private University of Denver. But many veterans have trouble getting experience credits at public colleges, or even transferring credits from service-run community colleges, he said.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs / File photo

Sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, called the bill “a really innovative way for people to cut down on the costs of going to college.”

Having a feel-good bill to consider put committee members in a jovial mood.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, asked how much credit 14 years in the legislature would earn her.

King jokingly suggested six credit hours toward a graduate degree.

“I do not have a bachelor’s degree,” Spence replied, at which point King upped the ante to “24 or 36 hours.”

Johnston’s next assignment

The so-called parent trigger bill, House Bill 12-1149, was introduced in the Senate this week, with Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the sole sponsor. (See this story for details about the measure’s final passage in the House.)

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, assigned the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where bills often go to die.

Johnston said Thursday he’s not discouraged by that and is starting work on building support for the measure. He also noted that two of his Senate Ed Democratic colleagues, Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and Rollie Heath of Boulder, sit on State Affairs.

This year Johnston is a prime sponsor of the undocumented student tuition bill and still is talking about introducing a major school finance measure.

For the record

The full Senate Thursday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1090, which would require moving the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count date when it conflicts with religious holidays. The count date already is moved when Oct. 1 falls on the weekend, and current law allows counting of students in a window of five days on either side of the date.

But there’s concern that parents are confused about whether kids can miss school on Oct. 1 for religious reasons. The date periodically conflicts with Jewish holy days.

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

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.