Who Is In Charge

House OKs PERA benefits bill

The Colorado House Friday gave preliminary approval of House Bill 12-1150, which would change the method of calculating retirement benefits for state workers, teachers and others who join the Public Employees Retirement Association after Jan. 1, 2013.

Public Employees' Retirement Association headquarters in Denver.

The bill is the first of seven PERA-related bills to make it to the floor this session. Two others are pending in House committees, one has been killed in a House committee and three have died in the Senate.

Friday morning’s debate was a predictable partisan affair, with Republicans arguing that benefits need to be controlled to help ensure the system’s financial sustainability and Democrats maintaining the bill is unfair and also unnecessary because of a 2010 law that made pension reforms.

HB 12-1150 would set retirement benefits based on the average of an employee’s seven highest years of salary rather than the current average of the three highest years. Republicans argue that’s needed to prevent “spiking,” which can happen when employees jump to significantly higher salaries late in their careers.

As passed by committee, the bill would have applied to current PERA members who aren’t vested in the system – those with less than five years of service. That provision was removed by a floor amendment Friday, meaning the bill would apply only to future employees.

Current PERA law has different limits on spiking, something usually not mentioned by GOP supporters of HB 12-1150. The bill could reduce benefits for new employees by 6-11 percent compared to current law, acording to some estimates.

Some statehouse observers believe the bill was sparked by a few isolated examples, such as former Gov. Bill Ritter’s jump to a $300,000 salary at a Colorado State University energy institute from his $90,000 pay as governor.

A legislative staff analysis estimates the bill would reduce PERA’s accrued current liability by less than $1 million but doesn’t project into the future what the savings would be (read the fiscal note). Because the bill only would apply to new employees, it’s actual savings presumably wouldn’t be felt for decades, when those people begin to retire.

Debate rages for an hour

Here’s a sampling of some key points and quotes from the floor debate:

PERA’s long-term sustainability: Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, compared PERA to the Titanic, saying, “PERA is going to run into an iceberg and it’s going to sink” unless changes are made.

The value of the 2010 law: “We are on a path to sustainability,” said Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.

Punishing state employees: “This is just a slap in the face to state employees,” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “State employees have been used as a scapegoat.”

Protecting the public: “it’s also about justice for the taxpayers of Colorado. … “They’re expected to pick up the tab” if PERA has to be bailed out in the future, countered Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield.

Spiking: The bill “punishes the normal person to get at a few people,” argued Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.

The debate had moments of the factual confusion that often crops up in PERA debates. Sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Brighton, meant PERA when he said in 1999 “they made benefits more generous.” System benefits are set by the legislature, not PERA’s board.

Republicans hold a 33-32 majority in the House so will need all those votes to give final approval to the bill. If it passes the House it’s not expected to survive the Democratic controlled Senate.

Despite the bipartisan majorities that passed Senate Bill 10-001, PERA has smoldered since then as a partisan issue, fanned by some legislative Republicans who believe the system is financially unsustainable and needs to be changed. GOP state Treasurer Walker Stapleton also is a leading PERA critic.

PERA bills have drawn wide attention this year, with retirees packing committee hearings and bombarding lawmakers with thousands of emails.

For the record

The Senate Friday gave final 35-0 approval to House Bill 12-1090, which would require the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count date be moved if it conflicts with a religious holiday. The measure now goes to the governor.

The House voted preliminary approval of House Bill 12-1146, which would continue a dropout recovery program under which community colleges can offer high school classes to certain students.

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”