Who Is In Charge

Budget cuts may not be needed

A flurry of legislative budget discussions Monday raised the strong possibility of keeping K-12 and higher education spending flat in 2012-13, sparing them the cuts that had been proposed.

Colorado CapitolThe immediate spark for the discussions was an analysis of last week’s quarterly revenue forecasts done by John Ziegler, staff director for the Joint Budget Committee.

The analysis indicated that the legislature could have as much as $199.8 million available to restore cuts that had been planned in the 2012-13 budget.

A key piece of the analysis is the fact that Ziegler estimates the $199.8 million will be available even after the scheduled restoration of $98.5 million annual property tax credit for senior citizens. Up to now it’s been assumed that restoring the credit would require cuts elsewhere in the budget, most likely to education. Because of that, the Hickenlooper administration proposed a continued suspension of the program, a move opposed by majority Republicans in the House. Most statehouse observers had expected a major fight over that issue.

During committee discussions that followed Ziegler’s presentation, JBC members indicated interest in using some of the “new” money to eliminate a planned higher education cut of nearly $30 million. The committee was firmer on wanting to use some the funds to avoid a planned $57.2 million cut for K-12.

But other state programs also could use the money, and the JBC hasn’t yet sorted out the all the competing priorities and decided on a final budget proposal. Members are scheduled to continue their talks Tuesday.

The administration has a somewhat lower estimate – $149 million – of how much money might be available for restoring planned cuts. But Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said that figure isn’t comparable to Ziegler’s $199 million, partly because the administration wants to first divert money into the pinched State Education Fund, which is used to supplement school district support and for special purposes, such as paying for state tests.

Total program funding, the total that districts receive for basic operating expenses from both state and local revenues, is about $5.23 billion this year. State colleges received $519 million in direct state aid this year while receiving about three times that much from tuition.

Busy day for higher ed bills

Bills affecting the state’s colleges and universities moved ahead on both the floors and in committee Monday. Here’s the rundown:

  • Two college name-change bills got preliminary House floor approval. Senate Bill 12-148 would convert Metro State into a university, and House Bill 12-1080 would do the same for Adams State College in Alamosa. There was some scattered opposition from Republican members complaining about “mission creep,” but the bills got easy voice-vote approval.
  • Speaking of changing an institution’s status, the House Education Committee gave 12-0 approval to House Bill 12-1324, which would change the admissions standards for Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction from “moderately selective” to “selective.” Mesa was upgraded to university status by the 2011 legislature.
  • The Senate voted preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1144, which would allow colleges and universities to offer multi-year contracts, up to three years, to faculty members who are not on the track for tenure. The bill is considered a tool that institutions, particularly community colleges, can use to create some stability in their adjunct faculty ranks at a time when rising enrollments have forced hiring greater numbers of such teachers.

Two charter reform bills advance

The House voted preliminary approval to Senate Bill 12-061, which would create uniform minimum standards for charter school applications and also set some new standards for authorizing districts. A key feature of the bill clarifies when a charter application is “complete.” Lack of clarity about that in current law has created issues in some charter appeals to the state.

House Education voted 11-0 to pass Senate Bill 12-067, which clarifies state law and requires that charter schools be non-profit organizations, although charters would be free to hire for-profit organizations to manage and run schools. The bill is intended to help ensure that charters are operated by stand-alone organizations with local board members and not puppets of for-profit operators. The bill wouldn’t affect the status of any current Colorado charters.

Both the bills are based on the recommendations of the so-called 1412 Committee, a panel of district and charter representatives created by the 2010 legislature and assigned to suggest new standards for both charter schools and the districts that authorize them.

For the record

The Senate voted 23-12 for final passage of Senate Bill 12-130, which would consolidate several early childhood agencies now scattered throughout state government in the Department of Human Services. The bill doesn’t particularly affect educational programs like the Colorado Preschool Program, which would remain in the Department of Education. But the Hickenlooper administration considers the bill part of its policy priority to improve early childhood services and education.

The bill was criticized in floor debate by conservative Republicans who tried to paint it as big-government overreach into family life. Interestingly, all the Senate’s Republican men voted against the bill, while all three GOP women, Ellen Roberts of Durango, Nancy Spence of Centennial and Jean White of Hayden voted yes.

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

interview time

Four candidates left make their case before commission for open Shelby County Schools board seat

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Interim school board candidate Aubrey Howard presents before the Shelby County Commission.

Four remaining candidates for a vacated Memphis school board seat had their chance to tell the Shelby County Commission why they are the right person for the job on Wednesday afternoon.

They were the remaining viable candidates after six applicants were disqualified for living outside of District 2, the area the interim board member will represent in Shelby County Schools. Chalkbeat reported on Monday that six of the candidates live outside of the district. The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and will serve until the term expires in August 2020.

The four applicants are (We’ve linked to their full applications.):

  • Erskine Gillespie, an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank.
  • Althea Greene, a retired Memphis educator and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
  • Aubrey Howard, the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office.
  • Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Commissioners peppered the candidates with questions on big issues facing the district, including school choice, the budget process, managing the district’s aging buildings and under-enrollment, and how they could improve the relationship between the district and the county commission, the funding body for schools.

In their pitches to commissioners, applicants touted their previous experiences with K-12 education, such as work with nonprofits and curriculum development, and their ties to Memphis schools. “I’m a product of Memphis schools,” was a phrase said again and again.

Most applicants expressed general support for charter schools, which have grown significantly in recent years in Memphis, but Gillespie said he believed “the influx of our charter school program is an issue that must be addressed.” McKinney sits on the board of a charter high school, and Greene and Howard said they had no issues with charter schools as a way to serve individual needs of students.

On the relationship with the county commission, Greene said: “I think it’s important that as a school board member, I’m at county commission meetings. And work as a bridge to educate children and give them the best education we can, and we know that costs money.”

Gillespie was asked by Commissioner Willie Brooks what he thinks of alternative schools, which serve students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional schools for behavioral reasons. There are several alternative schools in District 2.

“I think alternative schools are truly something necessary,” Gillespie said. “They can provide a trauma-informed response for our students.”

The questionnaire given to each candidate asked about TNReady, the state’s embattled testing system. Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs the education committee, asked Howard to expand on his answer that the test “didn’t work.”

“Those decisions about testing and teacher evaluations would be better met if they were local and not state controlled,” Howard replied. “For sure, the state wasted a huge amount of money with the companies they hired that failed us.”

Gillespie and McKinney described aging and often near-empty school buildings as a large issue facing the district. The interim board member would be a part of analyzing a massive district plan left by former superintendent Hopson that would consolidate 28 Memphis schools into 10 new buildings.

McKinney said the school board should be having regular conversations with the commission and the neighborhoods it serves on how demographic shifts have impacted the county, creating underenrollment in some schools.

“For the school board, those conversations need to be ongoing, so when it comes time to make a decision about whether or not to close a school, it’s not coming as a surprise,” McKinney said.

Three people from Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group, spoke in support of McKinney. The group’s leader, Sarah Carpenter, said he’s been a consistent figure in her neighborhood of North Memphis.

Shelby County Commission
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Commissioner Willie Brooks (left) asked candidates about how they would work with the county commission.

“I’m tired of people coming to our community when they want a seat and we don’t see them anymore,” Carpenter said. “Our children’s lives are on the line.”

Commissioner Edmund Ford, himself a former teacher, said after the interviews he would like to see an educator on the board.

“There were a lot of things I saw as a teacher, when I would go to the school board to ask for their assistance, that I would not receive,” Ford said. “Personally, I would like to see someone who has been there and done that.”

After hearing from the candidates, the commission voted to move the item to its Monday meeting, where commissioners will vote on a successor.

For more details, see our Twitter thread from the hearing.

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Chalkbeat found that six applicants live outside of the district. Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.