Who Is In Charge

Open bargaining bill killed

IllustrationThe five members of the Senate State Affairs Committee listened politely to witnesses and then voted 3-2 Wednesday to kill House Bill 12-1118, which would have required that school district collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.

Also Wednesday, a House committee significantly downsized a bill that would allow expansion of gambling, with part of the proceeds going to community colleges and to scholarships.

Bargaining bill was expected to fall

The panel’s three Democrats provided the majority necessary to kill the measure, which had only Republican sponsors and which was opposed by such traditional Democratic allies as the Colorado Education Association. The bill had passed the House, where Republicans hold a one-vote majority, on a 33-31 vote.

Hearing testimony mirrored much of what was said last month during a House State Affairs Committee session.

Sponsor Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said open negotiations are needed “to make sure that the taxpayers have the ability to come in and see what’s happening with their tax dollars.” He said the bill would help restore public trust in government.

Walt Cooper, Cheyenne Mountain district superintendent and a representative of the Colorado Association of School Executives, opposed the bill, saying the decision to open bargaining sessions should be up to local school boards and unions. Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Broadcasters Association, urged passage, saying the bill was a logical extension of the state open meetings law.

Perhaps the most interesting witness was Tiffany Vaughn, who identified herself as a Douglas County teacher and parent. Although she said she’s a member of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, she was critical of the union. She argued that because negotiations are closed, “We cannot be assured that the AFT union leadership is actually representing us. … Teachers should be able to see if their unions are truly representing them.”

The bill was formally opposed by CASE and CEA. The Colorado Association of School Boards listed itself as “monitoring” the bill, but lobbyists for the Cherry Creek and Littleton districts were registered as opposing the bill.

Districts and unions currently can choose open negotiations, and three districts have that system.

Gaming bill gets pared down

Statehouse observers have been wondering about the prospects for House Bill 12-1280, which originally proposed to allow creation of three locations with video gambling devices, two along the Front Range and one on the Western Slope, with part of the revenues going to community colleges and to college scholarships.

Under terms of the original bill, community colleges would get an annual cut of up to $29 million from potential revenues, and a state scholarship fund theoretically would receive as much as $43 million. The Building Excellent Schools Today school construction program also would get a cut of the revenue

The bill was the subject of a lively House Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 22, but no vote was taken, apparently because there wasn’t a majority for passage of the bill. (See story about that hearing.)

Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek

Debate over the bill is the latest skirmish in the long-running feud between horse racing interests, primarily a company named Mile High Racing and Entertainment, and casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Casinos fear that allowing video gaming devices in population centers along the Front Range would decimate their business.

The casinos seem to have won a round Wednesday, when the bill came back up in House Agriculture.

Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, moved a successful amendment that would limit the bill to one gambling establishment on the Western Slope, erasing any chances that gaming halls would be located in Arapahoe County and Pueblo, as some supporters had hoped. The amendment also requires the casino be located at least 100 miles away from any of the three gambling towns. (Possible locations are thought to be near the fairgrounds in Montrose or Grand Junction.) Corum is one of the prime sponsors of the bipartisan bill.

Reducing the number of potential locations would reduce the expected net revenue from the project to $34 million in 2013-14, raising questions about whether community colleges would get their full $29 million and about how much would be left for a scholarship fund. A successful amendment by Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Grand County, would take $4 million a year off the top for state tourism promotion efforts.

“It feels like we’re doing less for colleges now,” said Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora.

The bill passed the committee 7-6, with Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the roll call.

The measure is expected to have a rough road ahead. Casino interests argue the whole idea is an unconstitutional expansion of gambling. The bill proposes to put the new gambling hall under the Colorado Lottery Commission – the gaming devices are described in the bill as “video lottery terminals.” But opponents argue it should be approved by voters and be regulated by the Limited Gaming Control Commission.

One more step for Adams State

After a brief but cordial session with President David Svaldi and two trustees, the Senate Education Committee Wednesday voted 6-0 for House Bill 12-1080, which would turn Adams State College into Adams State University.

A bill upgrading Metro State to university status already has passed both houses, and a measure to change Western State College to Western State Colorado University is pending in the House.

During a Senate Ed confirmation hearing last week, two prospective Fort Lewis College trustees were asked if their college also is contemplating a name change. They said no.

For the record

The House Wednesday voted 61-3 for House Bill 12-1043, which would require districts to do a better job of informing students about dual high school-college enrollment options. The measure started out proposing creation of a new concurrent enrollment program, but school district lobbyists, their clients concerned about the potential costs, worked out a compromise with sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.

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

checking in

How do you turn around a district? Six months into her tenure, Sharon Griffin works to line up the basics.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
When Sharon Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

In a crowded room at a community center in a north Memphis neighborhood, the leader of Tennessee’s turnaround district takes a microphone and addresses the parents and students gathered.

“I’m here because we care deeply about your students, and we know we can do better for them,” Sharon Griffin told the crowd. “We have to do that together.”

This would be one of more than three dozen community events in Memphis that Griffin would speak at during her first six months on the job. The gatherings have ranged from this parent night in Frayser to a luncheon with some of the city’s biggest business leaders. And Sharon Griffin’s message remained unchanged: Stay with us, we’re going to get better.

“One of my biggest goals was getting our communities to think differently about the district,” Griffin told Chalkbeat this month. “People only interact with the superintendent or the central office when there’s an issue. We want to meet people where they are and tell them what we are going to do for them.”

When Griffin became the latest leader of the Achievement School District in June, she said one of her biggest priorities would be reconnecting the state-run district with the community it serves most — Memphis.

Griffin, a turnaround veteran from Memphis, has been assigned the task of improving academic performance and the public perception of the state district. Originally created to boost the bottom 5 percent of schools academically, the district of charter operators has struggled to show improvement. Of the 30 schools in the district, nine have climbed out of the bottom 5 percent.

Griffin’s efforts are in line with what Education Commissioner Candice McQueen asked her to prioritize: recruit and support effective educators, improve collaboration with schools and in doing so, plan strategically with them.

But first she’s doubling down on improving the way the district functions – such as making sure that the district is in compliance with federal and state grants, and that teachers have the certifications they need to teach certain courses. And that’s taken more time than expected.

Researchers, as well as community members and parents, have said that the district should be seeing greater academic progress after six years. Griffin told Chalkbeat that one of her big priorities will be helping the district better its teaching workforce, which she believes will help improve test scores. In the most recent batch of state test scores, not a single Achievement School District elementary, middle, or high school had more than 20 percent of students scoring on grade level in English or math.

But first, she needed to go on a “listening tour.”

“I’ve been to more meetings than I can count, because I wanted people to get to know me in this role, but more importantly, because I wanted to hear from those in our schools about what’s working and what’s not,” Griffin said. “Now, I get to take what I’ve heard and learned and create action steps forward.”

Griffin said those action look like “better customer service for our charters and our families.” That means Griffin has been focusing on improving communication with the district’s central office, one of the longstanding problems she has heard about from operators. She’s also striving to improve the quality of the district’s teacher workforce, and making facilities safer and more usable.

Griffin’s task will be a mammoth one, and she told Chalkbeat that part of her strategy for getting it done revolves around her new central office team. She said that getting the office running smoothly has taken up a large portion of her time during these early months in the job – especially establishing the revamped office so her charter operators can better communicate with the district. A year ago, more than half of 59 central office staff positions were slashed – and Griffin’s team of four is now even smaller.

“We’re still small but mighty,” Griffin said. “But I wanted our charters to know where to go with a problem or a question. Same for parents. We had heard they didn’t know where to go. That’s changing.”

Some charter operators have already benefited from the change. Dwayne Tucker, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, said the district has become more responsive this year and more respectful of charter operators’ time. LEAD runs two turnaround schools in Nashville, the district’s only outside of Memphis

“Previously, we’d get a request for data or information that needed a 24-hour turnaround because someone just realized that it needed to be fulfilled,” Tucker said. “Versus looking at us as the customer and planning so we didn’t need to drop everything. There’s more of a customer-service focus happening on ASD leadership now.”

Griffin’s also been turning to charter operators like LEAD for lessons learned – specifically about teacher recruitment and retention. She said she wants to see what charters are doing well and replicate those practices across the district. When Griffin visited Tucker at LEAD this fall, he said they talked mostly about hiring practices.

“She asked us a lot of questions about the teachers we’re looking for,” Tucker said. “We know that our teachers need to have a sense of purpose to do this work, because a turnaround environment is very hard work.”

Earlier in the year, Griffin also turned to the Memphis-based Freedom Prep, which runs one turnaround school, for lessons learned in retaining teachers.

“Our retention rate in the ASD in the past has not been great,” Griffin said. “I’m the third superintendent in six years, so you can imagine what the teacher retention rate is. Freedom Prep is one of the schools that has had a higher retention rate. Why? They’re focused on teacher support.”

A goal for Griffin during the first month or so as chief was to establish an advisory team of local parents, students, and faith leaders – and that hasn’t happened yet. But Griffin says the team is being assembled now, and that their input would be a big factor in the future.

Collaboration is key for Griffin, who is known for bringing groups with different interests together to find common ground.

“My goal is to work us out of a job,” Griffin said. “When we have empowered all of our teachers and leaders to build capacity within schools, the hope is that they won’t need us anymore.”

new kids on the block

Meet the newly elected Indianapolis Public Schools board members

Three newcomers were elected Tuesday to the Indianapolis Public Schools board. From left: Susan Collins, Evan Hawkins, and Taria Slack.

In a shakeup of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, two challengers unseated incumbents in Tuesday’s election.

In all, three newcomers will join the school board: retired teacher Susan Collins, Marian University administrator Evan Hawkins, and federal employee Taria Slack.

Learn more about where the new school board members stand on issues such as the district’s budget woes, school closings, and innovation schools, from their responses to our candidate survey published last month.