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.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: