Who Is In Charge

Budget passes Senate, goes back to JBC

Senators from both parties verbally patted each other on the back Thursday before passing House Bill 12-1335, the 2012-13 state budget, by an historic 30-5 margin. The House last week approved the budget 64-1. All the no votes were Republicans.

Legislature 2012 logoOf course, the two versions of the bill aren’t identical, so the Joint Budget Committee, acting as a conference committee, will have to come up with a final version to be ratified by both houses. One item that will have to be ironed out is a Senate amendment that took about $6 million intended to be used for state test development and allocated it to economic development efforts. It’s expected the testing money will be restored.

The budget contains relatively good news for education, including a cut of only about $7 million to the state’s higher education system.

While the budget bill sets base funding for school districts, the hold-the-line K-12 funding proposed for 2012-13 also requires passage of the school finance act, House Bill 12-1345. That measure is on ice in the House while lawmakers try to work out differences over the funding of yet another measure, House Bill 12-1238, the controversial early childhood literacy proposal (see this story for background).

The JBC goes to work on budget reconciliation next week, and the literacy bill has a committee hearing scheduled next Wednesday.

Testing bill introduced

Updated April 20 – Senate Bill 12-172, introduced in the legislature this week, would require the State Board of Education to join one of two multistate testing consortia as a governing member, effectively casting Colorado’s lot with one of the projects.

The bill would commit Colorado to use multistate tests for language arts and math instead of the developing its own tests, which is what the State Board of Education has wanted to do, at least up to now.

Colorado is participating in both the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests. Both are expected to be available in 2015.

The bill doesn’t specify a consortium, nor does it set a deadline for the SBE to decide. The measure’s prime sponsors are Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. Johnston said Friday that pretty much everyone involve in the discussion favors the PARCC group but that the bill doesn’t mention it because of the standard practice of not naming specific organizations such as vendors in bills. The measure doesn’t yet have a House sponsor.

Senate Ed approves Colorado Mesa upgrade

The Senate Education Committee Thursday gave 7-0 approval to House Bill 12-1324, the measure that would change Colorado Mesa University from a “moderately selective” institution to a “selective” one.

The change means that applicants would need an index score of 92 for automatic admission to Colorado Mesa, rather than the current 85. Index scores are a combination of ACT test scores, grade point average and class rank that state colleges use to determine admission eligibility. Colleges also are allowed to admit some students with lower index scores, a process known as “the window.”

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, questioned whether the bill would mean a change in Colorado Mesa’s mission of serving a broad spectrum of Western Slope students. (The institution was changed to university status only last year.)

President Tim Foster said that wasn’t the case and that the change would reflect the university’s changing student body. He said 99 percent of entering students now are above the 85 index level. Raising admissions standards would allow Colorado Mesa to admit students with lower index scores as provisional students. That in turn would allow the school to control course loads and course registration for those students and give them a better chance of success, Foster said.

Colorado Mesa also operates a community college program.

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

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

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.”