Who Is In Charge

Turnaround election for school districts

Election 2012 LogoTuesday’s election saw voters in 29 Colorado school districts approve 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion.

The 38 proposals on this year’s ballots totaled about $1.03 billion; the total approved was about $1.01 billion.

Only two small districts, Cheyenne Re-5 on the eastern plains and West End near the Utah border, were shut out. In West End, 75 percent of voters were in the no column. Meanwhile, voters in the Gilcrest district of Weld County rejected a bond issue but approved an operating increase.

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By the numbers

  • 31 districts proposed ballot measures, including Aspen
  • 38 measures total were proposed – some districts sought both bond issues and operating tax increases

Ballot breakdown

  • 7 measures were traditional bonds – 6 passed
  • 14 measures were local matches for state construction dollars or BEST bonds – 13 passed
  • 16 measures were operating increases – 15 passed
  • 1 sales tax, in Aspen – 1 passed
  • Total measures passed – 35

Rejected measures

  • 1 regular bond was rejected – in Gilcrest, which passed an operating increase
  • 1 local match for a state construction grant, also known as a BEST bond, was rejected
  • 1 operating increase was rejected – in Cheyenne Re-5
  • Voters in only 2 of 31 districts rejected all measures before them

Final tally

  • Dollar value of all proposals – $1.03 billion
  • Dollar value of all proposals approved – $1.009 billion
  • Bonds approved – $766.8 million, including BEST bonds approved – $90.5 million
  • Operating measures approved – $150.7 million
  • Sales taxes approved – $1.75 million

Of the 35 total proposals that passed, 15 were approved with yes votes of 60 percent or more. The biggest margin was in Telluride, where 86 percent of voters supported an operating increase. Proposals in two districts, Bayfield and Plateau Valley, squeaked by with 51 percent yes to 49 percent no.

The results represented a dramatic turnaround from the 2011 election, one of the worst in recent memory for schools. Voters approved only $73 million of the more than $560 million in bonds and operating increases proposed in 2011.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said she feels the slowly improving economy was “a pretty big reason” for what happened on Tuesday. “Last year, we were closer to the crash,” she said. “People have had a year to look at some recovery.”

Urschel also speculated that voters “maybe paid attention to the cuts their districts had to impose” in recent years and were supportive of the need to restore some funding. Most districts are planning to use operating increases to restore budget cuts or avoid future ones.

She said most districts were very careful this year to get community input on the proposals, noting, “They were guided by their communities from the outset.” Urschel also said voters in districts that sought bonds to match state construction funds may have been attracted by the prospect of leveraging their local tax dollars.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, praised the re-election of President Obama and also said, “The president’s priorities were echoed across Colorado in dozens of local elections in which voters soundly rejected calls to accept low levels of education funding, and instead made the choice to restore investment to an outstanding, yet financially-drained public school system.”

The bulk of the $1.01 billion is accounted for by the total $664 million requested by Denver Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s two largest school districts. Both districts requested bond issues and operating revenue increases.

Cherry Creek district voters also approved a bond issue and an operating increase.

“We are very grateful that the community recognized the need to provide resources to continue our mission of excellence for all students,” board President Jennifer Churchfield said. “As we have in the past, we will keep our promise to provide the best educational opportunities for the children in this district.”

(See this story for election night reaction to the DPS vote, and this one for comments on the votes in Jefferson County and other larger districts.)

Who passed what

Support for district tax measures spanned the state and was seen in districts both large and small.

Districts that passed both bond issues and operating increases

  • Bayfield – $11.9 million bond, $1.2 million operating
  • Buena Vista – $4.4 million to match state construction funds, $900,000 operating
  • Cherry Creek – $125 million bond, $25 million operating
  • Denver – $466 million bond, $49 million operating
  • Fort Lupton – $11.7 million bond ($5.1 million to match a state grant), $1.4 million operating
  • Jefferson – $99 million bond, $39 million operating

Voters in Gilcrest narrowly defeated a $9.9 million bond but approved a $1.8 million operating increase.

Other bond issues that passed

  • Alamosa – $4.9 million
  • Pueblo 70 – $59.9 million

Other operating increases that passed

  • Aurora – $15 million
  • Briggsdale – $195,000
  • Del Norte – $832,600
  • Mancos – $276,000
  • Plateau Valley – $350,000
  • Stratton – $119,200
  • Telluride – $800,000
  • St. Vrain – $14.8 million

The Cheyenne County District Re-5 lost a proposed $200,000 operating increase with more than 60 percent voting no.

Others passing bond issues to match state grants

The state’s competitive Building Excellent Schools Today program provides grants to districts for school construction and renovation, but in most cases local matches are required. These districts raised their matches.

  • Dolores – $3.5 million
  • Elbert 200 – $2.9 million
  • Genoa-Hugo – $6.6 million
  • Greeley – $8.2 million
  • Hi Plains – $2.8 million
  • Lake County – $11.4 million
  • Montezuma-Cortez – $21 million
  • Otis – $2.8 million
  • Platte Valley – $5.7 million
  • Salida – $9.6 million bond
  • Sheridan – $6.5 million

Greeley and Salida were chosen as alternate BEST winners in case any finalists lost their bond elections and forfeited their state grants. Denver actually is an alternate as well – a small part of its bond issue is a match for a state grant to renovate South High School.

The state Capital Construction Assistance Board is scheduled to meet Monday to decide how to handle the alternates, given that West End has forfeited its $12.5 million state grant by failing to pass its $9.4 million match.

And one successful sales tax increase

Aspen voters approved a city sales tax increase that will generate about $1.75 million a year to the Aspen school district.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”