School Finance

Big stack of education tax plans filed

Twenty-five proposed tax-increase ballot measures were filed late Friday with the legislature’s administrative office, another part of the effort to reform Colorado’s school funding system.

Colorado CapitolAlmost of the draft measures propose various increases in the state income tax to fund increased K-12 education spending. Two additional measures were filed earlier by a Tea Party activist.

Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rollie Heath of Boulder have proposed sweeping changes to the state’s formula for funding schools, a bill now working its way through the Senate. (See this EdNews story for the most recent developments.)

If that measure is approved by the legislature, the new system wouldn’t go into effect unless voters approve a tax increase to pay for it. Various Johnston allies have been working on tax plans, and those were filed Friday.

Filing multiple, slightly different versions of a ballot measure is a fairly common tactic. It’s done for a couple of reasons. Sometimes versions are thrown out because they don’t meet constitutional requirements for ballot language, so backers want to have something in reserve. Proponents also like to have multiple measures to choose from to maximize chances of voter approval based on polls and focus groups. Only one version ultimately goes to voters.

Sixteen variations of a measure were filed by the Colorado Forum, a business groups that works on constitutional and fiscal reform issues. Another group of measures was filed by Bruce Broderius, a former member of the Greeley school board and a longtime advocate of increased school funding. It couldn’t be determined Friday evening what group or groups he represents.

A measure filed by Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Tamara Ward, CEO of Colorado Concern, would propose the text of SB 13-213 to the voters as an initiated law. That appears to be a backup if the bill itself doesn’t pass the legislature.

Friday was the deadline for proponents of ballot measures to file the proposed texts for issues intended for the November 2013 ballot. Following a review process, final versions must be submitted to the secretary of state’s office by April 5. Measures are then subject to another round of review (which sometimes gets detoured through the Colorado Supreme Court) that ends April 26. Backers of surviving measures than have until Sept. 4 to gain enough signatures to get their final version on the November ballot.

Two measures filed Thursday by Tea Party activist Steve Dorman propose a 10 percent sales tax increase to fund teacher pensions and a miniscule income tax increase to fund schools.

Find links to the proposed measures here. (Warning: Contains complicated legal language.)


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.


More than 1,000 Memphis school employees will get raise to $15 per hour

PHOTO: Katie Kull

About 1,200 Memphis school employees will see their wages increase to $15 per hour under a budget plan announced Tuesday evening.

The raises would would cost about $2.4 million, according to Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance.

The plan for Shelby County Schools, the city’s fifth largest employer, comes as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to Memphis in 1968 to promote living wages.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson read from King’s speech to sanitation workers 50 years and two days ago as they were on strike for fair wages:

“Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life or our nation. They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation … And it is criminal to have people working on a full time basis and a full time job getting part time income.”

Hopson also cited a “striking” report that showed an increase in the percent of impoverished children in Shelby County. That report from the University of Memphis was commissioned by the National Civil Rights Museum to analyze poverty trends since King’s death.

“We think it’s very important because so many of our employees are actually parents of students in our district,” Hopson said.

The superintendent of Tennessee’s largest district frequently cites what he calls “suffocating poverty” for many of the students in Memphis public schools as a barrier to academic success.

Most of the employees currently making below $15 per hour are warehouse workers, teaching assistants, office assistants, and cafeteria workers, said Johnson.

The threshold of $15 per hour is what many advocates have pushed to increase the federal minimum wage. The living wage in Memphis, or amount that would enable families of one adult and one child to support themselves, is $21.90, according to a “living wage calculator” produced by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Board members applauded the move Tuesday but urged Hopson to make sure those the district contracts out services to also pay their workers that same minimum wage.

“This is a bold step for us to move forward as a district,” said board chairwoman Shante Avant.