Who Is In Charge

Colorado Commits launches A66 TV spots

Educators and political junkies who’ve been wondering where the Amendment 66 campaign has been now need to look no farther than their TVs – the first ads boosting the amendment aired Tuesday.

Screen shot of TV ad
Screen shot of pro-Amendment 66 TV ad

The two spots, each 15 seconds long and airing in various TV markets around the state, carry the punch line “Big change, small price.”

The first shows a classroom scene, and the announcer says, “More teacher aides for $133 a year. Amendment 66 puts the money in the classroom. Big change, small price.”

The second ad shows kids in gym class, with the announcer saying, “Bring back gym class for $133 a year. Amendment 66 keeps money out of administration. Big change, small price.”

The spots run back-to-back.

The $133 a-year figure is the additional tax that the pro-66 campaign estimates will be paid on $57,685 a year, Colorado’s median household income. (You can view the ads here.)

Amendment 66 would raise the state’s individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000. Earnings above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. The additional money raised by the new tax would be earmarked for education. (See page 5 of the state’s “Blue Book” voter guide for additional estimates of how the new tax would affect different income levels.)

Amendment 66 is a package deal with Senate Bill 13-213, a law passed last spring that would make major changes in Colorado’s school finance formula. The law won’t go into effect unless voters pass the tax hike. Major elements of SB 13-213 would provide preschool funding for all eligible at-risk students and cover full-day kindergarten costs for all students.

The law also would substantially increase funding for at-risk students and English language learners. But the bill does not specify spending on teacher aides, gym classes or to reduce class sizes. Those decisions would be up to individual school districts.

EdNews asked campaign officials about the size of the ad buy, in which markets ads had been placed and about the duration and cost of the campaign.

Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids, would only say, “It’s a statewide ad buy that includes the three major markets and reaches SW Colorado via Albuquerque stations. Our aim is to reach as many voters as possible in the next five weeks to let them see for themselves that Amendment 66 promises big changes for a small price,” adding that the campaign will last “until at least 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.”

Hubbard wouldn’t disclose the cost of the ads, saying “Financial details of the campaign are made available in our regular public disclosures.”

A source not connected with the campaign did some of his own research on Colorado Commits ad buys and told EdNews he believes the campaign has purchased ads costing at least $420,000 a week in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction markets.

In its news release, the campaign said the ads were produced by Putnam Partners, a Virginia-based political advertising firm. In its Sept. 30 spending report, the campaign reported paying Putnam $106,558 during the prior two weeks. (See this EdNews story for a full report on the latest Colorado Commits contributions and spending.)

While there’s been a lot of chatter in the education community about the low-key character of the campaign to date, Colorado Commits has been busy setting up field offices and hiring canvassers and conducting a fairly active campaign on social media.

Mayor Hancock endorses 66

Amendment 66 news conference
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock formally endorsed Amendment 66 on Oct. 1 at the Clayton Early Learning Center. The campaign logo had been chalked on the parking lot, along with a few thousand stick figures of children.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, flanked by sign-waving campaign volunteers and staffers, Tuesday endorsed the amendment.

“I am voting for Amendment 66 because when it comes down to it, it’s time for everyone of us to stand in the gap for Colorado kids,” he said.

The event was held at the Clayton Early Learning Center in northeast Denver to emphasize Amendment 66’s impact on preschool programs. Charlotte Brantling, head of Clayton, and Qualistar Colorado Vice President Heather Tritten also spoke in support.

The pep rally was staged on an asphalt parking lot on which had been chalked a full color Colorado Commits logo and a few thousand colorful stick figures of children. Creation of the chalk drawings was recorded on video and could show up in a future campaign video or ad. As the rally broke up, a maintenance man wheeled a power washer onto the lot, ready to clean it off.

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.”