Who Is In Charge

Ballot returns inch up to 33 percent

Updated Nov. 5 – Almost exactly a third of the 3.09 million ballots sent to Colorado voters this election had been returned as of Election Day morning.

Chart of ballots cast
Ballots cast in largest counties as of Nov. 5, 9:30 a.m.
The Department of State reported that 1,030,487 ballots had been returned. That includes 412,369 cast by Republican registered voters, 328,707 by Democrats and 280,421 by unaffiliated voters.

The number of ballots returned indicates that more than 400,000 additional ballots will have to hit county clerks’ offices before 7 p.m. if turnout is to reach the 50 percent seen in 2011.

Denver, heavily Democratic and the county with the largest number of active voters, had reached a 26 percent return rate. Douglas, a key Republican-leaning county, was at 44 percent of ballots return, and other large GOP counties like El Paso, Weld and Mesa was above 30 percent. The only large Democratic-leaning counties with more than 30 percent of ballots returned were Boulder and Pueblo.

A low turnout, particularly in Democratic counties, could be worrisome for Amendment 66 backers, given the widely cited view that the campaign needs to draw voters who don’t normally vote in off-year elections in order to pass the $950 million state income tax increase.

Just over a quarter of ballots had been cast as of Monday morning.

Veteran campaign consultant Katy Atkinson said Monday the turnout “sounds about average” for an off-year election and that while A66 backers probably are “hoping for a high turnout, it’s not necessarily bad news for them either.”

Atkinson said, “All or most Democrats are probably yes votes” but that it’s “just about impossible to predict how Republicans will be voting,” adding that A66 likely will have some support from Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

“The big question is how big a chunk” that will be, Atkinson said. “My sense is that this is going to be close.”

Another experienced consultant, Lynea Hansen, thinks the Republican-Democratic gap will narrow by 7 p.m. Tuesday. “We have a tradition of Democrats voting on Election Day,” she said, even in an all-mail election.

She noted there was significant Democratic turnout on Election Day in 2011, which also was largely all-mail. “I definitely think Amendment 66 is going to come down to the wire,” and the result will depend on whether the pro-66 campaign gets its supporters to vote.

Consultant Eric Sondemann said the number of ballots returned “strikes me as a very modest turnout.” He agreed that more Democrats than Republicans vote on Election Day but that “There’s going to have to be a hell of a surge tomorrow” for Democrats to close the gap.

Backers of A66 made a last in-person push on Saturday as about 740 paid and volunteer canvassers went door-to-door in 11 communities around the state.

Campaign rally
Mayor Michael Hancock spoke to A66 supporters Saturday in Denver. (Photo courtesy Colorado Committs to Kids)

High-profile Democratic politicians turned at A66 rallies. “Every minute counts, every step counts and every door knocked counties,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told canvassers after they returned from working in Aurora.

Mayor Michael Hancock rallied volunteers in Denver, and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia spoke to Fort Collins canvassers.

A panel of experts did a “pre-mortem” on A66 during a discussion sponsored by the Buechner Institute of Governance at the University of Colorado Denver.

“I do think it will be close,” said Norma Anderson, a former Republican legislative leader from Jefferson County. Anderson, who opposes A66, noted, “The one thing about the people in Colorado, they don’t like a raise in taxes.”

Andrew Freedman, A66 campaign manager, predicted the measure will pass and cautioned, “Don’t read too much” into early ballot returns. (About 23 percent of ballots had been returned as of Friday morning.)

“There’s a lot of turnout game to be played,” said Hansen, who also was on the panel. “Democrats don’t turn their ballots in until later in the game.”

Hansen also noted that turnout may be affected by other political controversies that have been in the news, including gun control, marijuana taxes and civil unions. “All of this frames the debate. Such distractions won’t necessarily change voters’ minds about A66, but “It’s changing who’s voting” and will affect turnout.

Panel members also were coaxed into “what if” speculation by moderator Paul Teske.

“If it fails you’re not going to pass another tax increase unless it’s a minor one,” predicted Anderson.

“If it doesn’t pass we have to make another stab at finding the right solution,” said Hansen, who personally supports A66.

Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said, “We can’t use 66 [losing] as an excuse to not do the things we know that we fundamentally need to be doing” in education reform. (The chamber has supported A66’s accompanying legislation, Senate Bill 13-213, but remained neutral on the amendment.)

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.”