Future of Schools

Dougco school board race could determine district’s future

Check back this evening as returns start to be reported — we’ll be updating the post all night with results and responses from the campaigns and other stakeholders.

10:55 p.m. With no new results from the Douglas County elections office, we are ending for the night. The tally:

Jim Geddes: 46,511 votes
Barbra Chase: 42,417 votes

Julie Keim: 42,729 votes
Judi Reynolds: 45,957 votes

Doug Benevento: 45,840 votes
Bill Hodges: 42,900 votes

Ronda Scholting: 41,428 votes
Meghann Silverthorn: 47,212 votes

No candidates who oppose the current board are in the lead tonight.

9:55 p.m.  Jeb Bush follows up his money and his editorial with another statement in favor of Dougco’s current board.

9:40 p.m. “At this point in time, I don’t think anyone in this room is ready to call it, ” said Dougco candidate Ronda Scholting, who opposes current board actions. “There are always those notorious late voters.”

Asked if she’ll continue to fight the board if she loses, she said a lot of people were very angry about the current direction. As for her investment in a new direction, “I don’t have a kid in the district,” she said. “What I have is property values, if I want to sell my house.”

UPDATE at 7:43 p.m.: Preliminary results show that the four candidates who support the reform efforts of the current Dougco board are all up in the polls. Incumbent Doug Benevento says many issues were litigated in the campaign, and their apparent success is a mandate to move forward.

With four seats on Douglas County’s seven-member board up for grabs, the direction of the district’s schools hangs in the balance.
Douglas County School District and its board have attracted national attention for taking an aggressive “market-driven” approach to reforms. The reforms have prompted a variety of changes in the district. Whether those changes are good or bad is a matter of deep contention in the county.

Those in favor of reforms point to an increase in TCAP scores and in high school graduation rates. The critics, however, point to Dougco’s loss of its distinguished status under the state ranking system and the lowering of graduation requirements. Those reforms include:

National attention

Dougco’s school board race has become a rallying point for national conservatives who would like to see that style of reforms implemented elsewhere. The district drew acclaim from conservative figures like former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Bush also donated to the campaigns of candidates supporting current reforms to the tune of $1000 for each candidate.

The Koch brothers’ advocacy group Americans for Prosperity will spend more than $350,000 on the race, according to Politico. Voucher supporters Ralph Nagel and Alex Cranberg provided most of pro-board candidates’ funding, a total of $140,000.

“If you vote for them, you will lose control of your district,” said Barbra Chase, one of the slate of candidates critical of the current reforms. “Voting for [that slate] is saying,’yes, I want to be silenced. Yes, I support groupthink.'”

Chase and the three other opposition candidates, who would like to see the district’s direction altered, cite low growth in student performance and low teacher morale as markers of the reforms’ failure. They bill themselves as a slate for change.

Despite accusations of union backing, the opposition candidates have so far refused to accept any money from teachers’ unions. Instead, the national and local branches of the American Federation of Teachers contributed, which represents Douglas County teachers, over $100,000 to a local interest committee.

“The money that came in from AFT is there to give the teachers a voice, and that’s what it did in this campaign,” the head of Dougco’s teachers’ union told Our Colorado News.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”