Who Is In Charge

Big day for a freshman senator

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger has only been in the legislature for 51 session days, so Thursday was a big day, given that she presented one bill to the Senate Education Committee and introduced another education measure of note.

Senate Education passed her Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million grant program that districts and charters schools could apply to for money to train principals for low-performing schools.

Zenzinger thoroughly prepared for the hearing, reading a carefully prepared statement to the committee (of which she’s a member) and marshaling more than a dozen witnesses to testify for the bill. Former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, a leading figure in education reform circles, led off the testimony, and the hearing on the bill took more than two hours, as a parade of principals, teachers, parents and others testified for the measure. (Read the bill here, and check the legislative staff summary here.)

Committee Republicans, complaining that the bill was too bureaucratic, weren’t persuaded by the testimony, and the bill was passed on to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote.

Earlier in the day, Zenzinger – along with co-prime sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora — introduced Senate Bill 14-150. The measure would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps program from $5 million to $10 million a year and expand both eligibility and requirements for the program. The corps is intended to increase the number of counselors working in high-needs schools. (Read the bill here.)

Zenzinger, a Democrat, is a former member of the Arvada City Council and has been active in a wide variety of north metro civic groups. She was appointed to her Senate seat in December after Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, resigned to avoid a recall organized by gun rights activists. Such groups previously had successfully recalled two other Democratic senators, shaving the party’s Senate majority to one vote. Hudak was persuaded to resign to avoid a loss of Democratic control of the Senate.

Zenzinger works for Regis University as coordinator of the master of arts in education program.


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.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”