School Finance

Success Act clears Senate by wide margin

Updated May 1, 9:30 a.m. – The Senate voted 33-2 Thursday morning to pass the Student Success Act, the session’s major piece of education funding legislation.

The measure returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

While there are significant differences between the two versions of the bills, there aren’t expected to be major roadblocks to reaching a compromise version.

The only no votes Thursday were Republican Sens. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

Having compromised on the contentious issue of school financial transparency, the solidifying support behind the bill became clear Wednesday evening when the Senate voted preliminary approval.

The transparency compromise gives Gov. John Hickenlooper and some education interest groups what they wanted – $3 million in funding for a statewide website citizens can use to research spending at both the district and school levels.

It also somewhat reduces the bureaucratic burden on school districts to produce the information for the database, compared to previous versions of the plan. District lobbyists had fought hard against the original idea, arguing it was unnecessary and burdensome.

Senators from both parties repeatedly congratulated each other for having reached the compromise on HB 14-1292. Failure to do that delayed action on the bill Monday night.

Prime sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, even started singing “Kumbaya” before the members gave the bill preliminary approval on a voice vote. There were no audible no votes.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, had battled Johnston on the transparency issue but praised “the concensus we built.” She noted that the final transparency amendment sets requirements that “are not easy but are less cumbersome for our districts.”

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, praised Johnston, saying, “I give the senator credit for listening and being open … to what the districts wanted.”

School district interests have pushed hard on several aspects of the bill all session long. Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, acknowledged that, saying, “We did listen, maybe in ways we didn’t before.”

More substantive sections of the bill reduce the state’s school funding shortfall by $110 million, add $20 million for early literacy programs and provide additional funding for charter school facilities.

A Senate committee earlier removed a section of the bill that would convert the state to the average daily membership method of enrollment counting. School districts also had opposed that provision. Whether ADM will be a point of conflict with the House remains to be seen.

Other elements of the bill have come and gone as it worked its way through the legislature, subject to intense school district lobbying at every step.

The major issue was how much to reduce the $1 billion shortfall in school funding, known as the negative factor. Sponsors originally proposed no reduction, but an early version did suggest $80 million. At one point the Senate version of the bill proposed $120 million before settling back to the $110 million approved by the House.

The sponsors’ plans to earmark for kindergarten and charter school facilities all $40 million in expected marijuana tax revenues were scaled back. In the current version, only $10 million will go to charters instead of flowing to the main capital construction assistance fund. (An attempt to remove the charter earmark was rebuffed Wednesday on the Senate floor.) That section of the bill may end up being theoretical as it looks like there won’t be enough marijuana revenue this year to generate the $40 million.

And a $40 million fund to help districts implement recent education laws is long gone from the bill.

The bill is one of three measures that will drive school funding in 2014-15.

House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 School Finance Act, received final Senate approval earlier in the evening on a 23-12 vote. It provides an additional $17 million for at-risk preschool and kindergarten students and a $30 million boost for English language learner programs, among other provisions.

Earlier in the day, Hickenlooper signed House Bill 14-1336, the main 2014-15 state budget bill. It provides the base K-12 funding that the other two bills add to.

All told, the three bills would raise statewide average per-pupil funding to $7,019 in 2014-15, up from $6,652 this year. That’s still below the historic high of $7,078 in 2009-10.

IPS referendum

Ferebee, pleading for more money for schools, says teacher raises, security upgrades are on the ballot

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Nathan Harris, who graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, thinks the schools need more funding to serve students from low-income families.

At a quiet meeting held Wednesday in a near northside church, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee made his case: Indianapolis Public Schools needs more money from local taxpayers.

At stake when voters go to the polls in November: The ability of the state’s largest district to foot the cost of raises for teachers and school security improvements, among other expenditures officials deem necessary. There are two property tax hikes on the ballot this year to increase school funding.

Ferebee told the few dozen people who came to the meeting — parents, alumni, district staffers, among them — that, with adequate funding, he envisioned offering the best teacher pay in the state and attracting some of the most talented educators.

“I think every parent in this room would appreciate that,” he said. “We have to be competitive with teachers’ … compensation.”

The superintendent presented a broad outline of the district’s financial woes, but there was not much new information. He devoted most of the meeting to answering questions from those in attendance, who were alternately supportive and skeptical of the referendums.

Reggie Jones, a member of the Indianapolis NAACP education committee, said that while he supports the ballot initiatives, he also wants to know more about how the money will be spent.

Janise Hamiter, a district bus attendant, expressed concern that some of the money raised will be used to make improvements at buildings that are occupied by charter schools in the district innovation network.

“Private money is going to be used for charter schools. Public money is going to be used for charter schools,” she said. “They are getting both ends of the stick if you ask me.”

She said she hasn’t yet decided which way she’ll vote.

One of the proposed referendums would raise about $52 million to pay for improvements to school buildings, particularly safety features such as new lights, classroom locks, and fire sprinklers. The board voted earlier this month to add that request to the ballot.

The second measure, which is likely to generate significantly more funds, would pay for operating expenses such as teacher pay. Details of that proposal are expected in the coming weeks. The board will hold a July 17 hearing on the measure.

The community meeting was notable because this is the district’s second time this year campaigning for more money from taxpayers, and the success of the referendums could hinge on whether Ferebee makes a strong case to voters. Last year, the district announced plans to seek nearly $1 billion in two referendums that were to be on the ballot in May. But community groups, notably the MIBOR Realtor Association, balked at the size of the request and criticized the district for not providing enough details.

Eventually, the school board chose to delay the vote and work with the Indy Chamber to craft a less costly version. The latest proposal for building improvements comes in at about one-quarter of the district’s initial request.

Nathan Harris, who graduated from Arsenal Technical High School but no longer lives in the district, said he supports increasing school funding because he’s familiar with the needs of Indianapolis schools. When so many students come from low-income families, Harris said, “more resources are required.”

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.”