Dan The Man

In split vote, Jeffco board hires new superintendent

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.

Update at 9:45 p.m.:

GOLDEN — Dan McMinimee’s welcome wagon traveled a bumpy road to the Jefferson County school district’s headquarters here Tuesday night.

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night voted, 3-2, to hire McMinimee as its next superintendent, despite an overwhelming outcry of concern from rowdy community members in the audience.

McMinimee sat stoic in the front row of a packed board room as his neighbors, potential employees and employers raised questions about his credentials and whether he was worth the $280,000 salary advertised.

“A lot of interesting things we saw tonight, I guess,” McMinimee said after the meeting adjourned.

The crowd behind him chanted “stand up for kids,” a rallying cry of sorts for the Jeffco teachers union and its supporters.

The board and McMinimee must still finalize ​specific terms of the ​contract. The board is expected to vote on a final contract at its June 5 meeting.The vote came after about an hour of public comment and several rounds of amendments — ​”friendly”​ and otherwise — from board members on the terms of McMinimee’s contract. None of the amendments — which included limiting the contract to one year, lowering the base salary, and including specific performance goals — were adopted.

​Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against hiring McMinimee. However, Dahlkemper publicly pledged to work professionally with “whomever the board majority hires.”

Twenty-two individuals and groups spoke on McMinimee’s status as the sole finalist for the superintendent position, which has been open since February.

Five spoke in favor of the board hiring McMinimee, including a Dougco employee, Tom Lawson.

“Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers,” Lawson said.

The rest generally opposed McMinimee’s hiring, or at least requested the board put a hold on hiring McMinimee until after the community could vet more public finalists.

“From the nationwide search, why only one finalist?” asked Craig Middleton, a Jeffco parent. “How many other candidates were interviewed for this position, or were there no others? Or did the other candidates politely decline when you explained they would have no voice in their position.”

A staff presentation after public comment noted that the board, in an earlier executive session, interviewed five candidates.

Original post

The $280,000 question tonight before the Jeffco Public Schools isn’t whether Dan McMinimee will be the suburban school district’s new leader — with the apparent blessing of the board’s three-member majority, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Instead, the question is whether his appointment will be unanimous, as so many hoped it would be, or split along ideological lines, as so many recent votes taken by the Board of Education have been.

McMinimee is the sole finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the end of February. His nomination, which came after a three month search that cost the district $40,000, was made on 3-2 vote.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who opposed naming McMinimee as the sole finalist (they wanted to see more options made public), are keeping their votes close to their chest.

Both board members, who were strong supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, have pledged to keep an open mind on McMinimee.

“I’m not prepared to say [how I’ll vote],” Dahlkemper said last week.

Stevenson’s tumultuous exit in February was a flashpoint in recent struggles between the board’s conservative majority and some Jeffco constituencies.

A unanimous nod from the board would go a long way in repairing relations not just among the board members, but also for the community, insiders and observers said.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” said Bill Newman of the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., throughout the search process.

Even though McMinimee’s resume — which includes stints as a teacher, coach, principal, and central office administrator — meets much of the criteria members of the Jeffco community wanted, his ability to unite the district is in question because of his tenure in the nearby school district Douglas County.

Dougco’s decidedly conservative board and its reforms have made headlines throughout Colorado. And critics of those reforms are wary the Jeffco board majority is laying the groundwork to take similar steps.

Jefferson County has had no shortage of anxiety since the November election when the board’s current majority — board president Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — was elected by wide margins. Critics of the board’s majority worry their platform of expanding school choice, linking teacher pay to student test scores, and beefing up funds for charter schools, are unnecessary reform tactics influenced by a larger conservative agenda.

Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School —  with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board's minority.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School — with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board’s minority.

Douglas County, where McMinimee has worked for the last 12 years, has already put into place many of those strategies. The board ended its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union and put into place a voucher program that would have allowed some students to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.

McMinimee represented the board in 2012 during contract negotiations that ended in a stalemate. And the legality of the district’s voucher plan, which never went into effect, is expected to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court this summer.

The finalist has said both publicly and during the interview process that he’ll work to unite the board and community by spending “quality time” with each board member and by touring the district that spreads from the Littleton to Westminster and from Lakewood to Evergreen.

But McMinimee’s bonhomie and rhetoric have not seemed to sway some skeptics.

More than 3,000 individuals signed a Change.org petition during the Memorial Day weekend asking the board to ditch McMinimee and revisit the application pool. And emails opposing McMinimee’s appointment addressed to Jeffco board members and copied to members of the media have trickled into email inboxes since he was named as the sole finalist.

“Please go back to the drawing board,” wrote Jim Earley, a Jeffco parent, in a Saturday email to board members provided to Chalkbeat. “Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for superintendent to present to the community.”

Besides the Dougco connection, Earley said in his email, McMinimee’s lack of experience leading a large district (Jeffco has nearly 85,000 students) and some details of his contract were unacceptable.

A draft of McMinimee’s contract was released last week after a flurry of emails from parents and teachers requested a preview.

According to the draft, which is still subject to further negotiations and a separate June 5 vote, McMinimee will be paid $280,000 a year for five years. That’s about $80,000 more in base-pay than Stevenson, the district’s last superintendent. Stevenson was eligible for $30,000 in bonuses but had to pay for her own expenses, while the draft contract for McMinimee does not outline any performance-based bonuses and he will be reimbursed for some expenses.

If approved, McMinimee’s base salary will also be more than New York City School’s chancellor Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 per year, and Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett, who earns $250,000 per year.

Previously, all members of the board agreed to the increase in base salary during the recruitment process.

But board member Fellman said, in retrospect, the board might not have had all the information needed to when it agreed to increase the base salary for the position.

“Right now, I’m more critical of the process than of Mr. McMinimee,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The board’s discussion and vote will follow 45 minutes of public comment, which is expected to begin after 6:30 p.m. More than 60 peopled have signed up to address the board. Departing from standard procedure that has allowed some board meetings to go on for hours, individuals will have only two minutes to speak while groups will have five minutes.

task force

Jeffco takes collaborative approach as it considers later school start times

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The Jeffco school district is weighing pushing back start times at its middle and high schools, and the community task force set up to offer recommendations is asking for public input.

Nearby school districts, such as those in Cherry Creek and Greeley, have rolled out later start times, and Jeffco — the second largest school district in Colorado — in December announced its decision to study the issue.

Thompson and Brighton’s 27J school districts are pushing back start times at their secondary schools this fall.

The 50-person Jeffco task force has until January to present their recommendations to the district.

Supporters of the idea to start the school day later cite research showing that teenagers benefit from sleeping in and often do better in school as a result.

Jeffco is considering changing start times after parents and community members began pressing superintendent Jason Glass to look at the issue. Middle and high schools in the Jeffco district currently start at around 7:30 a.m.

The task force is inviting community members to offer their feedback this summer on the group’s website, its Facebook page, or the district’s form, and to come to its meetings in the fall.

Katie Winner, a Jeffco parent of two and one of three chairs of the start times task force, said she’s excited about how collaborative the work is this year.

“It’s a little shocking,” Winner said. “It’s really hard to convey to people that Jeffco schools wants your feedback. But I can say [definitively], I don’t believe this is a waste of time.”

The task force is currently split into three committees focusing on reviewing research on school start times, considering outcomes in other districts that have changed start times, and gathering community input. The group as a whole will also consider how schedule changes could affect transportation, sports and other after school activities, student employment, and district budgets.

Members of the task force are not appointed by the district, as has been typical in district decision-making in years past. Instead, as a way to try to generate the most community engagement, everyone who expressed interest was accepted into the group. Meetings are open to the public, and people can still join the task force.

“These groups are short-term work groups, not school board advisory committees. They are targeting some current issues that our families are interested in,” said Diana Wilson, the district’s chief communications officer. “Since the topics likely have a broad range of perspectives, gathering people that (hopefully) represent those perspectives to look at options seems like a good way to find some solutions or ideas for positive/constructive changes.”

How such a large group will reach a consensus remains to be seen. Winner knows the prospect could appear daunting, but “it’s actually a challenge to the group to say: be inclusive.”

For now the group is seeking recommendations that won’t require the district to spend more money. But Winner said the group will keep a close eye on potential tax measures that could give the district new funds after November. If some measure were to pass, it could give the group more flexibility in its recommendations.

first shot

Jeffco district giving charter school district status and district building, while letting it maintain autonomy

A 2013 image from Free Horizon Montessori Charter School in Golden. (Denver Post file).

In a rare deal, a Jeffco charter school will become a district-run school but keep much of its independence — and also secure a long-sought campus.

For its part, the Jeffco school district wins a stable school in a Golden neighborhood that lost its own elementary school last year.

Free Horizon Montessori in the Jeffco district will still be run by its own board and is requesting the same waivers from state education law that it has now. But instead of getting them by being a charter school, it will become a district-run innovation school. Innovation schools, which are popular in Denver and several other districts, can win waivers from certain state and district rules. Those waivers grant them more sovereignty than traditional district-run schools. Free Horizon will be the first school in Jeffco Public Schools to earn the status.

Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass called it a “win-win-win.”

District officials had been considering what to do with the building that was emptied this year after the school board voted to close Pleasant View Elementary in 2017. Officials said feedback showed the community favored keeping the building as a school.

The charter school, now located about a mile away from the school building, just south of U.S. Highway 6, was looking for a new location. In its current space, configured more for an office than a school, the charter would have had to spend about $7 million for the changes it wanted.

Under the plan, the charter will get a rent-free campus at Pleasant View, which will still be owned and managed by the district. The community will again have a school in the building — one which officials believe will have more stable enrollment than the elementary school the district closed — and the plan would give Pleasant View-area students a priority at the charter school, if they choose to go there.

Finding a place to house a school is one of the most common challenges facing charter schools in the metro area, especially as market rates go up. Jeffco has no policy on how to choose to lease, give, or sell a district building to a charter school, but it has done so a few times. Last year, for instance, the school board reluctantly approved a lease for Doral Academy to temporarily move into a district building.

Glass said that after seeing how Free Horizon works out, he’d consider a more consistent way of sharing available district space with charter schools, provided they accept all Jeffco students equitably and serve the community’s interests.

“Free Horizon certainly meets the bill,” Glass said. “This is sort of our first shot at this.”

Free Horizon Montessori, a preschool through eighth grade school, has about 420 students, including 21.6 percent who qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. Currently, about 20 students from the Pleasant View neighborhood attend Free Horizon.

Miera Nagy, the charter’s director of finance and advancement, said after the move, the school will likely shrink its preschool, which has 75 students, to be able to fit in the building.

When arguing to close Pleasant View, Jeffco officials had cited necessary and costly building repairs. Now, they say it was decreasing enrollment that was the primary reason that made the school unsustainable.

In talking about Free Horizon’s plans, Nagy said, the school building won’t allow the school space to grow much. Instead, the school wanted the Pleasant View campus for “dedicated space for our specials.” As an example she said, the school’s physical education class is located in a room without a field or things like basketball hoops.

“This expands those services and those programs,” Nagy said.

The school board approved the school’s proposed innovation plan last week and it now heads to the State Board of Education. Jeffco officials, meanwhile, are working to delineate in a new document what responsibilities their school board will have, and which ones will be left to the school’s board.

Glass is seeking to keep the school intact.

“What he asked us to do was find a way that we could do this without designing any changes to the program that Free Horizon has,” said Tim Matlick, Jeffco’s achievement director of charter schools at a board meeting last week. “Free Horizon has a very successful program.”

The charter school meets state academic growth goals and falls slightly short of standards for achievement. According to state test results from 2016-17, 41.7 percent of the charter’s third graders met or exceeded standards for language arts. That’s slightly lower than the district’s average of 45.4 percent for the same group.

As a charter school, Free Horizon hires custodial services and buys school lunches, but as a district-run innovation school, Jeffco will provide those services. In exchange, the school will get less money per student than it does now as a charter school.

“Some of those things will actually be under the district’s umbrella, allowing the team at Free Horizon to really focus on the educational process,” Matlick said

The plan will also include a way for the district or the school to terminate the agreement by allowing the school to revert to a charter school if things don’t go well.

“We know that we’re going to learn more as we continue to go down the path,” Nagy said. “We’re going to be figuring this out together.”