Capitol Roundup

The four other (non-testing) education bills that are on the move at the Capitol this week

While the focus so far this week at the Capitol has been on the budget and on testing, other education bills of interest are on the move. Here are the details.

Chartering authority bill heads to House

The Senate Tuesday gave 21-14 final approval to Senate Bill 15-216, which would affect the exclusive chartering authority of districts that are on the state’s accountability watch list for more than three years.

The bill would require that such districts lose that authority if they are in year three of priority improvement or turnaround and do not have an agreement with the State Charter School Institute governing placement of institute charters in the district.

The goal of the bill, according to prime sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is to give students in struggling districts more choices of high-quality schools. Under current law, the state can intervene in districts that have had low ratings for five consecutive years. Hill argues that students should have more choices after three years. (Get more information in this legislative staff summary.)

School finance study passed by House Education

A bipartisan bill that would create a legislative school finance oversight committee passed the House Education Committee in a 9-2 vote Monday.

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

House Bill 15-1334 would set up a 10-member panel to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts.

The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations on both statutory and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

“It’s not a question in anybody’s mind that we have to do this. The question is doing it right,” said prime sponsor Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said the current 20-year-old system is outdated, and “the original intent of equity has been skewed. … Our primary responsibility should be ensuring every child has equal access and opportunity.”

During the last decade there have been two state studies and one outside review of the school finance system. The outside study helped lead to approval of a comprehensive school-funding rewrite by the 2013 legislature. But that plan never went into effect because voters rejected the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for the new system.

The bill has a $520,000 price tag over two years. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

Student learning objectives bill gets first committee approval

The House Education Committee on Monday also voted 6-5 in favor of House Bill 15-1324, a measure intended to encourage schools to use “student learning objectives.”

Student learning objectives are customized learning goals for classrooms and individual students that are used to track academic progress.

The bill is strongly backed by the Colorado Education Association, which wants to expand use of such learning objectives in teacher evaluations.

Specifically, the bill would create a $1 million grant program for districts that want to work on developing such programs. Some Colorado districts already are experimenting with the concept. The bill will be considered next by House Appropriations.

School discipline bill moves to Senate floor

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 15-1240, which would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with local law enforcement on how to handle student-police contacts. The goal is reduce the number of school problems that get referred to police.

The measure is an effort by sponsors Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, to divert more disciplinary matters to school administrators and thereby keep more students in school.

Balmer told the committee that one arrest doubles a student’s odds of dropping out of school and that “the impact of being ticketed or arrested can follow a student for the rest of their lives.”

The vote was 3-2.

interview time

Four candidates left make their case before commission for open Shelby County Schools board seat

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Interim school board candidate Aubrey Howard presents before the Shelby County Commission.

Four remaining candidates for a vacated Memphis school board seat had their chance to tell the Shelby County Commission why they are the right person for the job on Wednesday afternoon.

They were the remaining viable candidates after six applicants were disqualified for living outside of District 2, the area the interim board member will represent in Shelby County Schools. Chalkbeat reported on Monday that six of the candidates live outside of the district. The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and will serve until the term expires in August 2020.

The four applicants are (We’ve linked to their full applications.):

  • Erskine Gillespie, an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank.
  • Althea Greene, a retired Memphis educator and pastor of Real Life Ministries.
  • Aubrey Howard, the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office.
  • Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Commissioners peppered the candidates with questions on big issues facing the district, including school choice, the budget process, managing the district’s aging buildings and underenrollment, and how they could improve the relationship between the district and the county commission, the funding body for schools.

In their pitches to commissioners, applicants touted their previous experiences with K-12 education, such as work with nonprofits and curriculum development, and their ties to Memphis schools. “I’m a product of Memphis schools,” was a phrase said again and again.

Most applicants expressed general support for charter schools, which have grown significantly in recent years in Memphis, but Gillespie said he believed “the influx of our charter school program is an issue that must be addressed.” McKinney sits on the board of a charter high school, and Greene and Howard said they had no issues with charter schools as a way to serve individual needs of students.

On the relationship with the county commission, Greene said: “I think it’s important that as a school board member, I’m at county commission meetings. And work as a bridge to educate children and give them the best education we can, and we know that costs money.”

Gillespie was asked by Commissioner Willie Brooks what he thinks of alternative schools, which serve students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional schools for behavioral reasons. There are several alternative schools in District 2.

“I think alternative schools are truly something necessary,” Gillespie said. “They can provide a trauma-informed response for our students.”

The questionnaire given to each candidate asked about TNReady, the state’s embattled testing system. Commissioner Michael Whaley, who chairs the education committee, asked Howard to expand on his answer that the test “didn’t work.”

“Those decisions about testing and teacher evaluations would be better met if they were local and not state controlled,” Howard replied. “For sure, the state wasted a huge amount of money with the companies they hired that failed us.”

Gillespie and McKinney described aging and often near-empty school buildings as a large issue facing the district. The interim board member would help analyze a massive district plan left by former superintendent Hopson that would consolidate 28 Memphis schools into 10 new buildings.

McKinney said the school board should be having regular conversations with the commission and the neighborhoods it serves on how demographic shifts have impacted the county, creating underenrollment in some schools.

“For the school board, those conversations need to be ongoing, so when it comes time to make a decision about whether or not to close a school, it’s not coming as a surprise,” McKinney said.

Three people from Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group, spoke in support of McKinney. The group’s leader, Sarah Carpenter, said he’s been a consistent figure in her neighborhood of North Memphis.

Shelby County Commission
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Commissioner Willie Brooks (left) asked candidates about how they would work with the county commission.

“I’m tired of people coming to our community when they want a seat and we don’t see them anymore,” Carpenter said. “Our children’s lives are on the line.”

Commissioner Edmund Ford, himself a former teacher, said after the interviews he would like to see an educator on the board.

“There were a lot of things I saw as a teacher, when I would go to the school board to ask for their assistance, that I would not receive,” Ford said. “Personally, I would like to see someone who has been there and done that.”

After hearing from the candidates, the commission voted to move the item to its Monday meeting, where commissioners will vote on a successor.

For more details, see our Twitter thread from the hearing.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.