State Board changes

Republican candidates lining up for State Board vacancy

The Colorado Department of Education.

At least half a dozen people are interested in the State Board of Education seat being vacated by Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.

The potential applicants include a former candidate for the 3rd District seat, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo, three people with local school board experience and a parochial school principal from Grand Junction.

Neal announced two weeks ago that she’s resigning effective July 31. Her decision was sparked by board dysfunction and personal health issues, she said. (See this story for details on her decision, and this article about reaction.)

Under state law the seat will be filled by a Republican Party vacancy committee. The chosen applicant will have to run for election in November 2016.

Freida Wallison of Snowmass, Pitkin County Republican Party chair, said earlier this week, “We are in the process of setting up the vacancy committee.” She’s set a June 30 deadlines for applications, which consist of biographies and photos.

Applicants have to be registered Republicans who live in the 29-county district, which covers all of the Western Slope from Glenwood Springs west but also includes the San Luis Valley and Pueblo County. No other qualifications are required.

“The inquiries we are receiving are by and large from people who have a connection to education,” Wallison said.

The 13-member vacancy committee will include members of various other GOP committees, representatives from Mesa and Pueblo counties and five other members, each representing a group of smaller counties.

Wallison hopes to convene the committee in July for a single meeting to interview candidates and vote. State law requires the winning applicant to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.

Chalkbeat Colorado talked with people across the 3rd District, including potential candidates, to develop this list.

Jake Aubert
Jake Aubert

Jake Aubert – As principal of Holy Family Catholic School in Grand Junction, Aubert said, “I think I bring a unique perspective.”

He said earlier this week, “I am interested and working toward applying for that position.”

Aubert said he’s concerned about the amount of standardized testing in public schools and hears that concern from many other educators. “What PARCC testing and the Common Core mandate is extremely frustrating” for teacher, adding, “Parents are extremely frustrated with the amount of class time their students are missing.”

He added, “The centralization of education is very concerning. A one-size-fits-all model simply doesn’t work.”

Roger Good
Roger Good

Roger Good – A Steamboat Springs business owner, Good was elected to the Steamboat Springs school board in 2013 and serves as president.

He confirmed Wednesday that he’s applied for the appointment, saying he has “a passion for education and an appreciation for education.”

Good said he would bring “a very open mind” to contentious issues like testing. The two most valuable things about testing, Good said, are that results provide data for comparing schools and districts and that results be timely.

He also said protecting local control of schools is very important for him. “Local control is under attack.”

Michael Lobato
Michael Lobato

Michael Lobato – A rancher, Lobato is president of the Center school board in the San Luis Valley and is serving his last term.

Lobato, who has background both on the Colorado Association of School Boards and in Republican politics, said, “I’ve sure had a lot of pressure put on me. Am I interested? Yeah. Have I made a firm commitment? No.”

He said he’s weighing personal considerations before deciding whether to seek the post and indicated he also wants a better sense of who will be on the vacancy committee and of the other candidates.

Lobato believes his experience in Center, where the district has improved academic performance and built a new school in recent years, means, “I think I can bring a lot to the table.” He also feels it would be valuable to have a small-district rural voice on the State Board.

Debbie Rose
Debbie Rose

Debbie Rose – A former member and president of the Pueblo 70 school board, Rose has been active on other local and state charitable and government boards.

She’s currently board vice president of the San Isabel Electric Association and ran unsuccessfully for Pueblo County commissioner in 2008 and 2012.

Rose believes she could be helpful on the State Board, “having had personal experience with turmoil on boards.”

“I strongly believe in local control. The community knows best,” she said, adding that she’s concerned about over-testing and about a lack of vocational training in schools.

Reflecting on education in general, Rose said, “I think we need to be rethinking the direction we’re going.”

Rose is a businesswoman in Beulah, west of Pueblo.

Barbara Ann Smith
Barbara Ann Smith

Barbara Ann Smith – Having lost to Neal by only 1,783 votes in a 2014 primary, Smith is trying again for the seat. “You bet I’m going to run. I’ve applied for it,” she said.

In a letter she distributed this week, the retired teacher highlighted her opposition to the Common Core, PARCC tests and improper uses of student data. She also says she’s a strong supporter of local school control.

Smith has been active in Republican politics and civic groups in the Grand Junction area.

Neal last year said she wouldn’t run for reelection, but she changed her mind after Smith entered the race. Neal was victorious in the Republican primary, with 26,138 votes, compared to 24,355 for Smith. Neal went on to win the general election by nearly 33,000 votes over Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.

Anita Stapleton
Anita Stapleton

Anita Stapleton – A fixture at State Board meetings and many legislative hearings, Stapleton has become one of the better-known grassroots critics of the Common Core and PARCC testing.

A nurse from Pueblo, Stapleton speaks frequently to civic and political groups about her criticisms of a wide variety of education reforms. She also was active among the parents and activists who monitored testing and data privacy legislation during the 2015 session.

Stapleton said, “I do have other issues than Common Core.” She said schools need to better support both parents and teachers and “rebuild” relationships with parents. “How we’re going about it now is not the answer.”

Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.

If you’ve heard of other people interested in the State Board vacancy, write to Todd Engdahl.

New mayor

Illinois charter PAC ready to spend millions in Chicago elections

PHOTO: Creative Commons

A pro-charter Illinois PAC will expand its focus from statewide politics into Chicago’s upcoming mayoral and alderman elections, with a plan to infuse millions of dollars into contested races where education is at issue.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for urban public education,” Andrew Broy, president of INCS Action, a political action committee that advocates for charter schools in Illinois, told Chalkbeat. “We expect to spend a seven-figure sum in each of these races.”

INCS Action is the political advocacy arm of the Illinois Network for Charters Schools, and in the past has advocated for lifting a cap on charters statewide and against a statewide charter moratorium.

The expansion of charter schools is a live-wire issue in Chicago, with some advocates arguing that the growth of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, pushes out resources for neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Charter advocates, meanwhile, argue the charter school model offers a faster way to bring high-quality education to students in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools has 121 charter schools, down 7 percent from two years ago when the teachers union negotiated a cap on charter enrollment.

The upcoming elections make up just one part of a the network’s larger legislative agenda, with three of its five legislative goals already in place, Broy said. They’ve established the state charter school commission, secured charter funding equity in Illinois, and created a 10-year renewal term for charter contracts, he said, adding, “we still need to secure state facility funding and lift the cap on charter schools nationwide.”

INCS Action has not yet named the candidates it will support, but said its criteria for endorsement include contested races featuring candidates with different positions on charter schools. “For aldermanic races, if we can impact 2,000 or 3,000 votes in a ward, that offers a lot of opportunity,” Broy said.

Aldermen can introduce city-level resolutions against charter openings or ban a charter’s expansion into their ward or, if they are supportive, offer tax-increment financing for charter school buildings or other investments.

The Chicago Teachers Union also runs a PAC, through which it has supported candidates at the state, mayoral and aldermanic levels. The union opposes charter expansion. 

Broy expects his group will support candidates by sending out mailers, canvassing and telephoning voters.

According to election finance data obtained by Illinois Sunshine, the INCS Action PAC has already contributed more than $65,000 to the campaigns of state-level candidates for congressional seats in Illinois since Sept. 11. The largest sums went to the campaigns of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Burr Ridge, the House minority leader, and Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton.

In state-level races, INCS Action has been a heavy hitter since it started in 2013. This past spring, the organization said in a press release that 13 of the 15 primary candidates for Illinois’ state Senate and House of Representatives supported by the group won their primaries.

The next governor could play a big role in the future of charter schools in Illinois, and by extension in Chicago, but Broy says the committee has declined to endorse a candidate because of the amount of spending required to sway a candidate or the election. The committee gets more bang for its buck focusing on local races.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker have staked out opposing positions on the charter debate, with Rauner a supporter of charter schools, while his opponent says he’d place a moratorium on opening new charters.

Meanwhile, Broy said his political action committee will soon begin throwing money into campaigns he believes they can win. “In some races, we see a pathway to victory with our support.”

 

Heated Debate

Candidates clash over innovation schools and high school closures in IPS Board campaigns

PHOTO: Stephanie Wang / Chalkbeat
Candidates for the District 3 and District 5 seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board debated at a forum hosted Tuesday night by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Central Library.

In the races for three seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, candidates are sharply split over whether the district is moving in the right direction.

The divisions were clear during a forum Tuesday night hosted by Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Recorder, WFYI, and the Indianapolis Public Library. Some of the most heated discussions came over the district’s recent decision to close high schools and move to an all-choice high school model, and candidates also clashed over the district’s innovation partnerships with outside operators to run schools — including some where students have struggled the most.

“It’s just disruptive when you just keep changing and changing and changing,” said ceramics studio owner and IPS parent Joanna Krumel, who goes by Jodi, a challenger in the at-large race. “Especially when the district was doing a good job with the programs that they had.”

Retired IPS teacher Susan Collins, who is also running for the at-large seat lamented the closure of high schools that had long legacies in their neighborhoods: “Why do we let our good programs die?” she said.

But at-large incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan defended the district’s decisions, pushing back on the perception that schools have taken a turn for the worse.

“I don’t think we were doing well. I don’t think all was all right with IPS. I think we were patient for too long with strategies that weren’t moving the needle for kids,” said Sullivan, a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Read more: Sort through each school board district race and see candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

Candidates also debated the district’s low test scores, financial transparency, community engagement, and equity of access to highly sought-after magnet programs.

Often, their disagreements illustrated long-standing rifts between advocates and critics of school choice.

The at-large challengers denounced the district’s partnerships with charter schools, influential charter supporters such as The Mind Trust, and the Indy Chamber on finances and its referendum efforts.

“There is too much incursion by business interests in the education of our children,” Collins said.

Krumel said she didn’t support working so closely with charter schools, either: “I don’t think that charter schools are here to stay. At least I hope they’re not.”

But Sullivan called those “adult battles” over politics that distract from addressing the needs of children.

“I’m just very sad that we still have the same kinds of conversations that take our eyes off the prize of being able to offer every single kid in the city of Indianapolis a great opportunity,” Sullivan said. “I would like to have more conversations about where we’re going, what’s possible — and not a return to something that I don’t think were ever really glory days, especially not for too many of our students of color and students in poverty.”

In the race for the open seat in District 3, which represents the north side, one candidate supported innovation schools while two others expressed concerns.

“I see innovation schools, frankly, as the next generation of the district willing to take risks, to do what it takes to serve our students,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of facilities and procurement for Marian University and an IPS parent. “Innovations schools are not the panacea, but innovation represents one of those options that the district has … [to] ensure that our schools stay locally controlled.”

But Sherry Shelton said she wanted to support ideas proven to work, and she didn’t believe the innovation schools showed enough positive results.

“I don’t think we should take a chance with our students,” said Shelton, director of information services for Pike Township schools. “I think we should stop the innovation schools, re-evaluate the program, tweak it, and if it’s something that we’re going to move forward with, that we develop a successful process to open those, evaluate, and keep them up to a certain standard.”

Michele Lorbieski, a trial attorney with Frost Brown Todd and an IPS parent, said the innovation schools cause disruption, and said they haven’t shown as much improvement as is often touted.

“I think we need to pump the brakes on these innovation schools,” she said. “We’re doing a pilot to figure out if our high school students should take the IndyGo bus, but we didn’t even pilot the innovation schools. So let’s make sure they’re effective before we keep going down this path at this pace we’re going.”

In the race for District 5, which represents the northwest side of the city, candidate Taria Slack outlined the challenges of teacher turnover that she has seen in the innovation schools that her three children attend.

“I think we need to stop replicating this program until we have better research on what’s really going on,” said Slack, a federal worker. “We need to make sure that our kids are hitting every last one of these benchmarks.”

But incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an IPS parent, said families and community members sometimes feel innovation schools are the best fit for their neighborhoods.

“Sometimes the innovation school option is the best option,” she said. “So I see charter schools and innovation schools as part of our educational landscape, part of our toolbox if you will, to look at what’s the best option for our children in a specific neighborhood.”

Watch the full forum: