Regents rundown

What New York’s top education policymakers are talking about in May

In the second meeting with Chancellor Betty Rosa at the helm, the state’s education policy-making body will tackle charter school renewals, the metric for calculating violence in schools and computer-based testing.

A number of these issues are familiar, but they take on a new meaning as the board continues to chart its course under a new leader. For instance, will the board be tougher on charter schools that enroll a low percentage of high-needs students? Will Regents try to be more careful as they roll out new assessments, like computerized testing?

Here’s what you need to know about Monday’s meeting:

Another round of teacher evaluation tweaks

It’s become a tradition for the board to revisit aspects of the state’s 2012 teacher evaluation law, and this meeting is no different. Most of the changes appear to be small tweaks, but the very fact that there’s still hammering out to do underscores the fact that New York’s approach to measuring teacher quality remains complicated and unresolved.

A new look at charter schools?

At a recent forum, Rosa said the state education department is “very concerned” that some charter schools do not serve a population of students that reflects their communities, which is required by law. Several charter school renewals on the table could put that concern to the test.

The State Education Department is requesting a five-year renewal, the longest possible, for Harriet Tubman Charter School in the Bronx. The school has made considerable progress towards enrolling more poor students, but it still enrolls far fewer English language learners than other schools in the district. What Rosa says — or doesn’t say — about that gap at Harriet Tubman and other schools will provide useful information about how she plans to act on her concern.

The state is recommending that two charter schools get the right to operate only for a short time, three more years, with any further extensions contingent on improved performance — typically a high-stakes arrangement. One of those schools, a Montessori charter school in the South Bronx, had only 5 percent of students meet the state’s proficiency standards in reading last year and also lags the district average in serving poor students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Rosa has said little about what should happen to charter schools that are not performing well since becoming chancellor, so her reaction to the renewal recommendations could illuminate her approach to accountability.

How to measure violence in schools

Taking a new look at the way the state calculates school violence could take the board into surprisingly tricky waters. Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group, has used the state’s count of violent school incidents to criticize Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school safety record. But the state itself has called the metric problematic. Monday’s report will help explain how officials want to fix it.

The actual proposed changes to the current system, for now, involve revising the categories of violent incidents based on task force recommendations. The state is also piloting a program in 12 districts to use measures like surveys and attendance data to look beyond violent incidents to rate schools.

Testing with computers

To kick off the state’s switch to computer-based testing, over 950 schools have agreed to participate in field testing this year. The Regents are scheduled to discuss that switch, what schools need to be prepared, and how to support schools through the transition.

The board discussed the switch to computer-based testing at the last meeting, too. Their careful move towards computerized testing shows how sensitive they are to ensuring that schools have what they need to make the transition and an effort to avoid the pitfalls of other state that have switched to computerized testing.

Also on the docket: a proposal to make it possible for people who are not U.S. citizens to teach in New York schools. Not on the agenda this time, despite calls from lawmakers for more discussion: the challenges, and potentially unintended consequences, of creating additional ways for students to meet high school graduation requirements. Stay tuned for the most important developments from the two-day meeting.

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.