blast from the past

Lawmakers ask for education data watchdog, though similar access was granted 7 years ago

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Senate leaders who want New York City to release more education data to an independent watchdog should be pleased to know that their goal has already been partially achieved.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan introduced a bill Friday that would grant a new “education inspector” access to records and data from the New York City Department of Education as a condition of extending the mayor’s control of the schools. It’s a proposal that appears to draw inspiration from a 2009 mayoral control deal when those powers were designated to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Since then, the IBO has regularly analyzed data about school demographics, school performance, and the city’s education budget, and released public reports with their findings.

“The access to information being proposed for this is similar to what we have, or mimics what we have,” IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky said.

Flanagan did not respond Monday to questions about what additional transparency he is looking for. But what the proposed “inspector” and the IBO could do with the department’s data would be quite different, Turetsky noted.

The Senate’s bill allows the education inspector to appeal decisions made by the Panel for Educational Policy, which approves school co-locations, among other decisions. The IBO does not have power to intervene in policy decisions.

The new bill also instructs the inspector to make recommendations on a number of issues, including school funding and discipline procedures.

But the inspector’s job of “oversight, guidance, and technical assistance” is, in part, being fulfilled by an expanded IBO. The IBO has released reports this year analyzing the mayor’s “Equity and Excellence” agenda, explaining a new measure for quantifying poverty, and revealing a mismatch between the city and governor’s budget proposals.

Flanagan’s proposal is the latest in a troubled back-and-forth between de Blasio and Senate Republicans over mayoral control. Last year, lawmakers blocked a long-term extension of mayoral control, and granted him one year of control instead. This year, Flanagan and other state lawmakers blasted de Blasio for skipping a second mayoral control hearing.

On Monday, Flanagan said he had “deep reservations” about signing off on a long-term extension of mayoral control in a statement sent to reporters. But also said he strongly supports putting one individual in charge of city schools — a statement that seems at odds with an education inspector who could appeal decisions made by the city.

The State Assembly already approved a three-year extension of mayoral control. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he does not support Flanagan’s bill. Without legal action, de Blasio’s control of the school system will expire at the end of June.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.