May 1st BOE Meeting Agenda (updated)

(Updated 4/30 – added in a link to the Legislative Report in item 7.01)

Yes.  Another meeting.  But come on out anyway! 

Attending a JeffCo Board Meeting is like being at a live taping of a ‘Reality’ TV show.  It’s great fun watching WNW scheme and obfuscate while trying to avoid the issues Dahlkemper and Fellman keep raising…until you remember that this is not some contrived situation created by the networks for entertainment.  This is real Reality, and the stakes are not a bit of notoriety and money, but our children’s education and future.  

So come out for the show…it beats “Hell’s Kitchen” by a mile…and is far more important.

BOE Meeting 2014-05-01
Date and Time:  Thursday, May 1, 2014, at 5:30 p.m.
Where:Bear Creek Highschool (9800 W. Dartmouth Pl., Lakewood, CO in the auditorium)

Agenda

1. Study/Dialogue Session (5:30 p.m.)

1.02 Budget Development Update
Type:
Information
Goals: EL-5, Financial Planning/Budgeting

PURPOSE: For staff to answer any questions with regard to the 2014-2015 budget development process and to provide an update on any legislative actions that may have occurred. New information on legislative action may or may not be available depending on the outcome and timing of the legislative process.

BACKGROUND: There was discussion of the district’s budget at the Board of Education meetings on December 12, January 16, February 27, and March 13. The Board provided staff with direction regarding budget priorities for the development of the 2014/2015 budget at the March 13 and April 3 Board of Education meetings.

The 2014/2015 Proposed Budget is scheduled for the 1st Public Hearing on June 5 and 2nd Public Hearing and Budget Adoption on June 19.

The Board of Education must adopt the 2014/2015 Budget prior to June 30, 2014.

(Currently no downloadable material been provided.)

Our comments:  This one will probably have some more fireworks.  Last Thursday night (April 24th) the Board had a presentation on the still open aspects of the budget.  Below is a summary of the disagreements:

Compensation Allocation ($11,725,100) – Witt stated this was increase not a decrease.  Dahlkemper pointed out it was originally $4 million higher before WNW cut it.

Charter Allocation ($3.7 million, aprox $585 per student based on current enrollment) – This will not show up as an expense, but rather as a reduction in revenue, since the money is passed straight through to the charter schools.

Elementary Math Instruction ($4 million one time, $1.8 million on-going) – Big surprise here.  Witt said he wants a ‘deep dive’ into it because he is not sure “we need it”.  The deep-dive should occur during agenda points 6.01 & 6.02.  There is pressure to increase the reserve fund.  It was originally going to get at least $2 million, until WNW diverted that money to help fund the $3.7 million increase to the Charter schools. Of course, how WNW then intends for the District to meet the enhanced math goals WNW set for it without investing in the new math program is puzzling to say the least.

Planned Reductions – This is the reserve fund.  Currently the forecast is to keep the fund at a flat 10% of existing revenue.  This is NOT conservative and is on the low end of what Moody’s says the District needs to maintain its AA bond rating. The numbers do not count inflation, employee raises, or unexpected cuts in state funding.

End of Study Session (6:30 p.m.)

2. Preliminary:

(Call to order, Welcome, Pledge, Roll Call, Agenda Approval)

3. Honors, Recognition and School Reports:

3.01 Milken Family Foundation: Award to Jose Martinez III, teacher at Bear Creek
3.02 2013-2014 Swimming State Champions:  Evergreen High School champions
3.03 2013-2014 Wrestling State Champions: Aravad West Wrestlers

4. Public Agenda Part One

4.01 Correspondence – May 1, 2014 (click here for the list)
4.02 Public Comment (Agenda Related)

Our comments:  There is a good chance that they will roll the Public Comment on non-Agenda related items into this session.  This is pretty common.

5. Consent Agenda

Our comments:  A lot of charter school contracts are either up for renewal, have contract addenda that have to be agreed to in order to comply with new state laws,  or are looking for expansion of their charter to include additional grades.

6. Ends Discussion

6.01 Progress on Board Goals: Math and Writing Instruction (Ends 1, 2)
Type: Discussion, Information
PERTINENT FACTS:

1. On April 3, the Board of Education postponed the presentation from staff on the progress in meeting Board goals for math instruction to the May 1, 2014 agenda.
2. In December 2013, the Board of Education added goals to its Ends policies. Ends 1 and Ends 2 include goals for math:

  • The percentage of proficient/advanced fourth grade students in math on TCAP will increase from 77% to 80% by August 2015. (Ends 1)
  • Every student will achieve one year’s growth, or more as needed to ‘catch up,’ in each year of school and be ready for the next level. The percentage of ALP students who have growth measures over 50 will increase in math from 60 to 62. (Ends 2)

3. In December 2013, the Board of Education added goals to its Ends policies. Ends 1 and Ends 2 include goals for writing:

  • The percentage of proficient/advanced students in writing on TCAP will increase by August 2014 to:
    • Elementary – 64%
    • Middle level – 66%
    • High school – 59%  (Ends 1)
  • The percentage of ALP students who have growth measures over 50 will increase:
    • In writing from 54 to 56  (Ends 2)

4. Dr. Heather Beck, chief academic officer; Priscilla Straughn, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Dr. Sue Chandler, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Dr. Carol Eaton, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Matt Flores, director, Educational Research and Design; Achievement Directors Brady Stroup, Karen Quanbeck and Mike Freeman, and Maple Grove Principal Ian Stone will present information on math instruction related to the district’s plan to meet the goals in math.

5. Dr. Heather Beck, chief academic officer; Priscilla Straughn, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Dr. Sue Chandler, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Dr. Carol Eaton, executive director of Educational Research and Design; Rhonda Hatch Rivera, school improvement specialist; Catherine Baldwin Johnson, director of ESL/Dual Language; and Dr. Blanche Kapushion, director of Gifted and Talented, will present information on writing instruction related to the district’s plan to meet the goals in writing.

(Click for the Math Presentation and for the Writing Presentation)

Our comments:  The educational process is one that is constantly evolving.  As we learn more about ourselves, how we learn, how different children learn differently, and what levels of understanding and skill are required for future skills, so our methods and materials for teaching math and writing should change as well. 

The Board has set higher goals for the District, which is a very good thing.  Our teachers and support staff should be stretching to always find a newer, better way of reaching our children.  But the Board must also remember that while it sets the goals, it also must provide the resources to achieve those goals!  In Agenda item 7.01, the Board proposes sending resolutions to the state legislature that, in part, rail against unfunded mandates from the Federal and State governments.  They should heed their own advice and not insist on improvements without giving the teachers the materials and resources need to achieve them.

6.02 Contract Award: Math Expressions (EL-7)

Type: Action
Recommended Action: To authorize the director of Purchasing to enter into an agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the purchase of Math Expressions materials and professional development for the approximate total amount of $2,000,000.
Goals: EL-7, Asset Protection
PERTINENT FACTS:

  1. In accordance with Board executive limitation policy 7, Asset Protection, “the superintendent may not contractually obligate the Board to expenditures greater than $250,000.
  2. On Thursday, March 13, 2014, the Board of Education gave direction to include funds in the draft 2014-2015 budget for new math resources and professional development aligning with our Colorado Academic Standards.
  3. Our current math resource, Investigations, does not provide the depth and pacing needed for our new standards.
  4. Math Expressions ©2013 aligns with our Colorado Academic Standards and has a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural fluency and application.
  5. Math Expressions has gone through the textbook approval process for Jefferson County and is an approved resource.

(Click for the contract and summary)

Our comments:  What happens here is totally dependent on how the Board receives the presentations just before it.  If Witt moves against it, we suspect it will be in large part because he wants to cover the $4 million of increased spending the Board is proposing ($3.7 million to charter schools and $840 thousand to Gifted & Talented, less the deleted $600 thousand for free full-day kindergarten).  Doing so will ease the tightness of the budget while still allowing WNW to pursue their goal of charter school equalization.  For them, it could be a simple choice:  fund a better math curriculum for 87% of K-3 graders while increasing full day kindergarten for the kids who need it the most, or give the money to the 8% that make up charter school kids and the 5% that make up Gifted & Talented.

We will see from WNW’s viewpoint which one needs it more….

6.03 Jeffco Social Media Policies and Procedures (EL-11)

Type: Information
PERTINENT FACTS:

  1. The Board of Education requested a review the district’s existing policy on staff use of the Internet, andsocial media guidelines.
  2. Lynn Setzer, chief communications officer, and Lorie Gillis, chief financial officer, will present an overview of this work to the Board.

Our comments:  This is the briefing that Julie Williams wanted when she over-reacted to some tweets taken out of context, going back and forth between two friends who are volunteers for the schools and District.  Though the tweets were not at Williams or the school district and though they contained no has tags, Williams wanted the two removed from their volunteer positions, and some action that would ban anyone connected to the District from saying anything bad about her or the District.  Is this going to be a proposal for an infringement on free speech?  This review is what Newkirk and Witt managed to talk her down to.  See our March 6th post if you want more background.

7. Discussion Agenda

7.01 Legislative Update (EL-11)
Type: Action, Discussion
Recommended Action: to determine positions on pending legislation for the 2014 legislative session and determine a position on the resolution regarding state education funding and the PARCC testing.
PERTINENT FACTS:

  1. The Board of Education adopts positions to monitor, support, or oppose legislation to guide the Jeffco lobbyist in his work at the legislature.
  2. As the Legislative Session will conclude on May 7, Mr. Ed Bowditch, district lobbyist, will provide and overview of the session’s activities and any pending issues.
  3. At the April 24 special meeting, Board member Julie Williams requested the Board of Education take action to support HB14-1294, Student Data Collection Privacy Protections Administered by the Department of Education, and SB14-204, Student and Teacher Data Privacy and Security Act.  Additionally, she requested that a resolution on state education funding and PARCC testing be discussed and taken up for action.

(Click for the resolutions and for the Legislative Report)

Our observations:  The first resolution complains that the state has reduced education for schools while adding new requirements.  The second resolution says that the PARCC testing set up is a violation of state law and that the District supports legislation that would delay it, while blocking state and federal influence on education.

8. Public Agenda

8.01 Public Comment (Not On Agenda)

Click here to sign up to speak on a non-agenda item.

This item may be rolled into Agenda item 4.01.

9. Develop Next Agenda

9.01 Board Work Calendar
9.02 Special and Regular Meetings of May 5, 9, 10, 15 and June 5, 2014

Our comments:  You always want to stay for this!  Here is where WNW will try to quietly slide in any new thing they do not want to call attention to.  Additionally, Dahlkemper and Fellman have used this section to try to get things on the Agenda that WNW would rather not have to face.  If you like fireworks, this is generally when there are lot of them.

Late Saturday Post: April 24th BOE Meeting Review

(This is one of the longest posts we have done, but it is because a lot happened at what was supposed to be a simple ‘working’ special meeting.  We trimmed down a lot, but at several points decided we had to go with the verbatim dialog so you can ‘hear’ the actual tone of t

Agenda Item: 1.02 Budget Development Update

Topic: Teacher Compensation.

Question: Why was the Compensation Allocation placeholder reduced by more than $4 million? Where does the Board intend to put that savings?

Topic: Charter Allocation

Question: In redirecting $3.7 million dollars to the Charter schools, the Board is giving 6,325 charter school students an extra $585 that their schools can spend per student. At the same time, that $3.7 million dollars is going to take away $47 from the remaining 78,675 students in the District. What programs is the District planning to cut that will account for that negative $47 per student?

Topic: Elementary Math Instruction

Question: In December, the Board increased it’s goal math and writing literacy for elementary school children. In April, the Board defunded free, full-day kindergarten for poor students. On the agenda tonight, it looks as if the Board is getting ready to cancel a new math curriculm for elementary schools. At the same time, the Board is getting ready to send a resolution to the Colorado State Legislature, complaining that the Federal and State governments have placed “unfunded obligations” on the District. Is that not what the Board is now doing to the elementary school principals and teachers of this District? Is that not the height of hypocrisy?

Topic: Planned Reductions

Question: The new Board members came in, in part promising a true conservatives approach to the District’s finances. Since then the Board has spent thousands of dollars on an attorney just for the Board, not the District, given over $650,000 with no strings to charter schools that are in financial trouble do to their own actions, decided to give all charter schools an extra $3.7 million dollars also with no strings, and now has chosen not to begin replenishing the Reserve Fund that helped keep the District afloat the last few years. How can the Board honestly characterize this as conservative or fiscally responsible?

Questions not on the Agenda

Topic: Transparency

Question: In March, a CORA request Brad Miller’s invoices was submitted. The copy of the invoice that was released had everything redacted or blacked out except for the dates and the costs. Last week, during discussion over this, we never heard an answer to these questions: Who did the actual redaction? Who decided what should be redacted? When did the Board, acting as the Board, authorize these redactions? When will these questions be answered?

Topic: Diversity

Question: Why is the Board opposed to using the word “Diversity” in it’s advertising for a new Superintendent? Is the Board opposed to Diversity? Not believe in it? Thinks it does not exist?

Topic: Public Comment

Question: Under District Policy, B: School Board Governance and Operations, number BEDH, Public Participation at Meetings, paragraph for it says, and I quote:

At regular meetings, citizens can address the Board on any topic related to the operation of the schools. Only those topics which are on that particular agenda may be addressed at special meetings.

This is an official Board Governance policy. Yet, this Board has not allowed comment in any Special Meeting, contrary to the second sentence of that paragraph. There are many agenda items that the Board considers during Special Meetings, that are not brought up during Regular meetings. In the interest of transparency and the Board actually hearing from the public, when will the Board begin to comply with BEDH and provide for Public Comment on agenda items during Special Meetings?o

he discussions/arguments.  This also meant it took much longer as we had to transcribe the appropriate sections of the audio recordings of the meeting.  We think it was worth the effort and hope you do as well. – jcsbw)

Opening the Meeting

At 5:30 p.m. Ken Witt called the meeting to order, with Julie Williams initially being absent (she arrived at 5:54 p.m.).  There were about 125-150 people attending.

Witt started off by warning people not to cause any disturbance, including applause (only one Sheriff’s Deputy was there tonight). Waving your hand in the air is apparently okay.

He then said he was going to start with a “myth-busting” session, where he said that there was no truth to any rumors about de-funding of arts, sports, or anything else.  He said that for the first time in five years the District was actually looking at increased revenue due to more money coming from the State and that increased revenue does not mean cut.

(This actually not true.  Per student revenue actually bottomed out in the 2011/12 school year at $6,309.  In 2012/13 it increased slightly to $6,317, and this school year jumped to $6,482.  It is projected to rise to $6,699 for 2014/15.  This is still lower than the $6,704 in 2008/09 and $7,070 in 2009/10.  Also these numbers do not reflect inflation which, while low, still has had a significant effect.  The $6,704 per student in 2008/09 would be now be $7,383.85 per student today.  The inflation calculation was done at this site, using 2009 as the starting year, 2014 as the ending year, and $$6,704 as the base.)

He then went on to say that the District 

did not walk away from negotiations.  That the Board does want to negotiate and is waiting for JCEA to come back to the table.

Key Agenda Items

2. Study/Dialogue Session

2.01 Jeffco Accountability Committee School-Level Roles/Responsibilities (EL-11):

A dozen people came up to present on this item.  Parents from a number of schools including Bradford Elementary, Lumberg Elementary (in Edgewater) and Stanley Lake High School made presentations as well as SPAC.  Some of the things they said included that they view their role as supportive of the teachers and staff “who are the experts”, and that having dual language meetings (at Lumberg) helped enormously for english-only parents and spanish-only parents come to understand each other better and pull the school together.  Bi-lingual support for their committee has really helped them have all the diverse ethnic groups take active roles.

What came out was that ACs differ widely from school to school in name, structure and focus.

(It seems the AC orientation is heavily dependent on the inclination of the parents involved and specific issues facing the schools.  Most of the groups are focused on trying to help their schools, as such, they see themselves as being supportive of the principals and teachers, not impartial evaluator/judges of the principals. – jcsbw)

During the question period, it got a bit interesting.

Dahlkemper and Fellman mainly asked questions concerning how the committees had been working.  What had they learned?  What worked?  How did they communicate to parents and others in the District?

Witt & Newkirk (Williams did not ask any questions) focused on structure and are the ACs actively evaluating the principals. Where Dahlkemper & Fellman were concerned about how the ACs helped the schools, Witt & Newkirk wanted to know how much judging (evaluating) of the principals and staff the ACs did.  Witt seemed concerned that there was no formal policy authority for the ACs.

Witt then quoted state law, that said that ACs were to consult in a substantive way concerning school budget setting.  He wanted to know how this had been done in the last three years.  The AC/SPAC members seemed puzzled by this, and gave non-specific answers.

The session concluded with Witt saying while there was a lot of variability in ACs, there was also a “lack of rigor” at the SPAC level.  He then instructed Mr. Elliot to put together a proposal to create rigor in authority and procedure for the ACs & SPAC.

Fellman then interjected, telling Mr. Elliot that a diverse community means there will always be variability in ACs and any “any rigor needs to take that into account.”

Dahlkemper added that while there is always room for improvement, that the Board need to recognize that a lot of good work being done, and that SPAC to contribute to this requested plan.

Mr. Elliot then asked for clarification of the request.  Witt told him he wanted a review of how the ACs and SPAC were going to do the evaluations required by law (Witt repeated ‘required by law’ three times).

(Several things quickly became apparent during this discussion.  First, that Dahlkemper & Fellman were concerned over how ACs and SPAC were working with their schools and the District to improve those schools.  Witt & Newkirk were almost accusatory, and very focused on ‘rigor’, how many principals had been fully evaluated, and what the formal processes were.  This is in striking contrast to the lack of interest in ‘rigor’, ‘evaluation’, and formal processes WNW exhibits when anything related to charter schools comes up.  Please note:  This is not a criticism of charter schools, but rather the apparent blind spot WNW has when it comes to charter schools.  Such a blind spot is not only not fair, it looks as if it is becoming very dangerous to all district-managed schools – jcsbw)

2.02 Budget Development Update
 – (Click here for copy of their presentation.)

Below are the items that had serious questioning from members of the Board:

Compensation Allocation ($11,725,100) – Witt started off the questions with a pre-emptive statement,  that the Compensation Placeholder represented an increase not reduction in employee compensation.  Dahlkemper quickly pointed out that the original placeholder was $4 million higher before WNW cut it.

Charter Allocation ($3.7 million, aprox $585 per student based on current enrollment) – Ms. Gillis made the point that this will not show up as an expense item, but rather as a reduction in revenue since it is passed directly on to the charter schools.

Elementary Math Instruction ($4 million one time, $1.8 million on-going) – This is to cover the cost of a new elementary math program.  Most of the one time cost is for re-usable supplies, the on-going is for continued professional development on using the new program.  Witt stated that there had not yet been a “deep dive” on this math program and he wondered why it was needed?  He wanted to know if schools can choose not to use the new system (they can only choose not to use it next year, but will have to the year after).  Witt says he will postpone deep dive until the May 1st meeting, and then they will decide if this is needed or not.

(This came as a big surprise.  In the earlier Budget reviews there had been no question about the program, or the need for it.  When Witt says he wants a ‘deep dive’ into something,  it generally seems to mean he is looking at cutting it.  Of course, how WNW intends for the District to meet the enhanced math goals WNW set for it without investing in the new math program is puzzling….)

Virtual Academy ($700k on-going but should be offset by increased revenue from out of District students who sign up)  – Newkirk said he saw advertising for the Academy on JeffCo school buses and wondered how is enrollment going?  Ms. Gillis said it was on-target with projections.

Planned Reductions – Ms. Gillis explained that these have been added into 2017-18 planning to keep reserves flat at 10%.  This is NOT conservative!  The state is warning that there is budget uncertainty ahead, and unless new revenues are found, more of the State’s budget will have to go to Medicaid and other health costs.  The current JeffCo budget estimates for future years (2014/15 to 2018/19) do not include inflation, salary increase, or possible revenue decreases.  This was done because including these things in the estimates increase the reductions needed to keep the reserves at 10%.

Newkirk asked if this is merely uncertainty about the additional state funding bills that are currently pending.  Gillis responded that the potential $10-14 million that could come out of the state it is not extra revenue to spend.  Most of it has been anticipated already.  Any additional revenue would be used to fund existing budget priorities.  This is because the current proposed budget is not revenue neutral but will draw down on existing fund balances.  So any state allocations above and beyond what had already been anticipated is not extra money for the District.

Dahlkemper then said she had grave concerns about not increasing reserves.  She pointed out that SPAC had recommended $2 million be placed in the Reserve Fund.  No there is no additional funds scheduled for the Reserve.  This is very dangerous, especially with any upcoming state budget crunch.

Gillis and the staff responded that keeping reserves steady is critical to the District keeping AA bond rating.  (A reduction in the District’s Bond Rating would result in higher interest payments due on existing bonds, plus other costs.).  Currently the District is maintaining a 10% reserve .  Moody’s recommends an 8-15% reserve for AA ratings.  The District is in that range, but at low end.  Any significant impact to revenue could drop JeffCo below Moody’s 8%. floor.

Dahlkemper reiterated that she feels the original $2 million for the reserves is critical to maintaining AA bond rating.   Fellman agreed with her, stating that as state revenue funding uncertainty increases even more attention will be paid to the Districts reserves.

Newkirk then asked when was the last time the District’s rating was below AA,  and how long did it take to recover?

The District was upgraded to AA after 2004 bond.  Prior to that had only an A.  At one point it did have a AAA rating, but was part of one-time (temporary) credit.  Strong financial management has kept the District at AA even through the Great Recession, which is very important.  2004 was very different credit environment than there is today (implication – getting a AA back after losing it would be much harder than in 2004).

Newkirk then asked if there was any danger of losing right now?

Gillis responded, no. but she would be much more comfortable with more in reserve, especially with future state revenues being so uncertain.

The Board will have about two weeks to incorporate any changes to the budget before it is finalized.

Dahlkemper then made a motion to restore $2 million to the Reserve Fund.  Fellman seconded the motion, observing that the original number SPAC was proposing was $8 million that was then reduced to $2 million.

Gillis then jumped in saying the $2 million would have to come from somewhere (in the budget), there is simply not $2 million in cash lying around uncommitted.

Newkirk then stated that this motion was premature and they should wait on state funding finalization.

Witt then opined that  10% is adequate and that increasing the reserve fund “is not wise use of taxpayer money” (???).  He does not include any increase, but it could be at the end as the final numbers come in.

Williams then agreed with Witt, saying that if there was more money coming from the state, then maybe they could increase the reserves.

Fellman pointed out, “Aren’t we showing a strucural imbalance of $2 million right now?”

Gillis responded, “Yes”, and again pointed out the 10% does not include future inflation or salary increases or any other changes.

Witt then said that the reserve level should be revisited yearly.

Vote on motion to restore $2 million to the Reserve Fund:  Defeated.  DF- Yes.  WNW – No.

(In some ways, the issue of the District reserves is even more important that the new Superintendent.  The ability of the District to fund anything is dependent to a large degree on how much it has to pay in Bond interest.  The loss of the AA rating would increase the District’s borrowing costs, which would pull even more money away from the actual operational budget, including charter school equalization WNW is so devoted to.  Further, any reserve fund is meant to be spent down in bad years and built back up in good years.  But WNW seem to think differently.  Their approach is akin to someone with a leaky roof who says they cannot fix it while it’s raining, but when it’s sunny, then it’s not leaking!  

We have just come through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  JeffCo kept it’s AA credit rating when many other Districts were downgraded and some municipalities went bankrupt.  It was able to use careful spending reductions (including district staff taking a pay cut) cushioned by an equally careful draw down on the Reserve Fund and new money from the 3A/3B Mill Levy Override to keep the core educational programs intact.  Now revenue from the state is climbing again, but the state economists are warning of a state budget crisis in the near future.  We should be saving more now.  Not when revenues are falling!  God help their families if WNW run their finances the way they want to run JeffCo’s….)

Charter school funding model:

Witt stated that construction cost for a charter school could average as high as $600 per student cost, but the state only provides $95 per student for construction funding.

Fellman noted that there is a state increase for charter school construction funding pending in the legislature.

Dahlkemper then asked how many districts in Colorado have equalized charter funding?

Gillis responded that there is no single list.  The staff has sent out inquiries to the other districts, but have not gotten answers from everyone yet.  Also that different districts allocate in different ways, so a clear answer is hard to reach.  Denver has done it and now includes explicit equalization as part of every new mill levy.  The reason for the inconsistency across the state is that state law does not require to districts to equalize mill levies, so everyone does something different.

Dahlkemper observed that all schools are jeffco schools and not just charter schools are needing money.  There are other areas of public education that need additional funds as well.

Witt retorted that  charter schools are public schools.  And since the number one priority is student, each student deserves the same amount of money to base spent on him or her.

Gillis explained that in Jeffco, 10% are SPED (Special Education) students and 8% charter students.

Williams asked if the school for the blind was included as SPED (she meant the Rocky Mountain School for the Deaf).  No, it is included as charter.

Witt wanted to know how the 5% administrative compared to Denver Public Schools.

Gillis said that the numbers are similar due to statutory 5% number.  Gillis had also pointed out in the presentation that under state law, the District has to reconcile at the end of each year the actual administrative costs incurred by the District against the 5% charge.    Currently, the average cost of Administrative services to the Charter schools is $405 per student, but the District is only charging $316 per student. (This is a $89 discount or subsidy given to the charter schools by the District.)

Witt wanted to know if District managed schools also had to pay for additional services? It was explained to him that those services are part of a pooled cost.  The money is taken for the pooled costs up front before any budget is set for the individual schools.

Williams then wanted to know what it would take for a better accounting system.  One that could keep track of all expenses at a school level.  Gillis responded that it would ‘take a while and money’.  Gillis then state the present system could to it, but it would be an add-on to the existing system, cost a lot more and taking a lot of work to implement.  She openly wondered if the investment of time and money in a more detailed accounting would be worth the cost.

(It was evident from their questions that WNW went in to this section convinced that the District was short-changing the charter schools.  What they found was the opposite.  In fact, the District is not even charging the schools as much as they could under state law.  This was obviously not the result they were looking for.  We will now see if WNW adjust their world model to fit the actual facts of the world, or if they will persist to act as if their vision of the world is more real than the world itself.)

2.03 Superintendent Search Update (EL-11)
PURPOSE:

(Click here for copy of the time line.)

The Ray and Associates representative participated via telephone. He state the size of applicant pool is good, but refused to specify a number, saying to do so could prevent additional applicants between now and Monday.  Ray & Assoc. will begin screening on Friday and will provide the Board with finalized numbers next week.  He did say they have a mixture of Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, and Non-Traditional candidates.

In response to Dahlkemper’s question about how the interviewing with the Board will take place, the Ray & Assoc. representative emphasized that the candidates would expect to see only the Board members and that their (the candidates) identities would have to be kept confidential (to avoid possible repercussions at their current jobs).  Ray & Assoc. will provide the Board with a set of sample questions ahead of the interviews and will help the Board customize them for JeffCo.

Williams stated that she wants to have Brad Miller plus the District council in the interviews as well.  The Ray representative said that would be no problem.

Newkirk wanted to know if Ray & Assoc. were just taking applications or were actively seeking candidates (“pro-active recruiting”)? The response was that they were actively recruiting, and that advertisements seemed to produced about 40% of applicants and active recruiting 60%.

(The news that the interviews will need to be held in Executive Session is a bit disappointing but not surprising.  It is a fairly standard practice.  We do hope that a list of finalist will be published so the public can actually see who has been considered prior to the actual hiring.  One more note – when discussing the meeting days for the next school year, Witt said he thought the District would have the new Superintendent by the end of June.)

2.04 Technology and Data Privacy Advisory Committee Update
 – (Click here for list of applicants.)

Some fireworks occurred here.  This is a new Board Committee that was proposed and approved in January.  It is to consist of ten members and advise the Board and District on technology issues, including data privacy.

19 people applied (see the list) and submitted resumes.  Fellman observed that it was highly unlikely that all five Board members had had the chance to meet with all 19 applicants.  She proposed that each Board member nominate two applicants for the Committee, filling its vacancies that way.  This way, she reasoned, each Board member could place on the Committee someone known personally to them to have the needed background and interest to help the Committee in its functions. Dahlkemper agreed with Fellman.

Needless to say, WNW did not.

Newkirk said that there were plenty of qualified people on the applicant list, implying it should be easy to get to ten out of it.  Williams chimed in that she wanted to vote on each candidate.  Witt concurred.  Fellman then said if it was going to be about nomination and voting then she wanted more than 15 minutes as she only knew and had talked to four or five of applicants.   Instead, Fellman stated that they should call the people in for interviews so every Board member would be able to meet every applicant.  Witt basically ignored her, and  and proceeded to ask for nominations.  (…and so the train got started on this railroading exercise. – jcsbw)

The Board proceeded to nominate and vote on 10 people, approving nine.  The tenth position will be held open for now.  The new committee members are:

1) Sunny Flynn (WNW – yes)

2) Jennifer Butts (WNW – yes) –

Butts was nominated by Witt because, he said, he had seen several of her “presentations” and had been impressed with her.  Fellman & Dahlkemper asked where and what presentations?  Witt did not answer.  Williams spoke up saying Jennifer had given at least one “public comment”.  That apparently was equal to a “presentation” in the eyes of Witt. )

3) Michel  Hovet (Unanimous)

4) Jill Green (Unanimous)

At this point, Dahlkemper nominated Marcia Bohannon, the current Deputy CIO (Chief Information Officer) of the Colorado Department of Education, citing her long experience (20+ years), knowledge, and expertise.  Witt, obviously agitated, stated “Miss Bohanon works for CDE and this Board needs to get better with governance,” then went on say that it would be improper for a member of the CDE which “is an oversight organization to this board, it shouldn’t also be an advisory organization beneath this board and I think it is bad governance to put Miss Bohannon on this committee.”

(On the surface, this sounds reasonable, but if you really dig into, it is actually very spurious. Miss Bohannon, as CDE’s deputy CIO is actually not in an oversight role.  Her job is to help make internal technology decisions for the Colorado Department of Education.  By Witt’s logic a file clerk in a court should never vote in an election because the laws passed by people the clerk voted for might one day be reviewed by the clerk’s court.  In short, the expectation and fear are absurd. – jcsbw)

Bohannon was rejected by WNW, 2-3.

5) Virge “T.O.” Owens (WNWF – yes)

6) Derec Shuler (Unanimous)

7) John Sullivan (Unanimous)

8) Jorge “Yuri” Csapo (Unanimous)

9) Phil Romig III (Unanimous)

A this point, there were no other nominations.  Witt then said he wanted to stop at nine members.  Fellman suggested they could invite the others in for interviews then select the tenth person.  Witt said that individual Board members could ‘reach out’ to the remaining candidates to learn more.

Fellman complained during the process that she did not know some of the candidates being nominated by WNW.  Witt shot back (a bit nastily) that Fellman had had a month to review the resumes, and that should have been sufficient.  Dahlkemper retorted that the time was not the issue, that it was about fair representation.

(This was less a process where policies and programs were at stake and more one that showed off how WNW, Witt specifically, deal with being in power.  There were a total of two candidates that were voted in just by WNW, one that got four votes, and six that were unanimous.  One candidate was voted down by WNW.  Then, contrary to Witt’s blithe assumption at the beginning that they should very easily be able to fill the committee, everyone ran out of people they knew, so the committee is left one short.  If they had done it the way Fellman suggested, there would have been ten.  The truth is that having Marcia Bohannon on the committee would not have made a substantial difference to the committee’s make-up.  This was another situation where Witt could have allowed Dahlkemper and Fellman to win a minor victory while he looked reasonable.  He could not bring himself to do that, and Newkirk and Williams backed him up.

WNW feels and acts as if it has to win every single decision, even minor and unimportant ones.  To do that, they will actively ram down their choices down the throat of the opposition, no matter how it appears.  They will use any flimsy excuse they can come up with to justify their position.  Witt’s efforts to stop the Deer Creek STEM expansion serve as just one of many examples.

In the long run, this is actually very harmful to their cause.  Every time they do this, it simply hardens the opposition more, and begins to alienate people in the middle who might otherwise give them the benefit of the doubt.  WNW would be well advised to strongly temper that tendency.  It has already earned them enough enemies. – jcsbw)

2.05 Draft Board Meeting Schedule for 2014-2015
(This was about as cut and dried as one could hope.  Witt kept up the snitty, inaccurate remarks, for example, when Dahlkemper said she was unavailable for a meeting in the first half of August, Witt said “I did some checking and the Board has met year round for many, many years until a couple of years ago.”  To which Dahlkemper responded, “No, we took July and half the time in August [off].”

It did provide one bit a humor, though.  Julie Williams said she wanted a long weekend meeting/retreat again, because “…sometimes a short meeting in the evening does not give you that bonding experience…” At that point one audience member was overheard saying quietly, “With this group, it would be more of a bondage experience.” Several muffled snorts of laughter were then heard from those nearby. – jcsbw)

2.06 Policy Review: GP-1, GP-2
 (GP-1, Governance Commitment) and (GP-2, Governing Style and Philosophies.)

Here was where a large amount of fireworks erupted.  This section is pretty long because a lot was said and revealed.  If you do not have the time, to read it all, the summary is that no changes were made to the either of the policies, but Witt strongly hinted he wanted to remove the section that requires the Board not vote on an issue in the same meeting it is raised.  Also, it came out that no one claimed responsibility for the total redaction of Miller’s February invoice, that it was done without formal Board approval or discussion.  Witt said he hoped that Miller did it himself, which Fellman and Dahlkemper pointed out would be highly inappropriate since the confidentiality belonged not to Miller, but to the Board.

We would encourage you to take the time to read the actual dialog or listen to the audio recording in order to capture the flavor of the debate.

GP-1:  Fellman observed that “all children” runs through almost everything in Jeffco.  She wants to see if a rewording could emphasize that the Board is committed to “all children” in a meaningful way.  She had no specific change to propose, but feels that with such a divided community, this could be a chance for the Board to come together and emphasize that all children are included would help.  Witt said that the policies already say “all students”.  As the discussion became more testy, Witt said that he felt the Board had gone to great lengths to make sure that “every student of every public school is equally treated.”

Fellman had another comment on GP-1 concerning the transparency.  She referenced the portion of the Policy that says the Board is committed to “effective and transparent oversight” and the Board’s actual commitment to this.  She referred to the copy of Brad Miller’s February Invoice (posted in various places on the itnernet and Facebook – click here to see a copy) noting it had been heavily redacted (portions blacked out so you cannot tell what was there). She wanted to know who did the redacting.  She also pointed out that redacting is done due to attorney-client privilege, but that according to an attorney she talked to, the privilege belongs to the client, not the attorney.  She repeated that she wanted to know who decided on what should be redacted.

Witt said she could see the detail of the billing anytime she wanted, but it was not for public viewing. Fellman said she thought is should be available for public viewing and that the redaction was not transparent.

Dahlkemper jumped in at this point, saying she had issues with the compliance (or lack of) with GP-02 with item #10 (under the “Accordingly” section – it states:  “10. The Board will not take a position on discussion agenda items the first time such items are placed on the agenda for Board consideration.”), and this was part of the problem with the attorney issue (Brad Miller’s hiring, contract, responsibilities, and role).  When the Board voted on his hiring on a month-to-month basis, the Board had no copy of the proposed contract, did not know what the hourly rate would be, and both Dahlkemper and Fellman have been trying to put a discussion of the contract on the agenda (but WNW keeps voting it down).

Witt then said, “Is that last bullet item something we want to keep in this policy?” Fellman interrupted at this point, saying, “Yes.  Absolutely.”  Witt continued over the top of her, “That nothing is voted on by this Board until it has been discussed once, then delayed for a month and then voted on?”

Dhalkemper then pointed out that items do not need to, nor have they taken a month because the Board has study sessions generally one to two weeks prior to the full meeting, that this was a good policy and make sense and should be continued.

Newkirk then spoke up, saying it was a slippery slope to post non-redacted legal documents.  Fellman retorted that legal opinions she has received is that the redactions are to be done by the client, and that no one asked her about these redactions.  She went on to say there had been no conversation that involved her over what was to be redacted.  That it is not transparency when she does not know why (emphasis added) something was redacted.

Witt, trying to change to thrust of Fellman’s argument, said she (Fellman) had copies of the invoice and so knew what was redacted.

Dahlkemper then jumped in, saying “Who redacted? Was it someone on our Board who gave instructions to the staff to redact the invoice?”

Witt then said, “I would hope our attorney redacted it before posting.”

Fellman quickly said, “But that’s not appropriate!”, with Dahlkemper saying, “The attorney is not a District employee!”, and Fellman continuing, “The privilege belongs to the client not the attorney.”

Witt then said, “So, okay is there anyone on this Board presently that thinks we should post publicly attorney bills unredacted?” To which Fellman said, “Yes!”

Witt then, trying to cut this off, said, “Is there a motion to that effect?” but was interrupted by Newkirk who shot back at Fellman, “Including Caplan & Earnest?”  (the District’s law firm)

“They are already posted,” Fellman retorted.

Newkirk continued, “Including matters that have to do with, ah, shootings and…”, then Fellman interrupted him saying that they could have a discussion about what to redact and what not, that all she wanted was to be included in the conversation.

Dahlkemper then pointed out that the scope of work Miller provided (see contract here) included items such as “prepare reports for the board or conduct more research.”  She continued, “I don’t know what that research was for.  I don’t know what those reports entailed.”  Dahlkemper went on to say that she agreed that the Board had to protect it’s students and personnel as well as comply with state law.  That the key problem was the “..we were not transparent from the get go.”

Witt (no surprise) said, “I certainly disagree.  I think we have been fully transparent.”  At this point the audience began voicing it’s disagreement, with people muttering out loud.  “We have voted on this in public. We have made the attorney agreement, uhm, public. There is nothing that has not been transparent.”  (Note:  Brad Miller’s Attorney agreement was only made public after a CORA – Colorado Open Records Act, request was filed. You can find a copy here. – jcsbw)  Witt went on, saying over quiet derisive laughter from the audience, “And we will continue to work responsibly as a governing body and govern this District appropriately.”

Dahlkemper, then asked, “Mr. Witt, did we have a contract in front of us…we reviewed as a Board when we took a vote on Mr. Miller serving as the Board attorney?”

Witt admitted, “No, we did not.”  He then went on, “We had a contract within a couple of days…(he paused)…which is fairly normal process.”

Dahlkemper responded, “I don’t think so”, with Fellman adding, “No, it is not.”  Fellman continued, saying that taking a vote to accept a contract that has not yet been presented is not something she has experienced or heard of with other governmental bodies anywhere in the country.

Witt, trying to confuse things again, said, “I have checked the records of this Board and I don’t believe we have voted on other lawyer contracts, so….”

Dahlkemper pointed out that the Board had not had an ongoing attorney for the Board before Miller.

Witt, getting angry, said, “It was the September 20 13 (sic) meeting, it was asked publicly and on the record if this Board’s attorney was Mr. Taggert, and the answer was ‘yes’.  There was no vote on his contract.”

Fellman jumped in at this point, saying, “The answer was “No”.

(We checked the written minutes from the September 19, 2013 Board meeting  – there was no September 20 meeting – the only reference to Alan Taggart is under agenda item 6.03 Compensation Redesign.  Here it refers to Mr. Taggert as the District’s Chief Legal Counsel. – jcsbw) 

Dahlkemper stated that Mr. Taggart had been hired by the District to function as the District’s attorney, not the Board’s attorney.  That all that was being asked that there be transparency on this issue.

Witt, now very angry, interrupted, “…And we have full transparency and we are not going to keep revisiting the same contract issue!”

Dahlkemper replied that she hoped that before the Board hires its next Superintendent that they would have a chance to review the actual contract before any votes.

Witt, without responding to Dahlkemper’s comment, tried to move on quickly, but had to stop to confirm that there were no pending motions to modify GP-01 or GP-02. He asked Fellman if she was going to bring a motion to the Board later on.  Fellman, said, “I just mentioned that I was interested in having us try to unit our community instead of keeping the divide.  Apparently we cannot do that and I think that’s very unfortunate.”

Witt left well enough alone and moved on.

(Three key things to note here.  The first is that Witt strongly indicated that he wants to change the rule that requires an issue to be discussed at one session, but not voted on until the next.  This is a major structural change he is suggesting.  It would mean that WNW could bring up any major issue by surprise and then vote on it, closing the issue before the public has a chance to even know what is going on.  In the Colorado Legislature, a bill must be ‘read’ out loud to the chamber three times before it is passed!  WNW do not want this because it gives us, the public, too much time to digest what they are doing and mobilize against it.  If they do go through with this modification, it will turn the steam driven railroading they are doing now into a ‘bullet train’.

This tied into the second item, that of how Miller’s contract was rammed through the Board.

The third key item was what was revealed on the redaction of Miller’s invoice.  Apparently no one was responsible or Miller was responsible, which would be a huge conflict of interest as well as potentially being a violation of legal canons.  This could be a serious stumbling of Miller.  We all need to keep the pressure on.  Who authorized the redaction?

The ultimate irony is that WNW+Miller is creating all of the controversy themselves!  They have a clear majority.  All they need to do is allow for one open discussion session, let Dahlkemper and Fellman motion to discontinue the contract, vote the motion down, and they would be done!  But they seem emotionally unable to do that.  Their ability to tolerate dissent is vanishingly small, and getting smaller.  Which is just getting them into more and more trouble.

As with many other governmental scandals, it is not the actual act that gets the perpetrators into the biggest trouble…it is the effort to cover it up or avoid having to listen to dissent. – jcsbw)

3. Consent Agenda

All items were approved unanimously with no controversy or debate.

4. Executive Session

4.01 Negotiations with Employee Associations


Newkirk made a motion to into Executive Session with Williams’ seconding it.

It was at this point that the second major fireworks session erupted.

Fellman read a statement saying that after the District filed the appeal in the 2090 Wright case, Caplan & Earnest strongly advised the Board to continue the appeal.  Three members (guess who – jcsbw) went against that advice.  During that discussion, Miller did not warn the Board members that failure to take legal advice from the District’s legal counsel could open Board members to personnel legal  liability.

Fellman continued, saying earlier that day (April 24) Miller had sent her and others a email, warning that if individual Board members do not take his legal advice on the contract negotiations that those Board members could face personal legal liability (i.e., they could be sued as individuals).

Fellman said she was not a lawyer and was not going to argue with Mr. Miller.  However, she is concerned that when WNW wants to do something against the District’s legal counsel (Caplan & Earnest, in the 2090 Wright case), Miller was perfectly okay with that and gave no them no warning.  But when she and Dahlkemper go against WNW and do not vote to go into Executive Session when she, Fellman, feels it would be inappropriate, Miller sends her this email, telling her she could be personally liable.

Fellman summed up, “So, it appears to be fine to ignore legal advice if that accomplishes a policy goal of the Board (e.g., WNW – added by jcsbw), but we (i.e., Dahlkemper and Fellman – jcsbw) create individual Board liability if we don’t take legal advice.  Mr. Miller may or may not be correct, but I have serious concerns given the inconsistency (sic) nature of his advice.  I believe I need to seek personal legal counsel and I am willing to that, so before I can vote to move into Executive Session I will be seeking my own individual representation.”

Witt cooly said, “OKay.  Other comments?”  When none were offered, he called for the vote.  WNW voted to go into Executive Session, Dahlkemper and Fellman voted no.  Moving into Executive Session requires a two-thirds majority, which with five Board members means four votes “yes”, so the motion failed.

Witt then said that because they were not in Executive Session, there would be only limited discussion.  He then noted that there was a $11.7 million placeholder for employee compensation.

Amy Weber, the District’s negotiator, said that she had received the letter from the JCEA that the Board had requested.  In that letter, JCEA said they wanted a commitment to a three-year contract extension to return to the table.  Witt highlighted that before JCEA declared an impasse, they had asked for a one year extension and now they wanted three.

Witt asked if there was a motion to give JCEA the three year extension.  There was none.

Newkirk then opined that they had received legal advice on what can be discussed in non-executive session, and that if anything was to be discussed beyond that, they should ask for legal counsel. That confidential documents that had been projected onto the screen had been video-taped and made public.  That they should not make that mistake again.

Witt then said that since there was no motion to meet the JCEA request, then they (the District and JCEA) were in fact at impasse.

Witt: “And at this point I am not willing to go into any other negotiation discussion.”

Dahlkemper then said that everyone brings different experiences to the table.  That she supported giving the employees a 2.5% increase, but WNW did not agree and did not authorize Weber to make that offer.  Dahlkemper said she wanted to go on the record as being in favor of open negotiations and that the employees helped the District out during a very tough time, and that they deserve the increase.

Weber asked for clarification on whether to move forward with mediation as specified in the contract.  Witt, again said, he had already talked to her about this in Executive Session and he had not changed his mind, so to proceed.

He then adjourned the meeting.

(As usual, the most fireworks were at the end.  Fellman’s little speech really gives us a look into the mentality and morality of WNW.  When they cannot get their way, they are now resorting to strong-arm tactics disguised as ‘legal advice’.  Pretty selective legal advice at that.  After this, it is hard to see how Miller is a neutral party and sees the entire Board as his real client.

Another interesting thing is Witt’s growing tendency to act as if the President of the Board is an executive position and the other Board members are subordinate to him.  You can see this in the number of pronouncements where he uses “I” and “me” and “my” instead of the “the Board”.  He acts as if he is a CEO rather than simply the spokesperson for equals.  This is not a wise course for him to follow, even with his own supporters.  His dismissive tone is not only being directed at Dahlkemper and Fellman, but is now also falling on the Julie Williams from time to time.  Irritating your opponents might be fun, but irritating your supporters who you depend on is just plain dumb.

WNW does seem to continue with a playbook known mainly to themselves.  But there is one thing we feel we can confidently predict:  that WNW+Miller’s penchant for creating easily avoided controversies is only going to get them into more and more trouble.)

4/12 Saturday Post: What Can I Do?

A commentary from Jeffco Guardian:

“What can I do?”

This is the number one question heard these days when the topic of the ongoing and controversial Jeffco board majority actions comes up.  It comes from everyone:  parents, teachers, grandparents, coworkers and neighbors.  People are feeling helpless and, unfortunately, somewhat hopeless.  They see a the Board majority of WNW pushing forward their own agenda regardless of what anyone says about it.  They do this under the pretense that they were elected to do just that.

These feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are very understandable.  But I would venture to take that further and say that these emotions can also be very motivating!

The first thing to tell someone when you hear this question is that you understand how they feel, and that they are not alone.  There are many, many others who feel the same way.  I wish we could tell people that we have the ability to rein-in WNW and control how they vote, but the sad truth is until they do something blatantly illegal or so crazy that it gets district-wide attention , we can’t.  However, we must remind ourselves that they are human and, if we speak their language and do so respectfully, we can try to appeal to their humanity.  I believe they know – on some level – that forcing their agenda down our throats is wrong.  They want data so let’s show them data, and let’s do so respectfully.

Before I get into recommendations of things you can do, I should first address another related concern I’ve heard:  “I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on yet to be able to have an intelligent conversation about my concerns with the board.”  I totally understand this hesitation and concern.

When I first started digging in, I had never attended a board meeting before and didn’t know all the jargon.  Honestly, there’s still SO much I don’t know; it’s overwhelming sometimes.  My recommendation is to start with what you do know.  Start by calling board members and sending them emails.  Ask for an explanation. Tell them that you want to understand  their perspective.  Ask for more information and their viewpoint on specific things, such as charter school equalization.  Ask how that reallocation of funds will affect neighborhood schools.  Share with them your and your child(ren)’s experience(s) at your school.  Share with them the successes and the challenges your school’s teachers and administrators face.

Ask about the employee compensation issue & budget negotiations – why the impasse?  Do not feel like you need to present all the facts in the letter.  Bottom line is that you deserve their perspective, and they have an obligation to you as a taxpayer to explain themselves.  I encourage people to be respectful and not belligerent in any way. The likelihood of receiving a response is magnified if you come across as you are:  a concerned citizen who wants an explanation.  Best thing to do is just sit down and write your first letter – you have to start somewhere!  Below are the District’s instructions for emailing or ‘snail-mailing’ the Board, plus the guidelines the Board has what correspondence will be published and what will not:

Public correspondence received by the Board of Education office at board@jeffco.k12.co.us or 1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401 is available for public viewing.  If addressed to individual board members and not provided to the Board office, the correspondence will not be included….

Letters addressed to the Board of Education that contain the name of a student or involve a student issue are not available to the public (* unofficial).  The Board does not respond to anonymous letters or letters that are copied to the Board but not addressed to the Board.

Hopefully you’ll get a response – please let us know if you do!

So, that said, here are some specifics:

  1. Approach the board.  This can look a lot of different ways:  come to board meetings, sign up to speak during meetings, email board members, call them.   We need to let WNW know – on a regular and consistent basis – that we are not ok with how they are manhandling the district.
  2. Keep reading.  Read blog and facebook posts.  Read articles on the reform movement elsewhere in Colorado and the nation.  Read local newspapers.  Peruse the web and look for data that substantiates positions you support or don’t support.  For example, look at the research that shows the advantages of early literacy and full-day kindergarten if you are for providing free full-day kindergarten to Jeffco schools with a population that is 35% or more free & reduced lunch (e.g., low income).
  3. Contact your state representative and senator.  Let them know that education is important to you.  Give them specific examples from your/your child’s experience regarding how budget cuts over the past several years have affected education in your school.  Tell them that paying down the negative factor is important to you so funding can be restored to our schools.
  4. Talk to…well, everyone!  Don’t be shy.  It’s easy enough to start a conversation by just asking, “so what do you think about what’s been going on with the Jeffco School Board?”  If they have an opinion, great – conversation is started.  If they don’t know what’s going on, that’s great too!  You have an opening to tell them what’s been going on and ask them if you can email them with updates!  Develop a distribution list of your own.  You don’t have to start your own blog (unless you want to!) or write your own email updates if you’re too busy – just forward those you receive to your network of friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors.Keep the conversation going.  The reality is that most people in Jefferson County either are not aware of the strife surrounding this new board majority or are not clued in yet as to how it affects them if they don’t have children or grandchildren in the schools.  It’s important for those folks that you emphasize the fact that if our local schools tank, so will our home values.  Businesses look at the health of our school district when determining whether to locate or remain here.  Did you know that by the year 2020, 75% of entry-level jobs will require a college degree?  Our schools better be healthy if we are to meet this demand!
  5. Try to resist the urge to let them divide us!  We are all Jeffco:  neighborhood schools, GT, SPED, charter schools, option schools!  I have been feeling a lot lately that one of the underlying goals is to cause divisiveness and competition amongst our populations – all of us fighting for our “fair share” of the pot.  We ALL need to be successful if Jeffco is to be successful!  Don’t fall prey to this trap.  We need to remain unified and supportive of one another.

The question, “what can I do” can easily be answered by knowing the one thing “you can’t do,” and that is to become discouraged.  Discouragement breeds complacency, which we need to avoid like the plague.  If we get complacent, WNW’s will and confidence will grow – and they will get even more bold with their maneuvers (hard to even fathom).  In fact, that is what they are counting on!

We need to take every opportunity to let this board majority know that we are not okay with the direction in which they are taking this district and our schools.  We need to call them on every questionable or out-of-line move they make.  And similarly, if we agree with or applaud something they do, let’s tell them so!  We must be in this for the long haul; they have a 4-year term…and unfortunately, they’re just getting started.

The last point that I would like to make is that you DO have a voice and you DO make an impact on the outcome here.  WNW takes you doing nothing as support for what they are doing.

Regardless of whether you have children, grandchildren, or no children in the schools, we all have a moral obligation to advocate for children, “for the least of these”, for those who don’t have a voice.  We thank you for the part you are playing and we applaud your efforts!

April 3rd Meeting Review – Yet another view:

Study Session

1.02 Superintendent Search Update: Bill Newman of Ray & Associates – the firm heading up the district’s superintendent search – presented on the themes from the stakeholder forums that were held last month. You can see their report at here. Page 4 is interesting in that you can see what the different groups’ priorities are, including the BOE.

Mr. Newman pointed out 2 discrepancies where BOE priority gave priority to something other stakeholders did not:

Quality/characteristic #16: “Non-traditional or “hybrid” with background in military, business and/or education” – was ranked as a #3 priority for the BOE (with 3 votes) vs a ranking of 33 for teachers, 32 for administrators, 32 for support staff, 30 for parents, 30 for students, 32 for non-parent community member and 32 for other.  That’s out of a possibility of 33.  Wow.  That’s a pretty clear message!

Quality/characteristic #24:  “Has demonstrated strong leadership skills in previous positions.”  This received a ranking of 9 from the BOE and rankings of 20, 20, 15, 15, 12, 20 & 15 for other stakeholder groups as identified above.

Ms. Dahlkemper noted the disconnect on #16 between what the majority of the board wants vs what the majority of other stakeholders want.  Note that in the interest of not wanting to discourage candidates from applying, the flyer that will be distributed by Ray & Associates will state that Jeffco is looking for a traditional, non-traditional or hybrid candidate – even though the majority clearly stated that having a non-traditional candidate is at the bottom of their priority list.

Ms. Dahlkemper wanted more emphasis on a proven track record of experience with educator effectiveness.

Based again on stakeholder input, Mr. Newman suggested that the board consider adding to the candidate profile and flyer that we want a leader who “had leadership skills to respond to challenges of ethnic & cultural diversity.”  This had a ranking of 17 for the BOE, but a ranking of 7, 8, 5, 10, 12, 6, and 5 for the other stakeholders as indicated above.  Mr. Witt was “not interested” (his words) in adding this quality to the candidate profile and shot down any attempts to further discuss this matter.

Mr. Newman noted that Jeffco set a new record w/their firm – Ray & Associates received over 3,000 responses from the Jeffco community; their previous record was 1,958 responses.  Way to go!

Despite these disagreements, Witt somehow remarked, that he could see ‘substantial agreement’. One wonders if he was attending the same meeting everyone else was.

Regular Meeting

5.02 Public Comment (Agenda Related): Public comment was over 2 hours long.  In the past, such as the January 16th meeting when parents who supported the Deer Creek STEM program expansion that Witt did not like, Witt required them to speak as a single group since they were speaking on the same topic. (Witt and Newkirk voted against the expansion, Williams, Dahlkemper, and Fellman voted for it). This night, in clear violation of board policy (click here), Witt not only did not require those speaking on the same topic (charter equalization) to speak as a single group, but he allowed (also against board policy – click here) this public comment period to go on for 2 hours as opposed to cutting it off at 45 minutes and requiring others to wait until the end of the meeting.

Also, board policy states that if more than 25 people sign up to speak, individuals are to be given 2 minutes to speak (instead of 3) and groups given 5 minutes (instead of 10) to speak.  There were way more than 25 speakers (see signup list here) and they were given their full 3 & 10 minutes to speak.

The Facebook site Transparency Jeffco has an excellent video highlighting this here. So much for a fair and impartial treatment of the public.

7.03 Progress on Board Goals: Math Instruction (Ends 1, 2)

This was apparently postponed to another meeting.

7.04 Board Direction on the 2014/2015 Budget

The goal tonight was to review those items in yellow (worksheet here) that required additional discussion. No decisions made tonight are final – there is still time for discussion – but here is where this board majority stands as of tonight:

Teachers/staff – you need to be paying careful attention to this. Look at lines 19, 20, & 21 in the worksheet. Witt wants the placeholder for compensation to only read as $11,725,100. He wants the $3,727,200 PERA contribution and $500,000 Affordable Healthcare Act fees rolled up as if included and not separate/distinct from employee compensation. So instead of being a total compensation of $15,952,300 to include compensation, PERA & AHCA – it’s all rolled up in a pretty package w/a price tag of $11,725,100.  That’s a $4.2+M cut to compensation. Yes, that’s right – $4.2 MILLION DOLLAR CUT TO EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION. Again, keep in mind that this is a placeholder, but that’s what Witt wants to do for now. This was approved by another 3-2 WNW decision.

The Board then approved the $4.5M to increase wireless infrastructure (accessibility & capacity) in the district. (This has a lot of people confused, but WiFi throughout the district is spotty and this includes the landline links out of the schools. Building a campus-wide WiFi network that can support hundreds of simultaneous links is not the same as hooking up a consumer wifi hub in your house or small business. Plus, security on the network has to be a LOT tougher than what is available on consumer products.)

WNW then voted to completely cut out of the budget the $600,000 that was to fund 13 sections of full-day free kindergarten for schools where there are 35% or more free and reduced lunch kids (e.g., low income students). There justification? Julie Williams thinks – from her “experience” – that full-day kindergarten just adds specials (art, music & PE) – that it’s not additional academic time. And Witt isn’t satisfied w/national data showing that kids who receive full-day kindergarten excel and are better prepared for 1st grade than those who attend 1/2-day. Nor is he satisfied w ith national data that shows low-income students benefit greatly from a full-day K program. Nope. He wants to see Jeffco data on this. (Is this another example of ‘my mind is made up, don’t bother me with the facts’ non-thinking?)

The Board then added a $855k amount to line item 39 for the Gifted & Talented program for additional resource teachers to help out on ALPs, professional development, and better identification of GT kids.

Charter School Equalization: WNW voted to put a $3.7 MILLION for charter school equalization.

The Board added a line item w/no dollar value to address their ends goal to address remediation rates – they need more information before identifying a dollar value, and will discuss this at the next board meeting. It’s interesting that they want more detail on this, and had specific reasons for giving the GT program more money, but require no such level of detail on giving more money to Charter schools.

Lorie Gillis, the District’s CFO said that there is a lot of misconceptions & confusions about Charter School funding and recommended 1-2 hours to discuss charter school funding to ensure that everyone is on the same page on how it works and who gets what and why. Witt instead suggested adding a 30-min discussion to the next meeting.

Reserve Fund – Because of the changes above, instead of putting in the recommended $2 million into the the Reserve Fund, the District will only be able to put in between $200 to $400 thousand. According to WNW, this should be enough to keep the District’s current bond rating. (Strange, we were under the impression that the primary purpose of a reserve fund was to be help the District ride out an economic downturn…like the one we just had. You build a reserve fund during better times. So much for prudent fiscal management….)

Cornerstone Academy charter school update. Apparently since the lady in charge of this charter has a full-time job, she can’t be reached very easily to keep this moving. The original target date to open was August 2014 – that’s not even remotely achievable – at best will be 2015. Mr. Carlton, the charter school liaison tasked w/working w/Cornerstone, asked for 4-6 weeks to get back to the board with an update. The school still does not have a location identified.

10.01 Board Work Calendar:

Last big topic of the night – Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman asked that the board allocate 30 minutes at the next board meeting to have a conversation about the contract with Brad Miller – the BOE’s attorney – to discuss his fee, the contract, and what exactly it is that his firm has been doing for the district. CORA requests (click here)show Brad Miller activity on virtually every day of the month in January – of course the “activity” is blacked out so we have NO CLUE what they’ve been doing – and neither do Ms. Dahlkemper or Ms. Fellman. A conversation sounds pretty reasonable considering this was supposed to be a month-to-month contract, but it hasn’t been discussed ONCE in SIX MONTHS – and obviously Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman haven’t been privy to any of the work BM has been doing. Nope – WNW voted NOT to have a conversation.

Another Witt steamroll. Nice.

Denied Charter On April 3 Meeting Agenda?

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In November, the school board voted to deny Cornerstone Academy’s charter application.  Among the reasons for denial:  lack of financial solvency, low enrollment numbers, no plan for serving Special Needs children, and no location site.

One board member said in November that she felt the application was very incomplete and not well thought out, stating the application failed to meet many of the minimum requirements of much of the charter school rubric.

The district’s accountability committee, SPAC (Strategic Planning and Advisory Council) also recommended the board deny Cornerstone’s application.

Following WNW’s swearing in at the end of November, Witt commented that he wanted to revisit Cornerstone’s application to avoid the expense of an appeal process, implying the new board intends to allow Cornerstone to move forward despite its many issues and the application’s failure to meet many standards.

Here is a link to a letter from the Colorado Department of Education declining Cornerstone’s application for a Title V Charter School Start Up Grant of $215,000. http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/files/9D883B7E48FB/$file/Cornerstone%20Academy%20of%20CO%202013-14%20grant%20CCSP.pdf

From November 7, here is a link to Cornerstone’s 6 year budget proposal http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/files/9CWSTJ5FEC04/$file/CAC%20Full%20Capacity%206-yr%2010-21-2013.pdf

Here is a link to the rubric for charter school review of Cornerstone referenced above where you can read Cornerstone’s failure to provide goals for assessments, to explain where partnership money will come from, to provide any significant time for staff development, to mention the READ Act, to provide a solvent budget for the first year or provide for Special Ed Services.

Below is a letter from John Peery, who oversaw charter schools in Jeffco and who has recently resigned his position, in which he explains his issues with Cornerstone’s application: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/files/9CZ4Q9787A31/$file/EX%20J%202013-memo%20to%20Supt%20CAC%20%202nd%20budget.pdf

We have not yet seen the agenda for the April 3 meeting but prior board discussion indicated Cornerstone would be added to the April 3 agenda.

While there is some justification of the need for a charter like Cornerstone in the south area, a number of questions remain unanswered about this particular charter’s application.  To approve the application of Cornerstone without an answer to these questions could prove to be a burden on our district and another financially irresponsible decision on the part of WNW.

Then there is always the question of our school district’s limited resources.  Any time a new charter school is approved, it drains money from all of our schools, including other charters.

You can read all the documents on Cornerstone Academy here http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/Public by clicking on meetings, then scrolling to the November 7, 2013 meeting agenda.

UPDATE:  Lisa Cook wrote about what happened regarding Cornerstone Academy and the conditional approval at length here:http://www.examiner.com/article/new-jeffco-charter-school-given-conditional-go-ahead

It boils down to this: they need to meet the conditions, which include the concerns about special education, parental involvement, and especially budget and tie by April 24. If they don’t, the application is denied. If they meet all the conditions except a site acceptable to the district, they’ll be given additional time to pursue a site, which might include delaying their opening date by a year.

The decision was made at the Feb. 6 regular board meeting, and the recorded minutes are available on the Jeffco Schools website. Supporting documents should be available in BoardDocs.

BOE 3/13 Summary – The Expected & Unexpected

As recent JeffCo Board meetings go, this one was relatively quiet.  Mr. Witt and Ms. Dahlkemper did have a couple of small clashes, but things went pretty predictably with one exception, the issue of the court case on the 2090 Wright Street land dispute.  Attendance was light compared to recent Board meetings, probably close to 50 people at it’s peak. Continue reading

WNW Supporters Getting Desperate…Show up at the BOE tonight!

Congratulations!  WNW and their supporters must be getting very worried about us!

They already have set up a misleading Facebook page with a name very similar to ours, and now they are now spreading a rumor via email that “JeffCo School Board Watch” intends to disrupt the meeting tonight.

What they are doing, of course, is twisting what we said in our post from yesterday, “Show up at the Budget Meeting!“.

What we said was:  “So how can we make our feelings known without giving Witt an excuse to ‘deal’ with us?…How about signs?…we can hold the signs up quietly.” (italics and bolding added)

Wow.  Sounds like a real disturbance, doesn’t it?

This is typical of the extreme supporters of WNW.  When they can’t win on actual facts, figures, logic and reason, they resort to rumor, innuendo, exaggeration, and manipulation.

Do not let them get away with it!  If you get the email, reply back with a copy of this post and maybe the original post.  Truth is the best answer to rumor and falsehood.

And show up tonight!  6:30 p.m. in the Board Room on the 5th floor of the Education Center.