Archive for the ‘Douglas County Schools’ Category

School board election to test public education

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Non-partisan school board elections have turned highly partisan in the Denver metro area.  The Republican party has gone full forward against two teachers’ associations – the Jefferson County Education Association and Douglas County’s American Federation of Teachers.

What’s interesting is that both districts do well in the state’s academic assessment program.  Douglas County, which rims the south metro area, has a mostly white population, with a 10 percent poverty rate.  Jefferson County, which at one time mirrored Douglas County’s demographic, now is much more diverse with a 30 percent poverty rate.

Jeffco School District is the largest in the state with about 85,000 students.  Its students test well above the state average on the Colorado School Assessment Program (CSAP) tests.  Of the 140+ schools in the district, one is considered non-performing.  The district has numerous schools ranking among the top 10 percent in achievement.  Douglas County Schools are similar in their test results, with no non-performing schools.

Douglas County has also been at the front end of pay for performance reforms.  It is about to release a revised performance pay package.  Jeffco is currently testing pay for performance strategies in a federal pilot program based on a $38 million grant.

Nevertheless, the Republican party is pushing a hard, anti-union agenda, on the premise that unions provide dollars to Democratic candidates. The Jeffco district, with a majority Republican board, advocates, and is trying to implement, a voucher program allowing up to 500 students to attend private schools, including religious schools.

The cry in Jefferson County by Republican candidates is for more “choice,” even though every school in Colorado is a choice school.  Jefferson County has 12 charter schools and has received only one charter application in recent years.

In addition, the Jeffco Republican candidates, along with a current board member, will put pressure on the superintendent to “follow directions.”  It’s likely that the superintendent, elected Colorado Superintendent-of-the-Year by her colleagues in 2010, will leave the district if the Republican candidates, known as the “two dads,” win.

The two dads state that a voucher plan is not their goal.  But Republican candidates for school board in Douglas County said the same thing in the 2009 election, and now that district is fighting for vouchers in the Colorado state court system.

November 1 is Election Day.  Both districts, representing about 17 percent of Colorado kids, face stark choices.  The school boards elected in this election will test how citizens see public education in the future.

Unions and Principals-both on the ‘Outs’

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

School districts in forty-four states and Washington, D.C. face a cumulative deficit of $125 billion in the fiscal year July 2011-June 2012 (Education Sector projections). With the current uproar in the U. S. over debt, deficit, and the downfall that will ensue if unions don’t give up collective bargaining, the transformation of failing schools is way off the radar.

High-volume quarrels fill the media. Union supporters remind us that the reason for the debt and deficit in all states but Wyoming is the recession. A slow recovery still hinders employment and lowers revenue available to fund services-like police, fire fighters, state legislature cafeteria workers, and teachers.

It is difficult to understand the connection made by conservative legislators who lay the blame on public sector union pensions and health benefits and collective bargaining. As if, when times were good, the legislators didn’t vote to make these funds available. As if, in hard times, taking away collective bargaining rights are going to make money appear by magic.

As this blog has noted before (see post 1-19-11), the same legislators provide data showing that public sector union employees have higher pensions and benefits than private sector workers, even those in unions. Is that an argument in favor of eliminating collective bargaining? The oppression of workers in big corporations-low pay, limited pension and weak health benefits–is another reason for the difficulty in improving the economy.

Seems like the troubled sides need help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Do you think Wisconsin legislators, for instance, would agree?

At a recent conference “Advancing Student Achievement through Labor-Management Collaboration” in Denver, Colorado, February 15-16, 2011, participants sat down to address the real problem for U. S. schools. (Edweek, 2-18-11) The goal is to improve teacher evaluation, revise salary scales, and devise models to turn around failing schools. The event highlighted school districts that had found models to improve collaboration between unions and school district administrators.

About twelve districts were featured from New Haven, Connecticut, to Douglas County, Colorado. The important point was that in spite of tough budget situations, progress and transformation has happened. As far as collective bargaining, the advice was to get out of the win-lose model.

With such models, the issue of rapidly throwing out ineffective principals, a guideline of the U.S. Department of Education, can be less regimented. It’s true that new leadership in a school designated for ‘turnaround’ can generate a new way of thinking, especially if the new principal has been part of leadership training.

But appointing a new principal doesn’t guarantee success. Is the school improving under the current leadership and needs more time to get to a level of school improvement? Is the district administration supporting turnaround?

Dealing with school leadership has been an issue well before the change in U.S. Department of Education leadership. Preparing School Principals: A National Perspective on Policy and Program Improvement by Hale and Moorman, 2003, analyses the change: a long time lack of definition about a principal’s position to current proposals naming five key elements of leadership.

However, for those who watch the change it is amazing how quickly impetus to improve schools and school leadership has occurred with the new Department of Education guidelines. The problem nowadays is to educate enough principals willing to take on the challenges.

Tossing out principals will not always improve the school; district support for best practices will. Just like voting out collective bargaining with unions will not improve the economy; long term investment will.

Voucher choice as a bad choice

Friday, November 12th, 2010

School districts across the country are sucking eggs with their 2011-2012 budgets.  It’s no different in Colorado.

Largest Colorado District budget down $50million+ by 2012

Jefferson County School District (Jeffco), the largest district in Colorado, will reduce its expenses by about $50 million, offset by about $30 million in reserve reductions.  That leaves about $20 million in actual cuts, which translates to about 196 jobs and various other trims.

By 2012-2013, the District’s expenses will have declined $50 million from the 2008-2009 budget year, the high water mark.  In other words, the 6000 children who entered kindergarten in Jeffco this year will be educated with significantly fewer dollars than the children lucky enough to have entered school five years ago.

Douglas County District down $100 million by 2012

Douglas County School District in the south Denver metro area will also have cut its budget by about $100 million over four years. Douglas County didn’t have the big reserves of Jeffco to help buffer the downturn.

Even so, the Douglas County school board is examining school choice and has resurrected vouchers as an option for kids and their parents.  Douglas County has four private schools located within the district, all Christian schools.  The idea is to give parents 3/4 of the state’s per/pupil funding as a voucher to use at one of these private schools.  Colorado provides $6545 per student, which ranks 48th in state per/pupil funding compared to all other states-worse than California.

Douglas County Schools paid $8165 to Eric Hall, a Colorado Springs lawyer who was instrumental in passing a Colorado school voucher program in 2003 to develop a policy known as the Option Certificate Program.  The 2003 voucher system was tossed by the Colorado Supreme Court as violating the section of the state’s constitution that forbids public money to go to religious schools.  Known as the Blaine Amendment, this section was originally written to keep Catholic parochial schools off the public dime.

According to the Douglas County School Board’s president, Republican John Carson, Attorney Hall assures the district that this voucher program will work.  Count numerous residents of Douglas County dubious.  Elizabeth Celania-Fagan, the recently hired superintendent, sent an email to parents saying the option is a “draft recommendation” and “there have been no decisions made.”  Douglas District would lose $4908 per student, keep $1637.

Taking $4908 per student out of the Douglas County District’s budget would represent a big hit to the district’s public school teachers and a big help to the local private Christian schools.  In general, parents can’t complain about Douglas County school results, as the district is one of the highest performing in the state.  Its teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has accepted alternative compensation packages and the district as a whole is considered forward-looking.  The union supported SB10-191, a bill to include performance metrics in the teacher and principal evaluation and compensation system.

This school board, however, is only a year old, and all Republican.  These board members swept out the previous mixed board in November 2009 on a school choice platform.  District parents may be getting more choice than they want at a time when any lost dollars will be expensive for district performance. “I don’t like this idea at all,” said Karen Ricker, mother of a first grader.  What’s wrong with the schools now?  Public funds shouldn’t be used for private schools.”

The first meeting on the proposal is today, November 12.  The first public comment will be November 16.  It’s certain that the board meeting will be packed and lively.  All Colorado School Board meetings are taped.  This one will be worth listening to.