A different perspective on the current state of Jeffco schools

Month: February 2017

Jeffco Board of Education should be embarrased

The Board of Education is most likely embarrassed by the some of the recent budget recommendations proposed by the Superintendent and his Cabinet. I don’t think the Board expected to see some of the cuts first proposed on January 26th.

In the end, the Jeffco School Board made good decisions for the district at the February 9, 2017, Board meeting – keeping the District High School GT Center at Wheat Ridge High School open for another year, retaining needed services for special needs students, and closing just one school instead of five.

Even though the Superintendent surprisingly changed his recommendations later in the meeting, it still meant that the Board had to hear a deluge of testimony that the planned budget reductions would negatively impact the education of our kids and our community.

It should have never come to that. And now, thanks to the Superintendent and his Cabinet, a Board elected with the stated intent of restoring the trust of the community has an even higher hurdle to overcome.

If the Superintendent and his staff really cared about our kids, understood our community and recognized the life-changing value of district programs, they never would have recommended several of the reductions. Their impact analysis was superficial and misleading. They never should have even recommended cuts to student-facing programs for Phases 1 and 2, the most likely to be cut. They should have known about the district’s 4-month notification policy for closing schools. They should have recognized the life-changing and life-saving impact of the District’s only High School GT program run by a Colorado Teacher of the Year finalist. They should have known about the Peck Alumni club and the value of local schools and their programs to the community. They should have recognized the value of the Social Emotional Learning Specialists. They should have known that $400,000 in Title I money would be lost. But, they didn’t.

To the Superintendent and his Cabinet, these programs and schools were just budget lines.

They should have looked harder for alternatives. My daughter, a junior in the HS GT program recommended for elimination, presented alternatives at the meeting that should have been investigated in greater detail:

  1. Cutting additional Achievement Directors. Reduce these highly paid non-student facing positions from 14 to fewer than the 12 in the reduction recommendation.
  2. Use some of the $17.5M in the schools Materials and Supplies contingency that is hidden in the budget. This contingency actually grew by more than $7.5M from 2015-2016. The recommended $600,000 Superintendent’s reduction pales in comparison to the total contingency.
  3. Reduce the amount of savings the Board is looking for. Only one year after renegotiating a new teachers’ contract, do we really need $25M in compensation investment – double the amount requested in the failed bond issue last November?
  4. Determine if some of the $24M in 2015-2016 budget surplus is sustainable and can be used to fund the student-facing programs recommended for elimination.

In addition, last year the district built reserves by $12M to what the CFO has categorized as a safe level. Can’t some of that money be used for programs and compensation in 2017-2018?

The Board could restore some lost community trust by having the Superintendent fire the members of his cabinet who made recommendations that would have had such devastating effects. Then the Board should immediately fire the Superintendent. It would be better for this community to have no leadership than leadership that clearly considers successful programs and schools to be merely budget lines, and isn’t creative enough to find less impactful alternatives.

Jeffco School District staff recommends cutting successful programs for kids at both ends of academic spectrum

On January 26, 2017 the Superintendent’s Cabinet, among other things, recommended:

  • Eliminating all (30) social and emotional learning specialists and a coordinator.
  • Eliminating all (20) literacy interventionists.
  • Eliminating four of 16 resource teachers who help support teachers of students determined to be gifted and talented.
  • Cut the 2 GT teachers who run the District’s only HS GT program at Wheat Ridge.

Let’s hope that the Board was as surprised by these recommendations as I was.

By all indications, these programs are successful and working to help our kids. Schools nationwide are investing in social emotional work, which helps students develop skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts and make responsible decisions. District research shows that the literacy interventionists are “closing the gap for our most highly impacted populations.” The targeted cut of the 2 GT teachers includes a 2017 Colorado Teacher of the Year Finalist.

All of these successful programs were designed to help students on the margins. It makes me wonder what message the Superintendent and his Cabinet is sending to teachers, students and the community with these recommendations?

The Board has an opportunity to show the community that it really does care about kids and their education by rejecting these recommendations and finding other ways to fund their desired compensation investment of $25M.

If the Board accepts these recommendations, we will be left questioning their priorities and reasoning, and an at-risk population will be deprived of vital resources. While I agree that compensation issues need to be addressed, the district and the teachers union just signed a 5-year agreement a year ago. A reasonable person needs to ask if there really remains an additional $25M need for increased salary, or if this is payback for the union’s support during the election?

The School Board needs to remember its responsibility to put the kids first!