Who was Glass’s Arts Academy for: Kids or his Reputation?

Why did Jason Glass just try to shove an arts school down our throats, out of the blue? Was it because Jefferson County needs an arts school? No! It was because DeliverEd said Jason Glass needed a “quick win” to demonstrate that the District could implement his vision.

The reality is, the arts school was a poorly conceived idea that clearly demonstrated Glass’s lack of experience, the hypocrisy of his “listening” and “communication,” and his complete disregard for the financial implications and reality of starting an arts school. The uproar it provoked is evidence that Glass hadn’t bothered to even find out if there’s a need.

My oldest child graduated from Denver School of the Arts (DSA), so I understand the basic concept of an arts school. After what I heard at the School Board meeting on Nov. 14, it’s clear I have more of an understanding of what it takes to create an Arts school than do Glass and District staff.

There were so many things wrong with this proposal that I don’t even know where to start.

I guess I’ll start with what people describe as Glass’s strength – communication. Did he even discuss the concept of an arts academy with anyone? I’ve heard there was a meeting on October 26th (a night when he probably knew people would be distracted by a BOE candidate forum). No one I know knew anything about this meeting in advance, or has heard anything about what happened.

Based on the surprised reaction to the subsequent “grapevine” news that an arts academy would be discussed at the upcoming Board meeting, I’d say that Glass certainly didn’t live up to his reputation as a communicator. Teachers were caught completely by surprise and universally opposed the idea, even Glass’s usual parent supporters and Support Jeffco Kids. Glass wants people to believe he listens and communicates, but actions speak louder than words. He listens to and interacts with people who support him, but when HE wants to do something, does he really listen and want input? Not in this case.

Let me address some of the financial aspects of the proposed Arts School:

  • Renovation Cost. District staff estimate that it will cost around $500K to make the vacant Sobesky building usable for an Arts school, including new doors, a dance floor, a new roof and a raised ceiling. I think anyone who knows Sobesky was shocked at hearing this, since we were told the reason special education services was moved out of the building several years ago was that it was uninhabitable. And then the complete shocker was that the building’s FCI was 28 — better than the 31 FCI at Wheat Ridge. More troubling, though, is that less than 8 months after what the Board described as a “budget crisis,” where is $500k coming from to upgrade? Or did the budget crisis miraculously go away when Jason Glass needed to make himself look effective?
  • Operating Cost. The District just closed aging Pleasant View Elementary to save $600k yearly in operating costs. Won’t the annual operating costs of Sobesky, another old building, be similar? Where is this additional $600k magically going to come from? What will have to be cut to pay for these costs? Or, if Glass did miraculously find this money, what better uses could it go to? Many teachers have suggested it be channeled into supporting arts programs at neighborhood schools. But the District response would probably be that that has to be done with SBB.
  • Speaking of SBB, were the SBB implications of the Arts school clearly considered? It seemed clear from the Board discussion that the Arts Academy was an attempt to prevent Denver from getting state funding for the 90 Jeffco students who go to DSA. Is the District so naive as to think that just because Jeffco starts an arts academy, kids won’t continue to go to DSA? Let’s be serious. Kids, and parents, know quality programs. DSA has a sterling reputation and is one of the top-ranked high schools in the state. It also has programs that Glass didn’t include in his proposal, such as creative writing and music.

The fact of the matter is that while a Jeffco Arts Academy may retain some kids, DSA will still get Jeffco kids, especially in the start-up years – so the true losers will be other neighborhood Jeffco schools. And the loss will be more significant than the misleading 1-2 students per school that a Cabinet member told the Board. Maybe the Cabinet is making the assumption that NO Jeffco kids will go to DSA. But it doesn’t take a math genius to work that out. Even in the first year of the Academy, schools will lose more than the 1-2 students projected. Considering that middle schools would lose 150 kids (grades 6-8) to the Academy and there are 20 middle schools, that works out to 6.5 kids, on average, per middle school. It is reasonable to expect that schools closer to the Academy would lose more while schools farther away would lose fewer. The numbers are even more pronounced for high schools, once the Academy is operating as a 6-12 school. In this case, the Arts Academy would draw 200 students from 17 high schools, an average of 12 per school, but once again more pronounced at closer schools. Wheat Ridge, Lakewood, Jefferson, Golden and Alameda could expect the loss of 15-20 students each. That’s the equivalent of $100,000 SBB dollars, or more than one teacher, per school. Were these consequences fully thought out?

And what about staffing? If my memory serves me correctly, DSA holds auditions in November or early December. If the Arts School is approved by the Board for an August 2018 opening, how would there be enough lead-up time to staff up, where would teachers be hired from, where would auditions be held, and who would hold them? Would the school’s teachers be hired away from our neighborhood schools, putting dents in the continuity of already existing Jeffco programs? And before starting a new school, wouldn’t teachers need time to develop the curriculum?

Finally, the budgeted eight teachers is not adequate to teach 200 students core subjects plus their specialty areas – unless you plan to have dance teachers teaching areas they’re not trained in such as math.

Once again, Glass’ concept may look good from a high level, but once you dive into the details, it is poorly conceived.

The Board was right to put the brakes on something that was moving way too fast, based on a 3-year-old survey that found that one of the things people were looking for in the District was an arts school.

It’s funny. The day before the Board meeting, DeliverEd recommended that the District find a “quick win” to help sell Glass’s “Vision.” Was the Arts Academy recommendation the “quick win” Glass was looking for?

This recommendation was certainly “quick,” but it was not going to be a win for anyone. Fortunately, the Board saved us, at least temporarily, from a potentially costly decision that would have affected the District’s finances, neighborhood schools and kids who opted to attend such a dubious “start-up.” This recommendation seems to have been aimed more at advancing of Glass’s stature than serving the District or our kids.

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