Charter School Parent Responds to Journalist

charterThis article from a charter school parent ran in the Colorado Independent.

“The Colorado Independent’s website says their mission is to “produce the most important, most informative, most intelligent, most provocative, most entertaining and fairest journalism in Colorado.”

Marianne Goodland’s article “How charter schools are dodging Colorado laws” misses those goals by a mile.

The article is riddled with inaccuracies, and while it may be provocative, it does so at the expense of fair journalism. As a parent committed to seeing the local control of public education maintained in Colorado, I was disappointed to read her biased article.

The story perpetuates the myths that charter schools don’t follow federal, state and local laws and don’t serve all children. Goodland attacks the waivers given to charter schools but makes no mention of the waivers district-run schools can apply for. She attacks parents who govern and choose public charter schools, insinuating we are all uninformed. Goodland is sorely mistaken, and I would like to set the record straight.

First, her title suggests that charter schools are dodging Colorado laws, when those very laws allow charter schools to apply for and operate under waivers. District run schools can and often do apply for waivers, some state waivers and some waivers from district policies. Often those waivers give schools the ability to experiment with new learning strategies that schools without waivers can’t try.

What Goodland did not report is that charter schools must adhere to the same laws and regulations as all other public schools, and cannot waive-out of any laws covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee’s criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information and generally accepted accounting principles. The waivers charter schools get give them autonomy on issues surrounding staffing, curriculum, textbooks, facilities, governance and operations.

That means Colorado charter schools where parents choose the curriculum come the closest to fulfilling the Colorado constitution, which provides for local control of curriculum.

Colorado legislators, including Rep. Crisanta Duran, may wish the Colorado legislature could determine a statewide curriculum, as happens in Texas and most other states in the country — but not here in independent Colorado.

In fact, Article 9, section 2 of the Colorado constitution limits the legislature’s authority over public education to the “maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public school…” Section 15 of Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution states that local school boards “shall have control of instruction in public schools in their respective districts.”

The waivers grant more local authority to the parent run boards which govern charter schools. They in no way make that charter school any less accountable to the board which authorizes the school, or to the state.  Because charter school applications must be renewed and reviewed by local school boards, many believe charter schools are significantly more accountable than district run schools.

When was the last time any school board reviewed the curriculum choices for district run schools? Do parents of district run schools know 100 percent of their school’s curriculum and the internet resources brought into each classroom?

Goodland fails to mention all charter schools must give state assessments, meet state and federal laws and undergo financial audits. The school leaders are held accountable by the parents and school boards.

Charter schools are also subject to the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) and must meet accreditation standards set by the State Board of Education.

Goodland says charters can “get out of laws regarding equal opportunity in hiring, equal education opportunity, and who can visit the school.” This is untrue. Every employer must comply with these laws.

Charter schools also cannot waive out of providing “equal education opportunities” for students.  Goodland insinuates charter schools don’t serve students with special needs.

According to the Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3), charter schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of need for special education services. As a public school, a charter school must comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) rules and any state special education laws. And according to Colorado State Board Rule, 1 CCR 301-88, Sections 2.02(D) & (E) which prohibits discrimination based on academic ability, students whose academic needs can be met by a charter school must be accepted.

Goodland assails charter schools for obtaining waivers from having to hire “certified teachers.” She quotes Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman as saying, “Parents should be aware of the astounding number of teachers in charter school classrooms today who do not hold the basic state certification to teach. Waiving schools from this statute isn’t good for kids.”

Dallman fails to mention that there is no statewide certification for Montessori teachers and would lead you to believe that a rocket scientist teaching physics is a bad thing. She fails to mention the hundreds of district-run schools where certified teachers aren’t meeting the bare minimum statewide academic standards. In fact, all charter school teachers must be highly-qualified and have a bachelor’s degree. Many have graduate degrees, and at GVCA, which Goodland takes delight in assailing, most of the teachers are content-area experts.

Goodland takes a shot at Compass Montessori in Golden, stating that the school has a district low of 27 percent certified teachers, but she conveniently fails to include those teachers who have a Montessori certification.

The flexibility that public charter schools have to make personnel decisions allows them to draw from a wider candidate pool—including content area experts who may not have followed a traditional teacher certification path. It also allows charter schools to recognize and reward highly effective teachers, which many district-run schools cannot do because their collective bargaining agreements provide the same compensation for partially effective and highly effective teachers, and base compensation solely on education and experience.

Goodland takes particular umbrage with GVCA’s curriculum waivers from the state statute of how to teach the sex-ed curriculum. Her source is a reference from before our charter was approved. If Goodland had honoredThe Independent’s mission to provide unbiased journalism, she might have mentioned that the GVCA’s handbook states, “We will teach the Core Knowledge Sequence in the fifth grade, which includes a discussion on the reproductive organs and reproduction,” and “…as mandated by the state, sex education must be taught in the high school in the context of human health. Just as in the elementary school, sex education will be taught in a gender-separated environment.”

Finally Goodland assails charter schools ability to educate students. Again, she quotes the Colorado teacher’s union president, Dallman in saying, “In fact, there’s not any research that waiving out of any of these laws improves student achievement.”

Goodland again misses the mark of providing good unbiased journalism. There is research that shows that charter schools, which are governed by local parents and YES operate with waivers, get waivers, do improve student achievement.

Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their peers in district run schools. Goodland does not mention in her article that Liberty Common School, a classical charter school in Ft Collins, recently set the all-time ACT record in Colorado, and does not have a single “licensed” teacher. Nor does she mention the great work of hundreds of charter schools around the state.

From New America which serves new immigrants, English Language Learners and academically underserved; to Denver School of Science and Technology; to Montessori schools and those which offer a classical education, Colorado charter schools provide parents and students opportunities not available in district run schools.

The public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs which meet the needs of their students. They provide parents an alternative to the curriculum which should be chosen by local school boards but is often directed from Denver or other centralized groups. They provide the ultimate in local control, granting governance to the parents at the school, and yes, in fact many, many Colorado charter schools provide great academic alternatives to district run schools.

We should all be grateful for the lawmakers and State Board of Education members who have set up a system which gives students, parents and teachers choices.”

Floyd Borakove 

Golden View Classical Academy parent


Community Angry Over Proposed School Changes

Community meetingThe last two community meetings of the school year (there will be 8 more held in June after school lets out), were held at Conifer and Green Mountain High Schools last week and the contrasts could not have been larger. Conifer is home to one of the recall leaders, Wendy McCord, and the $800 million facility plan calls for a brand new school in the area.  No schools will close in Conifer and no boundaries will change. This made some people question if building a new school is pay back for the mountain folks who helped usher-in the new board? There were few people in attendance at the Conifer meeting and little opposition to the facility plan.

In contrast, the meeting at Green Mountain High School attracted over 100 people who came to express their anger and dismay that one of their neighborhood school’s will close. There was confusion about how the changes to K-5 for some areas and not others would affect their students and families abilities to make good choice for their students. There were many questions raised, much frustration expressed and people left feeling angry that there are specific timelines or priorities to projects.  Yet the board is poised to make the facility-change decisions in mid-June.

Conifer High School Community Meeting

At the Conifer meeting, Wendy McCord, one of the recall leaders, wanted to know why principals input was not solicited prior to building the plan. She believed the decline in enrollment shown for Parmalee was not accurate and she wanted the board members in attendance to know she wanted money added to the plan for her kids schools because there would be growth in enrollment.

Some in attendance suggested that because there is no recreation district in the mountains, the school district should build a track and more recreation amenities. Someone pointed out that many of the things in the plan for this area will be adding athletic resources.

The biggest point of contention was the perceived waste of money in the proposal to build a new school on the Marshdale site. With the new school having a planned capacity of 400 students, parents wondered if boundary changes would occur as there are only 288 students at Marshdale. With no new development planned in the area, people wondered where the additional students were coming from or if the building would always be 30% empty? Someone suggested building a new school was the token the mountains needed in order to vote for the bond. Many were disappointed there was no conversation about making Conifer high school a 7 -12, and moving 6th graders back to elementary schools, which would truly provide optimum facility utilization. Conifer High school is only at 61% capacity and West Jefferson Middle School is at 74% capacity and that is with 6th graders.

Green Mountain High School Community Meeting

The first concerns expressed were how the proposed new supersized elementary schools would provide for better education for students, especially when the combined Patterson and Kendrick Lakes is likely to be an over 800 student Title One school. The staff said they didn’t think any of the new supersized schools would be 700  or 800 students, but the combined enrollment of Patterson and Kendrick Lakes is 843 and that doesn’t include the 113 preschool students. This area is not planning to change to a K-6, so the likelihood of a nearly 1000 student building on the Kendrick Lake site is very real.

A Kendrick Lakes mom worried that the new school, which would house both Patterson and Kendrick Lakes students, would be the district’s largest Title One school. That means that more than seventy percent of the students would come from families that qualify for free and reduced lunch. She pointed out that the district does not have a great track record in providing student achievement success in our current Title One schools and wondered how the district planned to assure parents that student achievement would be good in the new super-sized school.

Another mom pointed out that Kendrick Lakes (which is part of the Alameda area)  is home to a Gifted and Talented (GT) center program for K-6.  Because the new super-sized elementary school will have 6th graders and the GT middle school will also have 6th graders, she wondered if the GT students from the new super-sized school would be expected to leave a year before their peers to go to middle school in 6th grade, or if they were to stay at the super-sized school and join the middle school in 7th grade. She suggested this dilemma is just one which will be caused by some district middle schools offering 6th grade while others do not.

Parents asked how they would get the details of the timelines and priorities so they could figure out what their potential choices would be, but as in previous meetings, staff continues to say there is no detailed plan and the effects on academic programs has yet to be evaluated. They continue to say this is just a facility plan which leaves parents very frustrated as they don’t send their children to school because of the walls.

Kendrick Lakes’ parents also expressed frustration that they had specifically met with district staff last year to ask for Kendrick Lakes to be taken out of the Alameda area. They mentioned that it seemed as if none of that input was considered as this plan was put together. Many other parents wondered if Kendrick Lakes is scheduled to get the new school because it is home to one of the school board member’s children.

The most anger of the evening came from the community reacting to the proposal to close Glennon Heights and split those students between Eiber and Belmar elementary schools, both much larger schools. Parents pointed out that the school has incredibly deep roots in the community. A Glennon Heights staff member talked about the heart of the school, saying the heart issues seem not to be covered in the facility plan. She described the growth the school is experiencing and the desire many new parents have to find small schools with close knit communities. She said families are specifically moving to neighborhoods with small community schools. She also spoke about the many investments, amounting to millions of dollars, that have been made in the building over the last couple of years. She mentioned the building has had new wiring, heating and air conditioning, and a new ventilation system. The school also has a new playground, parking lot and sidewalks, and they will be getting all new windows this summer. She asked, how is closing this school a wise investment?

The Glennon Heights staff member specifically told the school board members in the room that the proposal to close Glennon Heights makes them feel not valued, and asked how dividing the community will serve a financial benefit to Jefferson County students as a whole. She closed her comments with “…neighborhood schools are far more than brick and mortar – they are the heart of our communities, they are the second home to our children, they are the growing place for friendships and the launching pad for the dreams of our young learners and no amount of money saved could ever equal the value of our small neighborhood school.”  Glennon Heights students also attended to show support for keeping their schools open and brought with them a large petition signed by nearly every student as the school, requesting that Glennon Heights remain open.

Parents also asked why the district is not changing boundaries in the Green Mountain area today when Rooney Ranch is at 103% capacity while Hutchinson is only at 71% capacity.

A student rose to ask why Long View was proposed to be closed and the program moved to McLain. He said the small community feel of Long View would be lost and it is the only small high school in the county.

The award for the smart question of the evening goes to the parent who asked where the funding would be coming from to staff two new schools proposed to be built despite overall declining enrollment in the district. Certainly the number of teachers needed wouldn’t need to increase but there would be additional administrators and support staff. These parents pointed out there is no total savings proposed from all of these new facility plans and yet staff keeps talking about finding more money to put into teacher compensation.

Finally there was proof that the facilities department does have some priority set for the projects that have been proposed. Mr. Reed showed his hand when he answered that the plan to update the Green Mountain High School athletic fields would be part of phase one as would many of the upgrades to athletic fields across the district. We wonder what the priorities and timing are for the rest of the projects and why these are not transparent.

There was so much frustration in the room as staff tried to close down the meeting, that board member Brad Rupert took the microphone and told the community that  the board is hearing the desire to keep small schools, but the willingness of taxpayers to open their wallets and pay for small schools didn’t match the words. How can that possibility be the perspective of this board? Do they not remember that this community just passed a $39 million on-going tax increase?

Next year will be the 5th year in a row spending in this district has increased. Where does Mr. Rupert think that money comes from?  Mr. Rupert didn’t mention that the district has picked up all of the retirement cost increases for staff for the last six years, and that taxpayers are now making over 19% contributions to the retirement system for Jeffco’s staff. Mr. Rupert also did not mention that he and his fellow board members approved new debt and those dollars need to come out of money that would otherwise be in the classrooms. He didn’t mention that the $420 million dollars they want for the first round of these building projects will cost taxpayers $795 million. Nor did he share that because of the way the payments will be spread out (think 0% interest deals which never work out for the borrowers), we the taxpayers will pay $225 million dollars more in interest. Now those are dollars that should be in the classrooms.

It is incredibly disappointing not to hear these new board members ask what could be done with $420 million if grades weren’t moved, schools weren’t closed, and super-sized building weren’t built. How many more elementary schools could get upgrades if there was simply a sane proposal made about updating schools? But if that happened, Mr. Bell’s plan to keep our taxes where they are would not be able to go forward, and all of his good friends in the bond industry wouldn’t get their fat pay checks.

Under New Contract, Teachers Rated Effective May Get Higher Raises Than Those Rated Highly-Effective

widgetsUnion negotiations with the district are wrapping up. Although more meetings were scheduled, the teams agreed this past Monday was their last meeting, unless the union team doesn’t like the final touches in the proposed contract the district will send today. As you know from our prior summaries, the teams have already worked out many of the topics the union wanted to change, including regaining time off for union work, collaborative decision making processes and leave time.

You might remember the new board cut in half the number of nurse hours that staff had recommended in order to make sure there is adequate nurse coverage in our schools and instead increased the dollars going to compensation. They also ignored the recommendations from hundreds of school accountability committees to increase funds available in the classrooms and instead allocated those dollars to compensation increases. As a result the union and the district have been deciding how to allocate $9.5 million in one-time funds and $16 million in on-going funds (read our story).

The last couple of weeks have been spent determining how the union wanted to allocate both the ongoing and one time funds the board set aside for compensation increases. As expected, the union got what they wanted, the biggest of which was returning to treating teachers like widgets. In fact, the result of the negotiations is that teachers who were rated highly effective are going to get smaller raises than those who were rated effective.

The tentative agreement the teams have reached (it will need to be approved by both the board and the union membership)  puts all educators salaries back  on a grid of steps and lanes (see finalized schedule below). In order to meet the union demands, this means that every single teacher will be placed into a “salary-cell” based on years of experience and education. The formula that places teachers into a grid will look at the teacher’s current salary and education level and then place them in the salary cell above what they are currently making. This is an attempt to make sure everyone gets at least a little raise and it will give educators who were rated effective larger raises than those who were rated highly effective.

If a teacher has been in the district for less than 6 years, then that teacher will also move up one step level, which gives an additional increase in on-going compensation to those teachers in Jeffco who have been here the shortest periods of time. Those raises range anywhere from 2% to just under 10%.  We have heard from many upset teachers who received a highly-effective rating in the last two years, who will now see teachers rated effective getting far greater raises, in order to even-up the playing field.

The union team made certain to point out during the negotiating meetings that teachers who were at a lower starting salary coming into the grid placement due to their “effective” only rating, will now catch-up with teachers who have a higher salary that resulted from a “highly-effective” rating in the last two years (listen to the audio clip.)

The increase percentages of raises varied widely and have nothing at all to do with performance.  The union made it very clear that they wanted NO differentiation in raises based on performance, to the extent that any sentence in the contract that had the word “performance” in it was removed.

The cost of a lock-step compensation model and to place everyone back on a grid is $3.65 million, and to give a one-step increase to those that have been in the district less than 6 years is an additional $4 million.  Teachers who have been in the district longer than 6 years will be placed into the next highest salary cell based on their education level and current salary now. Those teachers will then receive a one-time stipend that will get them to a total of 3 % – 4% increase. Again (with years of service and education being equal), this catches up any teachers who received effective ratings to the same salary level as those who received highly-effective ratings in the past two years.

New Salary Schedule

(click image above to view larger)

Highly-effective teachers are expressing disappointment over being treated worse than widgets by the union, which is supposed to represent their interests, and although some teachers are blaming the problem on the W-N-W board, others are quick to point out it was under the leadership of Kerrie Dallman and Cindy Stevenson that the district stopped paying for levels of education. In fact, it was the W-N-W board that reinstated the practice of considering a teacher’s level of education when considering salaries. (Check back here for our next article on how the union wants the district to catch up teachers who have gotten more education but not yet reported the additional hours.)

The W-N-W practice of offering higher compensation to teachers in hard to place positions also stays in the proposed new grid formula, with teachers in hard to place spots getting pay as if they had up to three additional years of experience. It is unclear what will happen to that teacher’s salary if he or she moves out of a hard to place position and into a regular teaching position. The district had proposed language in the contract to address this, but the union quickly wanted it removed.  Will a teacher close to retirement move into a hard to fill position just to pad their retirements, even if they are not the most qualified for those positions?

In addition, the union rejected the district’s request to give up to nine years of experience to teachers wanting to come to Jeffco, settling instead on only giving six years of experience. This will make it hard for great teachers who either left Jeffco or who have spent their career in another district to come to Jeffco as they will only get credit for up to six years of experience.

Parents, what do you think of the union not wanting to reward those teachers that go above and beyond for your kids? Knowing that their pay raises will not be tied to anything other than continuing their education and years of experience, what will happen to those high effective teachers who liked being financially recognized for their hard work? Will they go to Denver or Douglas County where great teachers get great financial rewards?