Jeffco Parents Still Paying Huge Fees 

shutterstock_67106932Remember when all that was required to send our children back to school was a few school supplies, a box of tissues and our children received the free public education they are supposed to get in Colorado?

That seems like a distant memory.

Jeffco significantly raised parent fees to help during the economic downturn and while staff and substitutes salaries have returned to pre-recession levels, fees have remained at the all-time highs set during the recession. In fact some fees have even increased. So I kept track this year of what it cost our family to send our children back to school and you won’t believe some of the amounts.

Transportation, Outdoor Labs and Athletic Fees Exceed $100.00 each:

The three highest individual fees are the transportation fees, which didn’t exist prior to 2011-12, the outdoor lab fees, and the athletic fees each of which are over $100. In fact, to ride the bus to our neighborhood schools cost us $150.00 per child. Now I am sure that doesn’t cover the cost of getting my children to school but my work schedule doesn’t allow me to drive them, so if they didn’t ride the bus, they couldn’t get to school. There went the first $150.00 per child, and the first $450.00 for our family of three students.

The next fee was for outdoor labs.  We got the news that we are in one of the schools in which parents have to pay $350.00 for our child to go to outdoor labs. This fee varies from $80.00 to $350.00 per child based on the poverty level of the school the child attends. That is right, the fee is not a sliding scale based on family income, no, the fee is based on the free and reduced rate of the school. This fee is significantly higher than was in 2012 when the fee per child was $199 to attend out door labs. How is that even possible when the Outdoor Labs Foundation raises funds to support the program? According to the secretary of state web site the foundation raised a million dollars last year, but they have a staff of four with an executive director that makes over $75,000.00.

Now to athletic fees; it will cost us $150.00 for our daughter to play sports this term. Yes, I know that is voluntary and maintaining fields are expensive but sports help keep her tied to school, so when she said she wanted to play we were forced to pay the fee. AND if she plays a sport in each term we will have to pay $150.00 for each sport she plays. So now we are $950.00 into our free public education and there will be another $300.00 as she plays sports the rest of the year, bringing the annual total to $1250.00.

Our free public education will cost us over $1200.00 just for transportation, outdoor labs, and sports.

School Fees and Supplies:

Each child also has school specific fees which for us totaled over $700.00. We paid technology fees and fees for specific classes, like the $35.00 fee for elementary math and the $20.00 fee for art supplies. These little fees added up quickly. And we haven’t hit the level of paying for AP classes which can cost up to $175.00, with the tests costing another $95.00 each. Nor are we faced with the $150.00 parking fee that is charged of high school students that park on school property. I can’t imagine being a parent of three high school athletes taking a number of AP or IB classes; that would break the bank.

So our free public education has run up expenses of nearly $2000.00 so far.

Next are the expenses we encountered fulfilling the “school supplies” list. Out shopping trips included stops at Target, Office Depot and Staples as we did our best to try to fulfill the “student supply list”. We spent a total of $274.00 and that doesn’t include what we pulled from the supplies we have left over from previous years. In addition to the expected folders, pencils, and paper, we were also requested to bring a ream of copy paper, a box of gallon zip lock bags and a large container of Clorox wipes.

Meals:

We also had to buy a couple of textbooks for high school and we know we will be hit with a PTO fee, requests for fundraiser support as well as other class fees next semester. In addition, we project our children will eat at school about 100 days this year; breakfast will cost $1.75 for elementary students and $2.00 for secondary students. Lunch costs $2.75 at the elementary level and $3.25 for secondary students, and yes that is every day. To eat breakfast and lunch just a little over half of the time, we will spend nearly $1500.00.

So far, our free public education expense total is over $3500.00. Now remember, salaries have returned to pre-recession levels. In fact staff compensation has increased over 12% just in the last three years but fees remain at an all-time high.

2016-17 School Fees  
Child 1 Child 2 Child 3 Total
Bus Fee $150.00 $150.00 $150.00 $450.00
Outdoor Labs $350.00 $350.00
Athletic fee $150.00 $150.00
$150.00   $150.00
$150.00 $150.00
School Fees $305.00 $224.00 $178.00 $707.00
Supply lists $126.00 $78.00 $70.00 $274.00
Meals – 100 days
  Breakfast $200.00 $175.00 $175.00 $550.00
  Lunch $325.00 $275.00 $275.00 $875.00
TOTAL $3,656.00

“Rookie Board” Not Following the Law:

It is also particularly disturbing that this new “rookie board” didn’t even discuss the fees, nor did they approve the fees as is required by state law (22-32-117).  In addition, state law says, “Whenever a board or public school publicizes any information concerning any fee authorized to be collected pursuant to this section, the board or school shall clearly state whether the fee is voluntary or mandatory and shall specify any activity from which the student shall be excluded if the fee is not paid.” I don’t know about many of you, but that information wasn’t front and center as we were paying fees. Nor was it clear which fees were mandatory and which were voluntary.

A little history:

Bus fees adopted at the May 5, 2011 school board meeting, started in the 2011/12 school year and were $100.00 for neighborhood students; fees were raised to $150.00 the following year, a 50% increase and the district raised $3.6 million in transportation fees in 2014-15.

Outdoor lab fees were increased from $199 per student to $300.00 per student for 2011-12.

The campus activity fund which tracks the fees paid for athletics and activities as well as fees and dues raised over $24,000,000.00 (yes that is 24 million dollars) in 2014-15.

Food service raised an additional $10,000,000.00 in 2014-15. Prices of meals went up twice in the last five years.

In 2011, lunch prices went up 50 cents and breakfast went up 25 cents. In 2014, elementary breakfast went from $1.50 to $1.75 and secondary breakfast went from $1.75 to $2.00. Lunches in elementary went from $2.25 to $2.50 and secondary went from $3.00 to $3.25. 

Parents Still Paying More:

The district is now raising millions from the fee increases that have burdened parents over the last five years. The new transportation fees, the increased activity and outdoor lab fees, as well as more expensive meals find parents digging deeper and deeper into their pockets for a free public education for our children. In addition, parents are picking up our part of the $39 million a year mill levy increase.

Staff compensation returned to the pre-recession levels as soon as the 2012 mill levy passed. And again compensation increases have averaged over 12% just over the last three years. We would hope that the fees parents pay would return to pre-recession levels, but so far such is not the case.

Parents are picking up more than our fair share for our children’s free public education. When will it end?

 

No Official Voting at Study Session but Plenty of (Wink-Wink, Nod-Nod) Opinion Votes

2015_09_13_backroom_dealsThe Jeffco school board is not supposed to vote at study sessions unless they have previously notified the community that there is a critical issue which will require a vote. What we saw at the Tuesday night’s board meeting certainly looked like voting to us.

The first “non-vote” vote came when Superintendent McMinimee asked the board to provide direction on whether the district should move 6th graders into middle school everywhere except Alameda, Jefferson, and D’Evelyn. Board President Ron Mitchell reminded the board they wouldn’t vote but they would each individually answer the question. Each board member proceeded to share why they supported K-5 elementary schools with the move of 6th graders to middle schools. The Superintendent took that as permission to proceed with the facility plan, moving 6th graders to middle schools. There was no conversation about how any of this will improve student achievement. Nor was there any recognition of how difficult it might be for those families who stay in a K-6 school to opt into a 7th grade at the middle school of their choice. Again, how these were not official votes is beyond us.

Alameda Area

The next non-vote came in whether to close Patterson and Kendrick Lakes and build a supersized school on the Kendrick Lakes’ property, or whether to do deferred maintenance at Patterson and build a replacement school on the Kendrick Lakes’ site. Each board member again weighed-in, preferring not to close both schools and build a super-sized school. Instead, they determined (again not with votes), that there should be a new 576 student school built on the Kendrick Lakes’ site and that Patterson would get deferred maintenance.

Arvada Area

In the Arvada area, new to the plan is moving all 6th graders in Arvada to middle school. That’s right, those parents west of Wadsworth who didn’t know they should be paying attention to this process because there were no changes suggested for their schools, should have been attentive. Since there was no input from those parents, the board did their non-voting vote and directed to move all 6th graders to middle school. There is one exception; Mr. Rupert suggested that Foster elementary keep 6th grade in support of the dual language program. The board also nodded to building an auxiliary gym and turf field at Arvada high school. Arvada K-8 will be getting 6 classrooms and Foster will get 4 new classrooms.

Arvada West

The non-voting vote for the Arvada West area was not to close Allendale and Campbell. Instead, the board did their non-voting vote to do major renovations at Campbell elementary and deferred maintenance at Allendale. They also directed a new school be built as a K-5 at Table Rock or Lyden Rock site as phase one of the bond. Drake will be getting 16 additional classrooms. No…there was no vote on going for a bond either (wink-wink, nod-nod).

Bear Creek

In the Bear Creek area the board directed staff to add the cost of replacing Green Gables elementary instead of doing deferred maintenance.

Chatfield

There was no conversation about boundary changes (sorry Stoney Creek families, no decisions for you yet.) The board directed artificial turf be put in at Chatfield High School.

Columbine

Columbine will also get an auxiliary gym and turf field. Ken Caryl will get 12 new classrooms to add 6th graders (no, there was no conversation about what the costs would be, but the non-vote approval happened anyway.)

Conifer

The high school, middle school and Elk Creek elementary will all get turf fields. Marshdale will be torn down and rebuilt.

Dakota Ridge

The high school will get a turf field and 12 classrooms will be built at Summit Ridge middle school. Four classrooms will be added to Powderhorn. Again, there were no boundary change discussions.

Evergreen

A new item was added to the facility plan in the Evergreen area. You might remember recall leader Wendy McCord was at the Conifer facility meeting and was very upset that the elementary school her children attend was not getting any upgrades. This new plan now has a four classroom addition at Parmalee. Can anyone say “thank you payback”? And as in the original plan, Wilmot phase two was approved as was Evergreen Middle School updates despite a single digit FCI.

Golden

Bell Middle school will get four new classrooms to support the move of 6th graders. Pleasant View will stay open!

Green Mountain

Dunstan will get 8 new classrooms. Green Mountain High school will get needed updates.

Jefferson

Lumberg, and Molholm will all get 8 additional classrooms, with Edgewater getting a new preschool wing and an architect is developing a plan for the high school.

Lakewood

The board decided not to close Glennon Heights and will consider a boundary change to have more kids home schooled to Glennon Heights. 8 new classrooms will be added to Creighton Middle School, and Eiber will get 6 new classrooms.

Pomona

The high school will get a new gym, weight room and turf field. Parr and Little will stay open and a new larger school will built on the Parr site.

Ralston Valley

The high school will get 10 new classrooms, bringing its capacity to over 2000 students. Oberon gets 8 new classrooms, and the brand new Candelas school will also get 8 additional classrooms.

Standley Lake

The high school gets a new gym and turf field.

Wheat Ridge

The high school and middle school get an upgrade. Kullerstrand and Prospect Valley stay open, and a new 576 building will be built on the Prospect Valley site. Stober and Vivian also stay open with major renovations to be done at Stober, and deferred maintenance happening at Vivian. The board will also get a price for building a 576 student school on the Stober site. Maple Grove will get four new classrooms.

Option Schools

Manning will get four new classrooms to be able to take 6th graders. The Long View decision was deferred to the fall and board president Ron Mitchell suggested maybe Long View and Brady could be consolidated.

Other thoughts

There was lots of conversation throughout the evening about helping schools that have high choice out populations get those students back. There was no recognition that in an environment of declining enrollment, if those students moved back to their neighborhood school, there would be other schools that are significantly under enrolled.

In each conversation where a title one school was on the chopping block to be closed, the board said over and over that they had not heard from the community. We wonder what more the board should have done to get the word out in the most at risk communities?

In addition, there was no conversation about how many buildings could have gotten investments if the board had allocated the $420 million across all schools. With $520 million dollars in facilities deficiencies, the money could have been allocated to upgrade nearly all of the buildings in the district instead of adding capacity with a declining enrollment.

Again, the board’s non-votes gave staff direction. On Thursday evening June 16th, the board will be voting and WILL BE TAKING PUBLIC COMMENT. So if you’d like to give the board your opinion sign up to speak.

New Board’s Dirty Politics: Secret Meetings and Secret Votes

tsJeffco board president Ron Mitchell suggested the school board use secret ballots to select the members of the board advisory committees. His suggestion for how the board should make these critical appointments is in line with the new board’s decision to eliminate public comment from study sessions at which votes will take place, the secret meetings that board members are having regarding facilities, and their decision to acquire debt without asking taxpayers.

Mr. Mitchell was attempting to avoid having public conversations about which of the 26 applicants to select for the board advisory committee. The board advisory committee is designed to provide parent and community input into both improving student achievement and budget allocations. The board needed to appoint a handful of new members to the committee and board members were discussing the process they would use. Each applicant had to fill out an application and answer a series of questions including “Why are you applying?” and “What skills and background do you have?” The answers to those questions were available to the board and to the community and yet Mr. Mitchell wanted a secret vote instead.

Mr. Rupert wisely checked with the attorney for the school district, who told the board they should vote in public. Mr. Mitchell then said he would like to hold a lottery to make the selection of who would fill the slots on the accountability committee, and that he would not do that at the board table. How in the world does Mr. Mitchell think this new clean slate board is honoring their commitment to the community to be transparent?

The board eventually followed the advice of legal counsel and had a discussion about which of the 26 applicants they wanted to fill the handful of slots available on the accountability committee. The choices quickly devolved into a popularity contest. Great candidates like former Senator Evie Hudak, who helped craft the state accountability law and has trained parents and community members around the state, were passed over for those folks who led the recall effort. Placed on the committee were Margaret Lessenger, who was a prolific publisher of recall dribble, and Al Rodriguez, who initially announced he was going to run for the school board in 2013 and then dropped out just as he resigned from the diversity committee.

The board followed their trend of rewarding friends who led the recall effort by appointing Shawna Fritzler to the teacher performance evaluation committee, otherwise known as the 1338 committee. Ms. Fritzler runs the 501c4 advocacy non-profit called Support Jeffco Kids, which helped lead the recall effort and hosted the secret meetings at which it was determined who would run for the recall seats. In fact, her organization was accused of campaign violations after the recall election, and the group was forced to defend its actions in court. Ms. Fritzler’s organization has also been outspoken in their opposition to equal and fair funding for all Jeffco students. Her answer to the public application question on what skills she brings to the performance evaluation committee was “I negotiated CBAs with a number of trades and I work with teachers all the time.” There was nothing in her application which indicated she had any experience with performance evaluations, yet she was selected over several applicants with much more relevant experience. It seems her appointment was payback for her helping both recall former board members and get these “clean slate” board members elected.

The end of the meeting also brought to light that school board members have been having secret meetings in the community to get feedback on the facility plan. Who were they meeting with? How many board members have attended these meetings? What feedback and promises are they making at these meetings? We won’t know because these meetings have not been posted. The board even went out of their way at the end of the meeting to make sure they could have a secret meeting on the morning of Thursday June 17th in Arvada. Who are they meeting with? What are they discussing? Again, there is nothing posted on the online board docs so we don’t know. So if you happen to be in Arvada the morning of June 17th and see Jeffco school board members attending a meeting, please let us know and let’s tell the new board we are tired of their lack of transparency!

 

 

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.