Is Equal Funding for Public Charters on the Chopping Block?

 

shutterstock_419843518The current Jeffco “Slate of 5” school board is sending out some unfriendly vibes when it comes to fairly funding all Jeffco students.  What that means is the school board seems to be targeting the Mill Levy override funds all schools currently receive. On this week’s agenda is a discussion of removing language from policy which requires students in district run, option and charter schools to be funded fairly. Some people have said this board would never fund students differently based on the governance of the school. But this week’s agenda and past actions has many parents worried.

Last spring, the school board unanimously voted against supporting Senate Bill 188 which would have required school districts to distribute revenue it receives from ongoing local property tax mill levies equally, on a per-student basis, to all district schools, including option and charter schools.  The rationale of the “no” backing was that schools in Jeffco already receive a fair per student share of local Mill Levy dollars and the school board wanted to keep local control.  Keeping local control means that each local school board has the flexibility to take equal funding away from option, charter and district run schools anytime they want and it looks like in Jeffco the timing might be now.

The board has taken an additional action which leads one to believe equalized funding is on the chopping block.  All charter schools were sent a letter asking each school to forward their “reserve balances” and explanations for any large reserves, for example if a school was saving money for a playground or any building improvements.  For the record, Charter schools have to finance their own buildings and/or to renovate their current facilities from operating revenues so having money in reserves for building projects is not unusual.  Tax payers do not fund capital needs or improvements for charter schools, the burden is 100% on each individual charter school to raise needed funds for capital improvements unless the district board agrees to include charter needs in bond increases. Why would charter schools have been asked about their reserve balances if not to prepare for reducing funds?

These two actions along with the proposed changes to the EL-13, Charter Schools Application and Monitoring which suggest the board wants to remove language which says funding should be based on the number of students in charter and non-charter schools leads us to believe there is an effort to reduce funding for some Jeffco students. Will this be all charter students? Will it include students in option schools? Will this be a larger conversation about some students getting more funding based on their zip code? Who proposed the policy change?  Past proposed changes had board member initiating the changes name listed.  Where is the transparency?  These are all unanswered questions.

Here is what we do know. The current EL-13 policy language says,

the Superintendent shall not:

  1. Fail to ensure mill levy funding for charter schools and non-charter schools by pupil count to ensure equitable resources for all Jeffco students.

Which means that all Mill Levy override dollars are shared equally with charter schools, option schools and district run schools and distributed per student count.

Proposed change: would remove the words “by pupil count” so the new language would say, the Superintendent shall not

  1. Fail to ensure mill levy funding for charter schools and non-charter schools to ensure equitable resources for all Jeffco students.

Meaning the dollars are not divided out “per pupil” they just need to be divided equitably. Who then gets to decide what equitable funding means?  Flat out, it stops funding schools based on their student count and leaves totally to interpretation how the mill levy dollars are distributed. Again, does that mean students in one zip code get more money that students in other zip codes?

Per a recent article in Yourhub, over 35,000 students in Jeffco “choice into other schools”.  For example, there is the IB program at Lakewood High School, the Jeffco Open school has a unique curriculum, D’Evelyn is known for its rigorous academics, students choice into those programs because those are the programs that will meet the learning needs of those students.  Are those schools going to be penalized for offering unique, though in demand curriculum?

The big question is what is driving the conversation about a change in per pupil funding?  Does the board want to eliminate student based funding all together?  All they going to restrict the local community’s ability to determine the priorities for their students?  Are they going back to the one-size fits all, centrally run system that kept Jeffco achievement stagnant for a decade?  Or are they just trying to pick on charter school students?

From a budget standpoint, Jeffco has a $24 million surplus from last year, is projected to receive an additional $15 million in funding from the state and enrollment in Jeffco is down 400 students.  The school board should be looking out for all children in Jeffco regardless of their school choice.  Students choose programs that best fit their learning needs so why penalize schools by changing the per pupil funding model?

Taking away per pupil funding would be detrimental to Jeffco. It will further divide the community.  Instead the school board should be looking for ways to work together and should be embracing the unique offerings that district run, option and charter schools bring to the district.  All students in Jeffco are unique and in terms of funding, all students should be treated fairly.  All parents need to be keeping a closer eye on this school board.  There are too many unanswered questions and all students in Jeffco deserve per pupil funding regardless of their school choice.

 

A Big NO for Great Work Montessori Charter!

deniedThis past week, the Jeffco School Board denied the charter application for Great Work Montessori School.  This is a very sad day for the low income children this school wanted to serve.  All other areas of Jeffco have charter schools, why deny this area and those families access to quality education choices?

Superintendent Comments

We found it very odd that Superintendent Dan McMinimee said he and the cabinet could not support Great Work Montessori Charter application.  How could that be when their answer was not made public until the day of the decision?  More importantly, we take issue with his comment, “Evaluating the last 9 charter school openings, only 1 opened with students over their projections”.  Mr. McMinemee makes it sounds like Jeffco has been approving charter schools left and right.  To be clear, in the last 5 years, there have only been three charter schools opened in Jeffco.  The list of 9 charter schools he is referring to go back 20 years!  Is it reasonable to be using 20-year-old data?  There was a huge chunk of time (over a decade) where no charter school’s applications were approved in Jeffco.  To be relevant, Mr. McMinimee should have only looked at the most recent charter school openings – Addenbrooke, Golden View Classical Academy and Doral, which are all meeting student and budget projections.

Funding

The Jeffco school board denied Great Work Montessori’s application, stating that they weren’t confident the school could meet their budget projections and how they were funded.  Is the school board really going to criticize a school for receiving funds from the Walton Foundation? As a reminder, charter schools DO NOT receive any start-up money from the district and receive ZERO capital to rent and/or purchase a school building.  Charter schools do not receive money to turn a building into a school.  They work on a shoestring budget, source low cost items and/or donations (unlike the new school in Candelas area that is being built for $32 million, not including the interest costs.)

Years ago, some charter schools did have to turn to the district or other sources for loans to operate, and that was because charter school students were not treated equally when it came to funding.  When the former Jeffco board majority decided to treat all children fairly by equalizing funding for ALL public schools, those charter school loan requirements disappeared 100%.  Charter schools are PUBLIC schools and they should receive the same funding as district-run schools. But unlike the district-run schools, they only receive the funding once they open and students are enrolled. To be clear, charter schools receive ZERO on-going dollars for capital expenses, the only public “equitable” funds they receive is for operating expenses. As a reminder, Jeffco is projected to receive $15.5 million more in state funding next year.

Board Member Comments

Repeatedly, board members commented on fair funding for students. Students at Great Work Montessori would have received the same funding as all other Jeffco students.  What about fair school choice for all students in Jeffco?  Current Montessori schools in Jeffco have long wait lists, well into the hundreds.  And for many families, it is not feasible to get their children to a Montessori school that is far away.

Sustainability

One of the stated reasons by the school board for denial of the school application was sustainability.  Board member Brad Rupert mentioned that a school with only 270 students would not be sustainable.  But Mr. Rupert, what about the 24 schools listed below that will be reduced to extremely small schools if the 3A/3B bond passes?  Those school counts are at, near or below your defined “sustainable” number or projected to be below that number when 6th graders are moved to middle school.  Does that mean the 24 schools listed below will be closed because they do not or will not meet your criteria?  If this is your rationale for not approving Great Work Montessori, then how long will it be before you advocate closing the schools below?

 

ALLENDALE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

BELMAR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
BERGEN VALLEY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
BRADFORD INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL
CAMPBELL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
COLOROW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
DUTCH CREEK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
FOOTHILLS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
FREMONT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
GLENNON HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
GREEN GABLES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
KULLERSTRAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
MARSHDALE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
PARMALEE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
PECK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
PENNINGTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
PLEASANT VIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
RED ROCKS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
SLATER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
STOBER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
STOTT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
VIVIAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
WELCHESTER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
WILMORE DAVIS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

School Choice Denied

It was a very sad moment when the school board denied a charter school application that would have served our most needy and diverse group of children in Jeffco.  All children aspire to become something great when they grow up and so many parents want an environment where their children will thrive, learn and be happy.  The opponents of this charter school say this school was not driven by a grassroots effort.  Those people are wrong.  It was evident to most people in the boardroom that night that the families there with their young children were there because they supported this new Montessori school.  Those families have spent years planning for this school, preparing, having thoughtful conversations with community members and gathering community and local business support.  Those families were dreaming of a school to serve not only their own children, but the neighborhood children in an area desperate for school choice – only to have it squashed by the “clean slate” school board.  There is demand for charter schools in Jeffco, and if the board truly believed in building strong school communities and quality education for all, they would have voted YES instead of denying Great Work Montessori’s application.

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.