Jeffco Targets Poor Neighborhood Schools for Closure

shutterstock_215271085On February 9th, the Jeffco School board will be voting on closing five elementary schools and one option school. It appears as if this board might be targeting some of our most at risk families. Three of the five elementary schools are Title One schools and four of the five schools have over 54% of children on Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL) meaning they serve low income students. These schools also serve a high percentage of minority students. Why are Jeffco’s most vulnerable children being targeted? Reading the article in Chalkbeat regarding school closings, they clearly point out this unfair targeting, a fact most other news outlets ignored. The message clearly communicated during the January 26th school board meeting was that, “those schools have a high percentage of transient families”. Does that mean they deserve less respect than other communities? What a sad and disgusting message to be sending to our community. Regardless of the reasons families have to move, one stable factor that benefits many students is their neighborhood school. So why is this board closing schools in low-income areas? Do they think these parents are less prepared or able to object?

Does the board not realize that when they close a Title One school (Pennington, Swanson and Pleasant View), these students are now forced into schools which are farther from their homes and aren’t Title One schools?  Each of these students also loses nearly $1000 to support their education. Has the board given any consideration to the hardships they will add to these families’ lives? Have they considered what the new boundaries would be for the twelve schools that these students will attend? How will they break up communities when one school sends students to three different schools?

Transportation

What about transportation? Many low income families don’t even have a car or only have one car to get their children to school and family members to work. A school within walking distance is vital to many low income families. Having to get their children to a school that is farther away is that much more challenging. Don’t these families have enough burdens and challenges without having school distance be another one?

Criteria for School Closings

Is the age of a school a good criteria for closing a school? According to the board’s logic, every house in my neighborhood should be demolished because they are all over 50 years old. Has the board considered how much has been invested in each of these schools over the last ten years? Perhaps if the Jeffco board wasn’t so busy working to raise our property taxes (and then penalizing us when we don’t vote for that tax-increase), they could be making decisions about maintaining schools. As homeowners, we have to budget for home improvements. We, the taxpayers, should expect the district to do the same. Instead, they are considering spending $25 million to add classrooms to middle schools, which put even more elementary schools at risk of closing.

Why does Jeffco ignore school performance as a criteria for closing schools? Stober Elementary, which is on the chopping block is a high performing school. Pleasant View and Peck are making huge strides in improving student achievement. Shouldn’t these facts be considered? What about Swanson and Pennington? Both schools serve autistic children and they are both slated to close. Where will those students go as none of the recommended schools have ASD centers? Honestly, what is the criteria for closing a school? Denver Public Schools has a thorough list of criteria for closing schools. This criteria was developed over time with a lot of community feedback because school closings impact an entire neighborhood. Three of the schools on the Jeffco list of closures have never been targeted before, so these communities have been completely caught off-guard. The board is saying they will make this decision on February 9th, which is not nearly enough time for these communities to understand why they are facing closures. Is that thoughtful? Where is the community engagement?

Poor Neighborhoods Used as a Criteria for School Closure

Apparently a school in a poor neighborhood is a criteria in Jeffco. Four out of the five schools proposed for closing have a high percentage of students who qualify for FRL, meaning their families are at or below the poverty level. In fact, the bulk of Jeffco’s smallest schools have a high percentage of FRL students and a higher than district average of minority students. But looking at enrollment data, why wasn’t Bradford Intermediate targeted? Bradford Intermediate is well below 300 students and is projected to lose even more over the next five years. It is also running at 64% utilization. There are two nearby middle schools (Deer Creek and Falcon Bluffs) with more than enough capacity to take the 6-8th grade students that are at Bradford Intermediate. Deer Creek Middle School is at 59% utilization and Falcon Bluffs is at 75% utilization. Worse, between Bradford Primary and Bradford Intermediate, there are two principals and one vice-principal. That is a lot of expensive administration. Only 4% of Bradford students qualify for FRL and its minority population is 9.7%. Is it not on the school closure list because it is in an affluent, non-minority neighborhood?

What about Colorow, Dutch Creek, Red Rocks or Coal Creek Canyon? These schools have low enrollment numbers, a lower percentage of minorities and a lower percentage of FRL students as outlined in the chart below.

Lastly, what about the new school, Three Rivers, in the Candelas area? That school has a planned build-out cost of $32 million dollars and was projected to open with an enrollment of 432 students. The new school board decided to change boundaries (again with minimal community discussions) and now enrollment is projected to be 275 students. Didn’t this same board use enrollment at 300 or less as a cut-off for potentially closing a school? Home prices in that area start at $400,000 and go up to fully custom homes. Candelas does not sound like a low income area. But this area will get a brand new $32 million school that is scheduled to open with an enrollment that is less than each of four of the five schools now on the chopping block in low income areas.

Why is the Board Targeting Low Income Schools?

Why target Title One schools, why target low income schools, why target high percentage minority population schools? It appears that Jeffco targeted neighborhoods that they hope will be the least resistance. The board knows if they target more affluent neighborhoods, they are more likely to hear it from the parents. Struggling families are more likely to have less time to be more engaged because they are juggling multiple jobs and other hardships. Is that why the board is fast tracking these decisions? The board has communicated that having enrollment of 300 students or less is a potential criteria to close a school, but it sounds as if it is the combination of enrollment of 300 or less, a high percentage of FRL and/or a high percentage of minority students may be the real criteria.

When previous boards have discussed closing schools, there was a year long process with packed community meetings. This board heard these proposals on January 26th and the decisions are queued-up to be voted on at the February 9th meeting. Hardly the transparency and level of community engagement we were promised when the clean slate was swept into office in 2015.

It is never easy having to discuss closing schools but these are the communities that need the stability of a neighborhood school. These are the schools and families that need bridges to success, not another mountain to climb. Our job as a community is to help those in need. It is time to tell the school board they need an equitable plan of action. It is time for the school board to develop a transparent process with clear criteria for closing schools.

Schools Under or Near 300 Students (click on image to view larger)

Schools Under 300

 

 

Is Jeffco’s Clean Slate Board Breaking Policy Again?

In spring 2016, thousands of families discovered the new Jeffco school board was considering closing their neighborhood schools.  This was not only a shock, but it came out of left field as there had been no community engagement in the development of the facilities plan.  In comparion to 2009, Jeffco spent thousands of hours engaging the community when the district presented its major facility plan to the community.  In spring of 2006, two thirds of the community engagement meetings were scheduled after summer break started and most communities found it hard to get the word out because so many families were on vacation.  Less than 500 people attended meetings regarding the new facility plan and around 1500 responded to the online survey.  Not great numbers considering there are 86,000 students in Jeffco.  When the community questioned the “Clean Slate’s” commitment to transparency, community engagement and accountability the board changed the plan and promised to become more transparent.

Trust in Broken Again

Just before Christmas break the “Clean Slate” board broke  community trust again, announcing that they would place a Superintendent search on their January 12th agenda. Again, the day before a long holiday the board announced they would be acting on changing the district leadership.  No matter what your opinion is about the performance of Superintendent Dan McMinimee we all clearly see this action breaks promises of transparency, accountability and community engagement.

Will Board Policy be Broken?

The Board’s Governance process number two (GP2) prohibits the board from taking action on an item the first time it is on their discussion agenda. And yet the board’s January 12th agenda shows the board is poised to decide on and vote on starting a Superintendent search the first time this item is on their public agenda.  Why aren’t they waiting until their February meeting to vote on this topic?  Why not give the community a chance to weigh in on the topic?  Would they find that the business community has come to trust Dan McMinimee?  Do they know that principals who are working hard to improve achievement appreciate the flexibility Dan has provided to meet the needs of their communities?  Might they find that teachers actually respect that Dan has reallocated resources and teachers have seen higher raises under his tenure than in the previous four years?  It clearly demonstrates that they just do not want to listen to the community.

The board has had two executive sessions discussing the topic. Those are the meetings that are held behind closed doors prohibiting the community from participating or even listening. In fact, the board’s first closed session on the topic was held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor. That is right, at taxpayers’ expense (to the tune of $3000 per person), the Jeffco board held a closed session meeting in Colorado Springs to discuss district leadership. Hardly the open, transparent process the clean slate board promised during their campaign.

Worse, while the board has spent over six hours discussing whether to keep the Superintendent or not there has been absolutely no community engagement on the topic. The previous board voted unanimously, (yes, all five previous school board members voted to amend the governance process) to ensure that the board didn’t vote on an item at the first meeting it was on a discussion agenda. This board has violated that policy in the past but to change the district leadership without any community input goes against their promises of engaging the community.  Again, the lines of listening to the community have been cut, the trust is again broken.

Why is the board in such a rush to start a Superintendent search process?  Do they have someone in mind to run the district?  Worse, isn’t there a long list of schools in desperate need of repairs?  Couldn’t this search money be better utilized to say fix leaking roofs?  Shouldn’t this search money be used to hire literacy coaches or mental health professionals?  Or wouldn’t the funds be better spent raising teacher salaries?  Why don’t they want to listen to the community?

We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because all of the board conversations have been behind closed doors. Has the board once said that any of the monitoring reports provided by the Superintendent were incorrect?  No. Have they provided feedback on things they would like to see Dan do that he has refused to do?  No. Has the board set a direction for the district that Dan has refused to follow?  No. Has the board even set goals that Dan has not met? No. In fact the board has endorsed Vision 2020 which is the guiding plan for the district, created under Dan’s leadership, with the engagement of both district staff and the community.  The board awarded Dan more of his bonus money than the previous Superintendent and has given him positive feedback.

Policies are in place not only to give the board the opportunity to thoroughly discuss an issue, but it also gives the public time with weigh in as well.  And since this decision impacts the schools our children attend, impacts the teachers who teach our children, yes we need to have time to understand the issues and address any questions.  Again, why don’t they want to listen to the community?

So what are we seeing? Is this retribution for the failure of the bond and mill levy override?  Is this change in leadership payback to the union for backing and paying for the recall election?  We hope this board will slow this process and honor their commitments of transparency, accountability and community engagement before turning the district leadership upside down.  Will this board continue to break community trust?

Is Jeffco’s Clean Slate Board Breaking Policy Again?

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.