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The Daily Churn: Thursday


Updated 12 p.m.The Denver Preschool Program has passed the 15,000-student mark, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and program director James Meija announced today. Funded by a tax approved by voters in 2006, the program provides more than $23 million in preschool tuition credits for all those four-year-olds. Credits are awarded on a sliding scale based on income (more information). Hickenlooper, of course, is running for governor, and Meija is reportedly interested in the mayor’s job if Hick moves to the Capitol.

Officials at CU-Boulder have named an “exploratory committee” to ponder how to convert the current school of journalism into “a new interdisciplinary academic program of information, communication and technology.” Among the eight members are professors of theater and dance, political science and women’s studies, an engineer, a physics professor and a philosopher, plus one lone communications prof. News release and list of committee members.

What’s churning:

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg is touting savings of $30 million in 2009-10, part of which will allow the district to cut class sizes across the city. Boasberg will meet the press at 10:15 this morning to talk about how the district managed to close its fiscal year with money to spare. He cites $16.5 million in savings from that still-controversial 2008 pension refinancing, along with cost-control steps such as a pay freeze for everyone but teachers.

DPS will set aside $2 million to $2.5 million of the money to hire 30 to 40 additional teachers to reduce class sizes in targeted schools in the next few weeks. The rest of the savings will be used to offset projected budget cuts of $50 million in 2011-12, when state funding to schools is expected to again be reduced and federal stimulus dollars will end. That follows about $35 million in cuts this year.

Boasberg also is highlighting “very high marks” from financial ratings agencies:

The reaffirmation of our high credit ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s on all our debt issuances, including our pension debt, demonstrates the financial strength and stability of the district, he said, and should put to rest the mudslinging and misinformation we have seen in this campaign season about the district’s financial position.

Meanwhile, the DPS board of education held another retreat to improve collaboration but the setting last week was less Broadmoor, more Balarat. Too bad they forgot to publicly post the meeting agenda or record the daylong event. President Nate Easley took the blame, saying it was his mistake – “I’m a knucklehead, I’m new, I’m learning.”

Board members got plenty of flak in December when they hired a therapist whose practice focuses largely on marriage counseling to facilitate their retreat at the luxury Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs – where the state school boards’ association also was meeting. This time, the board went to the district’s own Balarat Outdoor Education Center and they got a couple of facilitators to work pro bono. In response to a public records request, DPS said the only retreat costs were the $2,056.56 in reimbursements for the facilitators’ travel and hotel expenses. Spokesman Mike Vaughn said that’s being paid from private donations, not public tax dollars.

Easley said there was “absolutely” no attempt to keep the meeting out of the public eye, despite the furor about the Broadmoor episode. Board member Jeannie Kaplan, who’s not afraid to disagree with Easley, doesn’t in this case. “I actually don’t think it was an attempt to avoid publicity,” she said, although the verdict is still out on whether the discussion on board governance was fruitful. “I think we have to wait and see,” Kaplan said. The meeting did draw one member of the public – a reporter for Westword, who’s working on a profile of outspoken board member Andrea Merida.

Teacher and blogger Sabrina Stevens Shupe has produced an eight-minute video explaining, from her point of view, why school turnaround strategies often fail. The video is posted on our homepage; you can view it here.

What’s on tap:

Padres & Jóvenes Unidos and Metro Organization for People have scheduled a 4 p.m. news conference, march and “street theater” event to advocate for passage of a federal DREAM act that would allow access to higher education for undocumented students.

The news conference will be at Confluence Park, followed at 4:30 p.m. by the march to 16th and Stout streets, where the street theater will happen.

The Jefferson County school board meets at 6 p.m. in the board room of district headquarters, 1829 Denver West Drive, building 27 (agenda).

Good reads from elsewhere: