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Thursday Churn: Late checks for teachers?

Education insiders are buzzing about a Joint Budget Committee staff suggestion that the panel might think about delaying the last payment of state school aid to districts in June 2011 as a way to help balance the budget.

School finance is generally not a topic that shows up in JBC briefing papers for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which has the unenviable assignment of running Medicaid and other state medical programs. But school aid did come up in a briefing presented to the committee last week by analyst Melodie Buck. (See pages 77-82 of the document for details.)

The department has proposed delaying payments to some medical providers to the month after services are delivered. Because the state budget year ends June 30, that means some payments for 2010-11 services wouldn’t be made until the new 2011-12 budget year, which starts July 1. (The executive branch wants to do that to help cover a revenue shortfall in the 2010-11 budget. The state has done this sort of thing before in tight times – it balances the books by pushing some expenses to the next fiscal year.)

Buck’s analysis said, “Delaying Medicaid payments in not the most efficient payment delay” because they are a mix of state and federal funds and aren’t predictable. The document suggests that “the committee should consider more efficient payment delays” – like school finance payments.

“Delaying all or a portion of the June state aid payment to school districts would be much more efficient,” the briefing paper suggests, because only state funds are involved and because the amount is predictable. “The payment is made on the 25th of June so the school districts would only delay payroll by 6 days (i.e. teachers would be like state employees and get two pay checks in July instead of their June pay).”

Budget committee analysts periodically plant such little bombs in the briefings prepared every autumn before the legislative session. They’re meant to spark discussion or provide options committee members might not have considered.

As this briefing paper made clear, “Providing the Committee with the school district option does not mean staff is recommending this option. Staff is just trying to give the Committee a point to consider.”

Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools board members are considering guidelines to ensure schools granted innovation status under the state’s Innovation Schools Act have flexibility of district funding and services. A new policy is up for first reading at tonight’s school board meeting, with a vote expected in January.

Innovation schools are supposed to have greater autonomy over areas such as staffing and budgeting, including deciding whether to use district services or contract their own. But three innovation school principals obtained a legal opinion last May saying the district was violating the law.

DPS board member Mary Seawell, with input from board member Jeanne Kaplan, drafted the new policy, which requires the superintendent to report to the board twice a year on innovation school autonomy requests and the basis for any denials. It also allows the board to reverse the superintendent’s decision.

“I believe there is an inherent bias within any institution to protect and keep those services in-house, as opposed to letting schools have this flexibility,” Seawell said, “and it needs another set of eyes looking at it that are a little more removed from right inside 900 Grant.”

Tonight’s board meeting starts at 5 p.m. at 900 Grant St., which is district headquarters, followed by the monthly public comment session at 6:30 p.m. Here’s the full agenda, which also includes updates on the district’s strategic plan goals and its financial status.

In other news, DPS announced on Wednesday that it has received a $495,455 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to add four more fitness centers in city high schools that will open at little cost to staff and community after the school day. See EdNews’ story about the existing centers. We’ll let you know when DPS identifies the locations of the new centers.

What’s on tap:

The Quality Teachers Commission meets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the offices of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Lincoln St. at East 16th Avenue.

The Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Board convenes at 2:30 p.m. in the conference center at the Community College System Lowry campus, 1061 Akron Way, Building 697 (agenda).

The Jefferson County school board meets at 6 p.m. in the board room of the Education Center, 1829 Denver West Drive, Building 27, in Golden (agenda).

Good reads from elsewhere:

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