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SBE nixes Denver charter appeal

Two new members of the State Board of Education learned just how time-consuming their unpaid jobs will be as the panel met for a full day Wednesday, the first of two days of meetings.

The main order of business was consideration of an appeal by Janus International Academy, which wanted the state board to overturn rejection of its charter application by the Denver school board last year. After more than an hour of testimony, the state board turned down the appeal unanimously.

The day started earlier with coffee, socializing and the swearing in of new members Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, and Debora Scheffel, R-6th District. Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, also took the oath. Appointed earlier, she was elected to a full six-year term last November.

All three made short speeches, thanking people and talking about the importance of education. Only Lundeen sounded a more somber note, saying, “It is universally agreed we are not getting the education outcomes we want” and referring to the problems of the “education system” and “the unintelligible school finance system.”

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia also spoke, saying all branches of government need to work “together to make the kind of progress the children of this state deserve.” Garcia already has emerged as the key education figure in the Hickenlooper administration (see story).

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a former SBE member, told the board and guests, “I would like to cite our great state board tradition of bipartisanship,” adding, “When the state board is unanimous, you will find yourself listened to across the street” at the Capitol.

That bipartisanship was on display a little later when the board voted unanimously to re-elect Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, as chair and to elect Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, as vice chair.

Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District and often on the other side of the ideological fence from Schaffer, said, “I do plan on voting yes for the officers.” She also said, “The state board has been credited in the last two years with functioning at a very high level. … I’m very hopeful under the chair’s leadership that kind of respectful dialogue will continue.”

Janus’ charter application was rejected by DPS because of concerns about lack of a research-based curriculum, no evidence of parent demand for the school in northeast Denver and problematic financial plans.

School promoters tried to convince the state board otherwise during the formal hearing, but it became clear early in the hearing that members weren’t convinced.

Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education / File photo
Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, chair of the State Board of Education

Before the 7-0 vote to uphold DPS, Schaffer said he regretted that Janus couldn’t make its case. “I say regret because I’m the most pro-charter guy you can find. … This is probably a great idea that just needs more time in the oven.”

Neal said, “It would be very irresponsible for us to approve a charter that doesn’t have a building.”

Schroeder added, “More important than a building is that we don’t have identified students.”

In other action, the board unanimously approved a rule change that removes the requirement that school districts match state funding for the gifted and talented. While the change has raised big concerns among gifted and talented teachers and directors, the board felt it had no choice because of advice from the attorney general’s office that the board didn’t have legal authority to require a match.

The board also voted to issue a notice of rule-making on a Schaffer proposal to require districts issue public notices when school employees are arrested or charged with crimes. There will be a public hearing on the proposed rule in March, with a possible board vote in April.

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