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Bill aims to prod district outsourcing

The state’s largest school districts would be required to study the outsourcing of non-instructional services under a Republican-sponsored bill introduced Tuesday in the legislature.

Senate Bill 11-079’s prime sponsors are Republicans Sen. Nancy Spence of Centennial and Rep. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs. She’s the ranking Republican on the Senate Education Committee; he’s the chair of House Ed. Spence said before the session started that she was planning such a bill.

If passed, the measure would require school districts with 10,000 or more students to review their non-instructional support services such as food service, transportation and janitorial, put those services out to bid to private companies and then report the results to citizens at a public meeting.

According to the bill’s summary, “Based on the results of the bidding process, the school district may award one or more contracts for services, unless a contract is already in place for those services or a collective bargaining agreement is in place that would prohibit such a contract.”

The list of school districts with 10,000 or more students coincidentally includes Colorado’s 20 largest districts, including, in order of size, Jefferson County, Denver, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, Adams 12-Five Star, Aurora, Boulder Valley, Colorado Springs 11, St. Vrain Valley, Poudre, Academy, Mesa, Greeley, Pueblo City, Littleton, Thompson, Brighton, Falcon, Harrison and Westminster.

Despite the bill’s permissive nature, it’s unlikely to get a warm reception from various education interest groups that are expected to see it as legislative meddling in an area that school boards should be able to decide for themselves.

An indicator of the bill’s likely fate in the Senate is its committee assignment. Instead of going to Senate Ed, the bill header notes it is being sent to the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs, the committee traditionally used by majority party leadership to bury bills.

Familiar name returns to DHE

The Hickenlooper administration’s education team is looking more and more like the Ritter administration’s crew.

Another familiar figure signed on Tuesday when Matt Gianneschi was named deputy director of the Department of Higher Education, where he’ll be No. 2 to Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, named earlier this month by Hickenlooper to be director of the agency.

Gianneschi was Ritter’s top education advisor until late 2009. He worked closely with Garcia, then president of Colorado State University-Pueblo, who was a co-chair of Ritter’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council. Hickenlooper has created a successor group, the Education Leadership Council, which will be headed by Garcia.

The council’s work and Gianneschi’s efforts were key to passage in 2008 of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. A key sponsor of that was then-Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, who’s now Hickenlooper’s top lobbyist.

Garcia and Gianneschi, along with Republican State Board of Education Chair Bob Schaffer, chaired the Hickenlooper transition committee on education.

When Hickenlooper nominated Garcia to head DHE, there was some mention of how it was a thrifty thing to do in tight budget times. Garcia makes $68,500, and Gianneschi will be paid $125,000. Rico Munn, Ritter’s last DHE director, made $146,040, so the Garcia-Gianneschi team will yield a net salary savings of about $21,000 a year.

The current deputy director, Kim Poast, did much of the key staff work on the higher education strategic plan finished late last year. And Gianneschi served on one of the advisory panels to that effort.

Since leaving the Ritter administration, Gianneschi has been a vice president at Community College of Aurora. He has prior experience at DHE, having been chief academic officer in 2004-06. News release about the appointment

Budget blues

This is the time of year when the Joint Budget Committee works to rebalance the current year’s state budget, no easy task in recent years because of continually sliding state revenues.

There’s some urgency to that process, given that budget cuts need to be made before money is spent. The state fiscal year ends June 30.

But, faced with figuring out how to close a 2010-11 budget gap of between $124.8 and $261.8 million, the committee decided Tuesday to delay the introduction of budget balancing bills (called “supplementals” in statehouse parlance) until sometime next week.

So far, the news for K-12 spending out of the balancing process is bad but not unexpected. The committee decided last week that districts would not be funded for overall enrollment growth or increases in at-risk students. That had been expected, as was a mid-year reduction in state tax support that will be covered by nearly $160 million in federal “Edujobs” funding.

In a small piece of good news, the committee is recommending that a $23 million drop in local district property tax revenues this year be covered by the state. But, rather than taking that money from the hard-pressed general fund, the recommendation is that the State Public School Fund be tapped. That’s the account that receives revenues from state school lands.

But current-year school funding could still be threatened by that $124.8 million to $261.8 million gap the committee has to close.

Committee staff members spent a big chunk of Tuesday afternoon briefing the six-member JBC on ways to do that. One of many possibilities suggested was cutting total program funding for schools by 1 percent – yielding a savings of $54.4 million.

The committee is scheduled to continue the discussion Wednesday.

The 2010-11 budget gap is a range because $261.8 million has to be cut if the state wants to maintain the regular 4 percent reserve. The gap drops to $124.8 million if the reserve is cut back to 2 percent, which is sometimes done in tight times but which requires special legislation.

More information

Budget battle

Republicans and Democrats in the House sparred Tuesday morning over a usually routine measure, the annual resolution that gives the legislature a general fund spending target for the next fiscal year. The resolution usually uses the amount estimated by legislative staff economists. But, at an early-morning committee meeting, Republicans amended the resolution to reduce the amount by 2.75 percent.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch

That’s a percentage proposed by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, on Monday.

GOP members argued that it makes sense to use a conservative estimate so that the budget doesn’t have to be cut later if revenue estimates fall short. Democrats noted that the estimate is symbolic and gets changed later in the legislative session when fresh revenue forecasts are made.

The debate got a little heated, with McNulty ruling various Democratic amendments out of order and gaveling down a couple of Democratic speakers. McNulty even cut off the microphone off at one point when Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, a normally soft-voiced, mild-mannered lawmaker was objecting to the amended resolution.

After all the fury, the resolution, House Joint Resolution 11-1007, passed on a voice vote.

To watch the debate, go to the legislature’s online video page, scroll down to the line in the archive labeled “Colorado House 2011 Legislative Day 14” and click the “Video” link.

Fact finding on school breakfasts

One very minor part of the 2010-11 budget-balancing puzzle, a $124,229 adjustment to spending on the Start Smart school breakfast program, has excited a frenzy of sometimes-uninformed media attention since the JBC deadlocked 3-3 last week on a staff recommendation to allow the program to spend more money and avoid having to make poor kids pay 30 cents for breakfast, starting in the spring.

In what may be a prelude to backpedaling on the vote, JBC member Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, late Tuesday afternoon gave committee staff a lengthy list of questions she wants answered about the program.

“I’m trying to clear this up,” Gerou said.

Stay tuned, but the expectation at the statehouse is that the kids will get their breakfasts paid for.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information