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Voices: A parent’s lament about Dougco schools

Dougco parent Kelly Pointer does not believe Douglas County’s leaders are going about reform the right way, especially because she believes they’re alienating some of the district’s most important people – teachers. 

Over the last year I have determined that I do not agree with the actions of the Douglas County Board of Education and Superintendent  Liz Fagen for the following reasons:

  • Dougco teacher morale is at an all-time low and the school board will not recognize this. When teachers do share their feelings, their jobs are threatened and/or they are ridiculed.
  • The Board of Education is rolling out a lot of changes (i.e. pay for performance, sick days, vacation days, salary bands, curriculum requirements) without clear planning, communication or teacher input.
  • The district has made more than $141 million in cuts since 2007 while growing a fund balance from $20.2 million in 2008 to $66.4 million in 2011. And the Douglas County Board of Education will not explain why the fund balance continues to grow while class sizes increase and cuts are made, according to board documents and news accounts.
  • Individual schools have been left to raise funds for basic needs such as art, technology and music classes.
  • In the spring of 2012, the Long Range Planning Committee requested a bond/mill of $247 million for basic maintenance and safety of current buildings housing more than 61,000 students. The board stated it would not place it on the 2012 ballot because, “It would never pass in an election year.”  However, 29 other Colorado school districts just asked for and passed 34 bond issue and operating tax increases and one sales tax hike. Also, the committee asked for a bond/mill in 2011, but the school board did not actively support this effort.
  • Last year 384 teachers left their jobs in Douglas County. This year, we already have principals and teachers leaving or looking for jobs. How would you feel if one of your teachers or principal left?
  • After the district lowered graduation requirements, it approved $3.4 million in cuts to the high schools. This forced the creation of block schedules (which equal part-time students), teachers teaching an extra class (up to six from five), teachers’ caseloads increasing from 150 to 180 students and students receiving fewer instructional minutes.
  • Inaccurate budgeting by CFO Bonnie Betz resulted in “found money” after the 2012-13 school year had already started. Some of the money was from “substitute payments” that went unused and lower than projected energy bills. This should have been known by the end of May 2012.  There is no reason we should have had these high school cuts. No other district has “found” millions of available funds after the start of the school year.

As a mother of two elementary school students and an involved school volunteer, I find this unacceptable.

So, what am I doing about all this? I will continue to support teachers in the classroom. I will continue to attend Douglas County school board meetings or peaceful protests. I will continue to spread the word about what is happening in Douglas County schools, and, finally, I will vote for four new board members in November 2013.

Stay strong Douglas County teachers, staff and principals!  There are many of us who support you.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.