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Voices: Some reasons why a 7-0 DPS school board is not a good thing

Outgoing Denver Public Schools board member Jeannie Kaplan argues that a school board that unanimously supported district reforms would be damaging to the city’s schools.

We’ve got a 4-3 majority for continuing to move forward, and if the board flipped the other way, then I think it would be disastrous to DPS, I would love to see a bigger majority. I’d love to see a 7-0 majority so that what we were arguing about wasn’t whether or not we’re going to move forward, it’s arguing about what’s the best way to move forward and how fast can we move forward. –Michael Johnson, Candidate for DPS Board, District 3, speaking to the Colorado Statesman July 19, 2013

I was disturbed and frankly scared after reading those comments by a candidate who is running for a position on the DPS board, one who until very recently (May 6, 2013) was the DPS bond counsel for the past 10 years.

First of all, if Mr. Johnson thinks we have been arguing about whether or not to move forward, he hasn’t been paying attention. If he thinks we aren’t arguing about how to move forward, he hasn’t been paying attention. I suggest he take a serious look at the data in this data-driven district and tell us all why a 7-0 board would possibly serve the children of Denver better.  A 7-0 board would just make more excuses for the failures we are seeing, and it is my belief and experience a 7-0 board would not question the decision-making that has produced the following results:

  • A 9 percent increase in the achievement gap.
  • A 60 percent remediation rate, meaning six out of 10 DPS graduates who enter a Colorado institution of higher learning need to spend time and money in high school courses, courses they already took in high school.
  • A 58.8 percent graduation rate, not coming close to the Board-dictated policy of a 5 percent per year.  Had we met that goal, the 2012 graduation rate would have been 82 percent. (I have seen differing percentages of increase. I have been using the CDE number from 2005 which showed 51.7 percent.  I realize the way for calculations has changed. Therefore, I won’t quote my percentage nor the higher percentage others quote. We all agree the 2012 rate is 58.8 percent.  We aren’t where we ought to be.)
  • A stagnant ACT score of 17.6.  A score of 21 is considered the college-ready benchmark.
  • District-wide proficiency rates of 52 percent in reading, 43 percent in math and 41 percent in writing. With such slow progress and with the increases averaging around 2 percent per year (the board goals are 3.5 percent per year which would have produced proficiencies of 68 percent, 57 percent, and 57 percent respectively), it will take 24 years, 28, and 29 years to get all students to proficiency. That is two entire generations of students in DPS. Our children can’t wait for this snail’s pace of “moving forward.”

And if Mr. Johnson thinks 7-0 decisions are something desirable for the students, employees and residents of Denver, let me point out just a few of the decisions that would most likely have turned out differently with a board comprised of 7-0 rubber stampers:

  • The Modified Consent Decree would have gone forward without an independent monitor to ensure compliance.
  • The $750 million PCOPs  (Pension Certificates of Participation, taxable bonds to fund our pension) from 2008 would not have been fixed out in two stages, both by unanimous votes.
  • There would have been no independent financial advisor for the two refinances of the PCOPs.
  • The historic Emily Griffith building would have been sold with no public knowledge.
  • Parkland at Hentzell Park would have been secretly traded for a downtown building with no public knowledge.
  • Stephen Knight Early Childhood Center would not be in existence.
  • The Innovation Policy would not have school leadership succession written into it.
  • Manual would have been the home of the DPS administration with air conditioning for just the third floor.
  • The teacher “do not rehire” “practice” would not have been addressed. No earth-shattering changes have occurred, but not being banned for life is a good thing.
  • District wide discipline issues that have teachers concerned for the safety of their students as well as their own safety would not be addressed.
  • The 2012 General Obligation Bond would not have addressed the open classroom situation.
  • GALS charter school, one of our highest achieving charter schools, would have been co-located at Manual High School rather than having its own building at the former Del Pueblo Elementary School site.

Finally, Mr. Johnson repeatedly points out how he and his law firm have, on May 6, resigned their 15-year affiliation with DPS as the district bond counsel. It is time to point out the final PCOP and Stapleton COP transaction was concluded on April 23, 2013, a short two weeks before the resignation for which Kutak Rock received a  a paycheck of $444,000 from Denver’s taxpayers. This followed a paycheck of $270,500 just months before for the sale of the 2012 General Obligation Bonds.  And this followed a paycheck of $375,000 in April 2011 for the first round of refinancing of the 2008 PCOPs. Denver taxpayers have paid Michael Johnson and Kutak Rock $1.1 million from April 2011 through April 2013.

7-0. No thanks. At that point you have the equivalent of mayoral control. Maybe that is what this election is all about. Just that possibility should scare the residents of Denver.


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