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District leaders start laying plans for 2015 session

The 2015 legislative session is five months – and one election – in the future, but school district leaders already are strategizing the issues they’re going to push in the new year.

School funding stays at the top of that list, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger told the annual summer meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives during a session Friday in Breckenridge.

“We’re continuing that work,” said Messinger, who’s co-chair of the group’s legislative committee and who was a leading figure in the 2014 lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers to make a $110 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, known as the negative factor.

Asked about the issue by Chalkbeat Colorado, Messinger said the group of superintendents working on the issue haven’t yet decided how much of an additional reduction to push for in 2015. “This is a multi-year effort,” he noted and said superintendents would “hope to match” the 2014 negative factor reduction next year.

He also acknowledged that other financial pressures on the legislature may make for a tough lobbying challenge. “We recognize it probably will be difficult.”

Messinger said superintendents also are focusing on accountability and testing but haven’t yet developed group positions on those issues.

He did say there’s “quite a bit of agreement around finding the right balance” of testing and that superintendents are closely watching a new state task force that is starting to study the issue.

Messinger also indicated that after more than five years of reform efforts some superintendents feel it’s time to look into the workings of those laws. “We’re just not seeing the positive impact” on student achievement.

In his comments to the group Messinger echoed other speakers who called for greater recognition of local leadership and local control.

When superintendents started lobbying on school finance last year, Messinger said they were confronted with “the belief [by some lawmakers] that we don’t control the future of education. … We challenge that, and we will control the future of education.”

CASE lobbyist Elisabeth Rosen opened the Friday meeting with some previews of the 2015 session, saying, “It is anticipated that the House will remain in Democratic control, but there will be leadership change.” She added, “It’s feasible Democrats could lose control of the Senate.”

While 2015 legislation is likely on enrollment counting, testing, turnaround schools and oversight of online schools, Rosen said she thinks lawmakers may not take up teacher licensing changes.

Rosen said CASE won’t decide until September whether to take a position on an initiative proposing casino expansion, with some revenues dedicated to school districts. But her mere mention of the plan brought skeptical chuckles from the audience. She said CASE will oppose a second initiative that would require district contract negotiations be conducted in public. Neither initiative has yet been certified for the ballot.

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