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How things might change in Jeffco Public Schools after the recall

Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.
Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.
Nicholas Garcia

Jefferson County residents pushing to recall three of five school board members said they wanted a “Clean Slate” for the district.

Now that they’ve gotten one, they will have to wait a little while to find out how life in the county’s classrooms might change.

One near certainty: teachers in the district will get the long-term contract they’ve long demanded. But the future for free full-day kindergarten, raises for teachers and charter school funding is less clear.

And to pull off everything on the wish list of recall supporters, the district will need to successfully pass a local tax increase, which hasn’t always been an easy ask in Jefferson County.

Here’s a look at some of those issues.

Jeffco is unlikely to get a new schools chief — for now.

One of the most polarizing decisions the outgoing school board majority made was hiring Douglas County schools administrator Dan McMinimee as superintendent. Critics said McMinimee wasn’t ready to lead a district as large as Jeffco and worried he would try to replicate policy changes from the Douglas County School District. They also worried his salary was bloated.

But his resume was a match for nearly every characteristic the community wanted in a superintendent. And he earned goodwill from parents, including those who would later go on to organize the board recall, when he said he would meet with and work with anyone in the community.

That goodwill faltered when McMinimee appeared not to push back against school board president Ken Witt on key votes such as how to fund new school construction.

The school board members elected Tuesday said on the campaign trail they’re prepared to give McMinimee a chance, and several reiterated that Tuesday. If the board opted to fire McMinimee before his contract expires in 18 months, the district would be forced to pay him $220,000.

“His success is Jeffco’s success,” said board member-elect Amanda Stevens.

Teachers will get a long-term contract. But they shouldn’t count on a major raise anytime soon.

The board majority just recalled sought to limit the teachers union’s reach, pressing for changes such as seniority rights and more decisions made at the school level between principals and teachers.

The union agreed to the contract, which it viewed as better than nothing. The ultimate agreement, which the union called “a bad deal,” went into effect in September and lasts only until May 31.

The five newly elected school board members all got the union’s endorsement and financial support after pledging to collaborate — suggesting that the union could soon get the long-term agreement, and more appealing terms, that it wants.

What other provisions that got cut in the last agreement might end up back in the teachers contract? That’s less clear. But we’re likely to see discussions about smaller class sizes and more teacher training and planning time, all of which the union would like.

What many teachers want most is a substantial raise, which they haven’t received for years. But teachers who are hoping this school board can come up with tens of millions of dollars to close a pay gap created by the Great Recession shouldn’t hold their breath.

The school district isn’t receiving any more money from the state. And with competing priorities such as funding full-day kindergarten, Jeffco Public Schools’ budget is already tight.

Some new school board members said they’re interested in exploring the possibility of teacher merit pay, which would open the door for some teachers to earn more.

Full-day kindergarten could come with a flexible price tag.

Speaking of full-day kindergarten, a key tension between the recently ousted school board majority and the community was how to fund full-day kindergarten.

The state provides funding only for half-day kindergarten and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. But many in Jeffco want to see full-day kindergarten for all students.

The outgoing school board majority wasn’t sold on full-day kindergarten, but it did allocate funding for students from families so poor that they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Individual schools were left to determine whether they should charge a fee to their more affluent families.

That isn’t good enough, the board’s critics said. They want free full-day kindergarten for all. And that presents a challenge.

“There would need to be additional dollars to [fund full-day kindergarten] district wide,” said Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s chief effectiveness officer.

The good news for those who want tuition-free full-day kindergarten is that the district won’t need to find that much more money. Schools technically receive full-day funding for all kindergarten students, although they receive slightly less funding than last year for all of their other students.

The most likely next step toward tuition-free kindergarten is a sliding scale for tuition. It could happen as early as next school year.

“We’re anticipating that conversation,” Elliott said.

What “equal” funding for charter schools means could change

During the school board majority’s two years in office, the board equalized local funding for the district’s charter schools.

Before 2013, charter schools received about $250 per student from local tax revenue. District-run students received about $1,400 from that same funding stream. The school board majority, using new state dollars, equalized that funding during its two-year tenure.

Some charter school parents worried the new school board would roll back that funding.

On the campaign trail, the five candidates who won election this week pledged to maintain that funding. But Ron Mitchell, who will replace Witt, said there needs to be a conversation about what “equal funding” really means.

“I can support equitable funding,” he said in an interview after announcing his candidacy. He wants to take into account other funding streams that charters can tap.

But there aren’t that many, said Stacy Rader, spokeswoman for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Charter schools, like district-run schools, can apply for competitive grants and fundraise, Rader said.

The only additional funding charters can rely on from the state is for facilities, and it’s not that much, Rader said. According to the Colorado Department of Education, Jeffco charter schools will receive a combined $1.8 million this school year.

“There’s this impression that charter schools have this great pool of money to tap into,” Rader said. “That’s just not true.”

Recall supporters and the new board will ask for a tax increase after “trust is restored.”

To pay for tuition-free full-day kindergarten, reduce class sizes, close the pay gap for teachers and address expected growth, Jeffco will need to ask its residents for a local tax increase.

“You can either cut the pie differently, or find a way to make the pie bigger,” Elliott said.

Jeffco residents, most of whom don’t have children in schools, have a mixed record when weighing tax increases for schools. Voters rejected an increase in 2008 but approved one in 2012.

You can count on some of the same individuals behind the recall and the board to make a passionate plea to voters next fall. But only after “trust is restored,” said Shawna Fritzler, who lobbied for the 2012 tax increase.

“The public needs that accountability piece,” she said. “We made promises to the voters and then they were broken by the board majority. I won’t kill myself again unless I know I have a way to guarantee that the promises made will be kept.”

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