Who Is In Charge

Full bite of K-12 cuts is 6.1%

Despite being billed by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration as 4.6 percent, the full impact of cuts to basic state support of K-12 education in 2010-11 is 6.12 percent, Colorado school districts learned Tuesday.

CapRitter111009Ritter and budget director Todd Saliman unveiled the budget plans to reporters last Friday and formally submitted it to the legislative Joint Budget Committee during a packed hearing Tuesday afternoon.

In both forums, and in documents presented both days, the K-12 cut is listed as 4.56 percent, or $260 million. That’s calculated against the amount of school aid in the current 2009-10 budget.

The full proposed cut is $374.1 million, or 6.12 percent, according to a Department of Education spreadsheet distributed to all school districts Tuesday afternoon. That cut is calculated against the full amount school districts would otherwise have expected to receive in 2010-11.

The cuts for the state’s 10 largest districts are significant. Here’s a rundown:

  • Adams 12 – $18.2 million
  • Aurora – $15.9 million
  • Boulder Valley – $12.1 million
  • Cherry Creek – $22.4 million
  • Colorado Springs 11 – $12.9 million
  • Denver – $33.8 million
  • Douglas County – $25.2 million
  • Jefferson – $35 million
  • Poudre –  $10.7 million
  • St. Vrain Valley – $10.9 million

Other major districts and their proposed cuts include: Academy ($9 million), Brighton ($6.5 million), Commerce City ($3 million), Eagle ($3 million), Greeley ($8.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($6 million), Littleton ($6.4 million), Mesa ($9.6 million), Mapleton ($2.4 million), Pueblo City ($7.5 million), Pueblo County ($3.6 million), Thompson ($6.3 million) and Westminster ($4.5 million).

The cuts are in total program funding, which is enrollment multiplied by a per-pupil base amount and then adjusted district-by-district by what are called the “factors” – such things as cost of living, district size and at-risk students. The largest factor is cost of living, which is what the administration proposes to trim to achieve the budget cuts it needs. The budget proposes a new “equity” factor, which is a calculation used to ensure that every district gets the same percentage cut.

Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.
Lobbyists, bureaucrats and others packed the JBC hearing room during the governor's budget briefing Nov, 10.

On top of the $260 million being cut from the factors, the governor is proposing to not spend an additional $94.7 million that otherwise would have been added to school spending in 2010-11, bringing the total cut to $354 million from an original estimate of $5.8 billion in spending for that year. Part of the overall cut is  $110 million that originally was part of the 2009-10 education budget but which lawmakers are expected to pull back in January. When that happens, districts will receive about 2 percent less than they originally expected this school year.

A separate pot of state school aid called categorical funding isn’t affected by the proposed cuts. That money is used to support transportation, special education, gifted and talented and some other programs and totals about $492 million in the current, 2009-10 budget year. The governor’s office also proposes to basically hold funding steady for full-day kindergarten and the Colorado Preschool Program.

However the reductions are calculated, the reduced funding could be felt at the school level in larger class sizes, staff layoffs, flat or reduced salaries and other service reductions.

But, lots can happen before the final amounts of state aid are determined. Changing enrollment patterns could hurt some districts and help others Quarterly state revenue forecasts in December and March could change the budget picture for good or ill. And, while the governor starts the bidding every year with his proposed budget, the final budget is written and approved by the legislature.

And, the proposed cuts at some point may fall under a legal cloud, because same education advocates believe the governor is too narrowly interpreting Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that mandates annual increases in K-12 spending if enrollment and inflation rise – and then tacks a 1 percent bonus on top. In the past the legislature basically has applied each year’s A23 multiplier to all K-12 spending. Ritter in essence is proposing it be applied only to part.

Some advocates will push to blunt education cuts by raising state revenues. Ritter is proposing raising about $130 million in revenue for the 2010-11 budget but ending about a dozen tax credits and exemptions, including the sales tax exemption on candy and soft drinks.

Some interests may lobby for more, but it’s also possible that the legislature won’t approve the full Ritter revenue menu, meaning deeper spending cuts would have to be made. Spending on K-12 schools, which consumes about 44 percent of the state’s general fund, is a large target.

For higher education, Ritter’s budget anticipates a decline in state and federal stimulus support from the current $706 million to $650 million. But, total college and university spending would grow slightly to about $1.98 billion, because the governor is proposing another 9 percent tuition increase for Colorado resident students.

Other features of Ritter’s proposed $7.1 billion general fund budget include a 2.5 percent pay cut for about 25,000 state employees, another suspension of the senior homestead exemption, a $28 million cut in Medicaid, transfer of $26 million in tobacco settlement money into the general fund and a delay in the opening the state’s new maximum security prison.

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newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: