Who Is In Charge

JBC gets ball rolling on K-12 cuts

The first blow of the education budget-cut axe fell Friday when the Joint Budget Committee voted to recommend cutting $177 million in state aid to schools for the current, 2009-10 budget year.

The cuts would include $110 million that districts have been holding in reserve, plus $67 million more because districts now are expected to collect that much more in local taxes than was predicted when the state budget was approved last spring. (So, districts won’t lose the $67 million; they’ll just receive it from a different source than was expected. The $110 million is just under 2 percent of overall state support.)

And, the committee recommended not giving districts an additional $20 million they otherwise would have received because of slightly increased overall enrollment and a 10 percent increase in the number of at-risk students statewide.

The 6-0 vote was expected. Now, the proposals have to be approved by the full legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter – all by Jan. 29. That’s because lawmakers agreed last spring that districts could spend the $110 million if the state doesn’t pull it back by Jan. 29.

The bill containing the trims reportedly will be introduced on Wednesday, the first day of the 2010 legislative session, in order to meet the deadline. Approval is considered likely, although not without some gnashing of teeth among public-education advocates. There was prolonged debate last spring over whether the holdback should be $110 million, a higher figure or be imposed at all.

And, committee discussion Friday hinted that the $177 million might not be the last cuts in the current schools budget, particularly if the March state revenue forecasts are bad.

Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, wondered aloud if the committee shouldn’t cut $150 million instead of the original $110 million. Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said that while districts have been expected the $110 million to be pulled back, “If we cut another $40 million they would have to make it up in six months.”

Sen. Moe Keller, D-Wheat Ridge and JBC vice chair, said districts should know that the state’s financial picture “could get worse in March.”

The impact of the 2009-10 cuts will vary by district, depending on individual enrollment changes and other factors.

While making cuts in current year school aid will help control the size of cuts that will have to made in 2010-11, schools still face significant reductions next school year. Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder and JBC chair, said, “It’s really hard to say what the cuts will be specifically. … [But] we’re going to whack the heck out of schools next year.”

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performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”