Colorado

Districts begin tough budget talks

GOLDEN – For teachers in Colorado’s largest school district, Thursday’s $110 million cut in state education funding means their 1 percent raise in April will be a stipend and not a permanent increase.

Jefferson County teachers, like those in several districts across Colorado, agreed to a contract for 2009-10 that included a contingency – if the state doesn’t cut that $110 million, teachers get more.

In Denver Public Schools, it means teachers will not get an additional 1.65 percent increase. In Adams Five-Star schools, teachers will receive a .82 percent stipend in April, instead of a .82 percent salary-building raise.

And in Cherry Creek schools, teachers will not get an additional .5 percent increase.

“I think, truthfully, they have expected it, looking at what’s been happening with the state budget crisis,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, who will begin formally notifying her teachers today.

Few seemed surprised or particularly upset about the funding cut, equal to 1.9 percent, that was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter. That’s partly because it was expected, as increasingly dire state revenue forecasts have issued from the Capitol since state lawmakers in May ordered districts hold $110 million in reserves.

It’s also because districts are now preoccupied with preparing for bigger cuts ahead, including a projected 6 percent cut for 2010-11.

“This will trigger in a number of districts some kind of direct salary implication for teachers,” Colorado Education Association spokeswoman Deborah Fallin said of the 1.9 percent reduction.

“But … this is probably minor compared to what the impact is going to be in the 2010-11 budget.”

Bracing for what’s ahead

For school districts, which typically spend 80 percent or more of their budgets on staff, cuts in state funding often translate into fewer teachers hired and larger class sizes.

At least two districts, one large and one smaller, are putting controversial ideas on the table in an attempt to keep that from happening.

In Pueblo County, school board members this month re-opened talks about switching to a four-day school week. Board members voted 3-2 against the idea last year but, facing more cuts, they’re taking another look.

The plan could save as much as $1.1 million in transportation, utilities and part-time workers such as classroom aides. A Jan. 11 board meeting brought out more than 100 people, many of them holding pink fliers proclaiming “No 4-day week,” the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

More than 100 people attended a recent budget discussion in Pueblo District 70. Chieftain photo.

A July 2006 state report found 62 districts on four-day weeks but noted “most are rural and sparsely populated.” The 9,000-student Pueblo district would be the first of substantial size to switch.

In Jefferson County, two school board members want budget talks to include consideration of a reduction in base salary for all teachers – rather than the more common salary freeze.

It’s not unusual in tough budget years for boards to save money by freezing teachers’ traditional annual raises for another year of service or for more college credits earned.

But board member Laura Boggs on Thursday said that stopping those raises, known as “steps and lanes” or “steps and levels,” doesn’t impact all teachers the same.

“Why have we not had a conversation about reducing everybody’s base salary instead of freezing steps and levels?” she asked during a board meeting.

Both Boggs and board member Jane Barnes, who brought up the issue at a budget meeting last week, said they were passing along community suggestions.

Jeffco’s difficult budget dilemma

Dallman, the teachers’ union president, said about 25 percent of Jeffco teachers do not receive “steps and levels” each year.

But while Dallman said she appreciated Boggs’ quest for equity, she described any proposal to reduce teachers’ base pay as “insulting.”

“Teachers are tired, the workload has been phenomenal,” she said. “The district has asked us to do so much and we have risen to the challenge and we have gotten results.”

The 86,000-student district outperformed state averages in all subjects and grades tested on Colorado’s 2009 annual exams. Its 2009 graduation rate was 81.3 percent, reflecting a 4.2 percentage point spike led by a nearly 9 percent jump in the number of Hispanic students graduating.

Jeffco School Board member Laura Boggs

“For two board members to be suggesting that teachers’ salaries be rolled back is completely, completely unacceptable,” Dallman said.

Boggs made it clear that she wants to avoid increasing class sizes, declaring at one point, “I’m not going to put a 2nd-grader in a class of 27 kids, it’s not going to happen.”

Already, in anticipation of budget reductions including the 1.9 percent cut, Jeffco eliminated 50 elementary teaching positions as part of $11.8 million in cuts for 2009-10.

For 2010-11, budget work groups have come up with proposals that include eliminating another 114 teaching positions. And in 2011-12, when school funding is expected to continue its decline, the proposals include eliminating another 162 teaching jobs.

Altogether, the proposals call for cutting nearly 470 jobs – from teachers and administrators to custodians and bus drivers – across the district to help save $43.8 million over two years.

Holly Anderson, a community superintendent charged with reporting school-level impacts to board members, tried to answer questions about the potential for larger class sizes and for fewer electives such as art and music.

“It really touches every classroom, every school,” she finally told them.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

To learn more:

Click here to see a district-by-district breakdown of the 1.93 percent cut. Column D shows the amount each district is losing.

Here’s a sampling of budget cuts being discussed by other districts around the state:

Aurora Sentinel: Superintendent mulls layoffs, class size changes for APS.

Denver Post: Littleton Public Schools board hashing out $9 million in cuts.

Greeley Tribune: District 6 isn’t alone in quest for cuts in Colorado schools.

Pueblo Chieftain: D70 slashes $377,100 from special education.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.