Who Is In Charge

Ritter holds the line on education cuts

A revised 2010-11 budget plan announced Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter includes no additional cuts to K-12 support or to higher education.

Perhaps the most significant education news out of the governor’s announcement was that he’s open to some form of tuition flexibility for next year, if college presidents can come up with a proposal that won’t harm low- and middle-income students.

“We may be able to broaden this conversation about tuition flexibility,” Ritter said during a Capitol news conference.

Asked to elaborate, Ritter only said that if college presidents can develop a tuition proposal that he considers fair, he’ll take a look.

Ritter has proposed a 9 percent ceiling on tuition increases in the 2010-11 school year.

Gov. Bill Ritter speaks at budget news conference on Feb. 18, 2009.

Some college presidents, particularly at larger institutions and systems, want individual colleges boards to have complete freedom to set tuition rates and financial aid. They argue they could manage such a system and still maintain affordability.

Ritter, who frequently refers to the opportunities low tuition gave him at Colorado State University, up to now has been reluctant to take tuition control out of his and the legislature’s hands.

Speaking later to a Colorado Association of School Boards lunch, the governor was applauded when he stressed that he’s proposed no new K-12 cuts. He quipped, “That gives you some idea of the times we’re in [when] that’s the applause line – no new cuts.”

State school funding already has taken a hit of more than 2 percent in the current year, and Ritter earlier proposed an effective cut of more than 6 percent for 2010-11.

The original budget for K-12 spending for 2009-10 was $5.7 billion, including $2 billion in local revenue and $3.7 billion from the state.

Senate Bill 10-065, already passed by the legislature and signed into law, cut the state share by $110 million (and didn’t provide $20 million for increased enrollment), bringing the total to $5.58 billion.

Ritter’s original 2010-11 budget proposal, made last November, called for a 6.1 percent cut from what otherwise would have been expected under the Amendment 23, which would take total school support next year to $5.43 billion.

In order to make those cuts next year, the administration is interpreting Amendment 23 to cover only base state support of schools, about 75 percent of total state aid. The cuts would come from the other 25 percent, money used to equalize spending among districts.

School districts have been hard at work for weeks tweaking their 2009-10 spending (the $110 cutback was expected) and making plans for 2010-11.

Just this week the Durango and Hayden school boards formally declared “fiscal exigency,” a legally required first step toward layoffs; a Pueblo City board member raised the question of closing the district’s administration building; a citizen survey in Mesa County showed support for a four-day week and a shorter school year, and some Douglas County citizens told the school board they’d support tax increases to blunt the impact of a proposed $44 million cut.

Ritter’s 2010-11 higher education plan calls for a cut of about $60 million in state and federal stimulus support. But, overall college revenues, about $1.9 billion, would be about the same as this year if an overall 9 percent tuition increase is implemented.

The governor’s revised plan also includes a $135 million transfer from the state’s main general fund, to the State Education Fund, designed to stave off SEF insolvency for one year, and transfer of $45.2 million from the Early Achievers Scholarship Trust Fund, part of CollegeInvest, to the general fund and need-based scholarships. About $9 million would be left in the fund to support current recipients and current high school juniors and seniors who might became eligible. The program would end in 2016.

The governor’s overall proposal achieves a total $340 million in cuts, savings and fund transfers on top of the $1 billion in reductions proposed when he unveiled the original budget plan last November. The adjustments were made in response to state revenue forecasts that came out in late December.

Ritter’s Thursday announcement won’t be the last word on the 2010-11 budget. Further adjustments may be needed after the next formal state revenue forecasts are issued March 19. And the final decision on the budget rests with the legislature, based on numbers from the Joint Budget Committee.

Asked about the likelihood of additional cuts, to either the 2009-10 or 2010-11 budgets, Ritter said, “We’ll know more about this in April and May,” after 2009 income tax returns come in.

“We are past the worst of it, but we still have budget challenges,” the governor said. He also said there’s “a very real possibility the 2011-12 budget year could involve cutting.”

Take it from Vody

Vody Herrmann, school finance chief at the Department of Education, is highly regarded as a person who knows her numbers down to the last decimal point and who will help any school district with any question.

Herrmann spoke late Thursday afternoon to a Colorado Association of Schools Boards conference, and here are some snippets of what she had to say on key financial questions:

On cuts proposed so far: “We hope there are no further cuts. I can’t guarantee there won’t be.”

What the legislature might do with Ritter’s proposed 2010-11 cuts: “There could be all sorts of other suggestions [but] there isn’t more money.”

On Ritter’s cuts and Amendment 23: “I think this is setting a new base.” Schools won’t get back to 2009-10 funding levels “for four or five years. … Things look even tougher” in 2011-12.

What districts should do: “You need to have a little buffer. They [the state] could come back for $100 million or $50 million or $150 million” in budget pullbacks if state revenues continue to slump next year. “Just please be cautious. I just can’t say that enough.”

Inflation rate set for A23 formula

On Friday, school districts got a piece of good but essentially meaningless news when the federal government announced that the official 2009 Denver/Boulder/Greeley inflation rate was negative .6 percent.

The inflation rate is part of the Amendment 23 formula, which requires state school support to increase each year by inflation in the previous calendar year plus 1 percent, multiplied by enrollment.

State officials had been assuming 2009 inflation would be pegged at negative .9 percent, making the multiplier a measly plus .1 percent. With actual inflation pegged at minus .6 percent, the multiplier inches up to plus .4 percent.

That will mean a slightly larger increase than expected in categorical funds (money earmarked for transportation, special education and some other specific programs), but it won’t affect overall school spending in 2010-11.

That’s because the Ritter administration, pressed by the state’s budget woes, has set an overall target for K-12 aid that’s $260 million below 2009-10 levels.

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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:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”