Who Is In Charge

$5.7M war chest to fight 3 measures

Pile of cashOpponents of three tax-slashing amendments have raised $5.7 million so far to defeat the measures, with the Colorado Education Association and its national parent among the leading contributors.

CEA has contributed $600,000 to the campaign group Coloradans for Responsible Reform. The National Education Association has contributed $400,000.

The two are among a long and well-heeled list of corporations, law firms, unions, banks, trade associations and other groups that have contributed.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce gave $500,000, the Colorado Contractors Association has put in $300,000 and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association of New York City donated $250,000.

Lists of CFRR contributors

Entities that have contributed $100,000 or more include the Service Employees International Union, the Colorado Bankers Association, Wells Fargo, the Colorado Association of Realtors, HealthOne, MDC Holdings, Liberty Media, the Colorado Health Foundation, CH2M Hill, the Southeast Business Partnership and the Kaiser Foundation.

The three measures are proposed constitutional amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.

Amendment 60 would require school districts to halve their property tax rates by 2020, not including taxes levied for debt, such as bond issues. The state would be required to cover the lost revenue. Future property tax rate increases would expire after 10 years, and extensions would be subject to voter approval. Recent legislative actions and court rulings such as the 2007 property tax “freeze” would be repealed. Text

Amendment 61 would ban all forms of borrowing by state government, all local government borrowing would have to be approved by voters, new debt would have to be repaid within 10 years and taxes would have to be reduced after a debt is repaid. Text

Proposition 101, a proposed change to state law, would reduce specific ownership taxes on vehicles to $2 for new vehicles and $1 for used ones, limit title and license fees to $10 a year and abolish taxes on vehicle rentals and leases. The state income tax rate would be reduced from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent over several years, and telecommunications taxes, except for a 911 fee, would be abolished. Text

Coloradans for Responsible Reform is devoting the bulk of its war chest to advertising, under the general theme of “Don’t hurt Colorado.” It brands the proposals as “The ugly three.”

John Lay
John Lay

John Lay, a veteran economic development executive who’s working for the group, told an Aspen-area meeting this week that the group plans to spend $4 million on TV ads over the next two months. 
“You are going to become very tired of us, starting Friday of this week,” he said, according to the Aspen Daily News. (Audio of the group’s new radio ad.)

Lay also was quoted as saying that polling by his organization shows a strong level of support for the initiatives now. “Chances are very good that two out of the three of these will pass,” Lay told the meeting of managers of local health and human services organizations in El Jebel. (Details of the poll are included in the Daily News story.)

In an e-mail Friday evening, campaign spokesman Dan Hopkins said the poll Lay mentioned is more than a month old and that the campaign won’t be doing new polling for a few weeks. A poll reported in The Denver Post over the weekend found slim support for Proposition 101 and voters undecided on the other two measures.

The group that supports passage of the three measures is CO Tax Reforms. It reports $12,713 in contributions, $5,191 spent and $7,522 on hand.

The organization is a small group of anti-tax activists with links to Doug Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Several provisions of the three proposals seek to close TABOR loopholes that supporters believe have been opened by the legislature and the Colorado Supreme Court.

The largest contributions to CO Tax Reforms were made by just two people. Seeme Hasan of Pueblo and her son, Muhammad A. Hasan of Denver, gave $5,000 each. The Hasan Family Foundation was in the news earlier this year for the $300,000 it gave to former congressman Scott McInnis to write a series of articles on water policy.

It turned out that McInnis used another author’s work in his articles without acknowledging that, and the ensuring plagiarism controversy contributed to McInnis’ defeat by Don Maes in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Contribution figures are taken from reports filed with the secretary of state’s elections division. The most recent filing deadline was Sept. 7. (Go here to search campaign reports.)

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

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.”