Who Is In Charge

Ed groups bat .785 on endorsements

The five education groups that endorsed or contributed to legislative candidates in the general election picked the winners at an overall rate of 78.5 percent.

Five organizations – the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, the Colorado Association of School Executives, Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform – backed legislative candidates. (The school executives only endorsed; political committees affiliated with the other groups gave financial contributions. Stand didn’t give money to every candidate it endorsed.)

Here’s the scorecard by organization:

  • CEA – Contributed to 41 candidates; 31 of those won. 75.6 percent.
  • AFT – Contributed to 42 candidates; 31 of those won. 73.8 percent.
  • CASE – Endorsed 32 candidates; 27 of those won. 84.3 percent.
  • Stand – Endorsed or contributed to 18 candidates; 15 of those won. 83.3 percent.
  • DFER – Contributed to only two Democratic Senate candidates; both won. 100 percent.
See bottom of story for charts showing endorsements and results by candidate.

It’s risky, of course, to draw conclusions about the impact of one group’s endorsement or contributions in a single district. Legislative races, particularly hotly contested ones, draw endorsements, contributions and volunteers from a wide variety of interest groups, not just ones interested in education.

And, endorsements and contributions also can be made for reasons other than trying to influence the vote. The five groups combined made 135 endorsements or contributions to 68 candidates in 63 Senate and House races. Of those candidates, about 30 were incumbents and some challengers who were expected to win easily. Three incumbents who ran unopposed even earned endorsements.

Of the contributions and endorsements by the five groups, 90 percent went to Democrats. CASE endorsed eight incumbent Republicans, all of whom were considered to be safe and all of whom in fact won.

Stand for Children endorsed five members of the GOP, two incumbents and three challengers. Two challengers were victorious and one lost; both incumbents won. Stand also endorsed Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, a Democrat turned independent who ultimately lost to Democrat Roger Wilson after a lengthy review of Curry’s write-in votes.

The five groups were involved in a majority of the legislative races on the ballot – 47 of 65 House contests and 16 of 19 Senate races. (Because senators serve four-year terms, an additional 16 Senate seats weren’t up for election this year this year.)

John Morse
Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs

There was only one race where all five groups backed the same candidate – Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse in Colorado Springs’ Senate District 11. He won a narrow victory over Republican former Air Force officer Owen Hill after a high-spending race.

In Senate District 20, which stretches from Golden on the west to Edgewater on the east, all the education groups but CASE supported Democratic former state Rep. Cheri Jahn, who beat Republican small businessman John Odom.

Stand for Children and the two unions also supported victorious Democratic lawyer Pete Lee in House District 18, the Colorado Springs seat formerly held by Democrat Mike Merrifield, chair of the House Education Committee.

Here’s a look at some other key races where education groups endorsed or contributed:

In House District 3, which includes south Denver and part of Arapahoe County, incumbent Democrat Daniel Kagan, who voted against Senate Bill 10-191, defeated Republican Christine Mastin. CEA and CASE supported Kagan, while Stand backed Mastin.

Democratic retired teacher Laura Huerta lost to Republican incumbent Kevin Priola, a member of the House Education Committee, in Adams County’s House District 30. Both unions contributed to Huerta, while CASE and Stand for Children endorsed Priola, who voted for Senate Bill 10-191.

Keith Swerdfeger
Keith Swerdfeger

Retired Pueblo Education Association President Carole Partin lost the House District 47 seat in Pueblo County to Republican construction executive Keith Swerdfeger. The seat had been held by a Democrat. The two unions backed Partin, while Stand supported Swerdfeger. The two candidates together raised about $200,000, with more than $126,000 of that raised by Swerdfeger, who lost a bid for the seat two years ago.

Stand’s $4,000 contribution to Swerdfeger was one of the largest he received. In addition to money from the CEA political group the Public Education Committee, Partin also received contributions from CEA affiliates in Denver, Pueblo and Jefferson County.

Partin and Huerta were the only two Democratic newcomer candidates with extensive teaching backgrounds.

In another race that pitted education groups against each other, outgoing state Rep. Ellen Roberts, a Durango lawyer, defeated appointed Democratic incumbent Bruce Whitehead of Hesperus, a water engineer Senate District 6. The GOP has a modest registration edge, and Roberts has been in office longer than Whitehead. Both AFT and CEA contributed to Whitehead and CASE endorsed him, while Stand for Children endorsed Roberts. Whitehead voted against SB 10-191; Roberts for it.

In House District 56, centered on Summit County, Democratic Rep. Christine Scanlan was re-elected. The prime Democratic House sponsor of SB 10-191, she was backed by the AFT, Case and Stand. (Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the primary author of SB 10-191, won an easy victory over a nominal opponent in his Denver district. He was endorsed by CASE and Stand.)

Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada

In Jefferson County’s House District 29, incumbent Democrat Debbie Benefield lost narrowly to Republican Robert Ramirez in a race that was called only last week after provisional ballots had been counted. Benefield, a longtime parent and district activist, was a member of the House Education Committee and was backed by CEA, AFT and CASE.

In addition to Benefield and Whitehead, incumbents who voted against SB 10-191 and who lost included Democratic Reps. Dennis Apuan of Colorado Springs, Sara Gagliardi of Arvada and Dianne Primavera of Broomfield.

Two supporters of SB 10-191 lost their races, Curry and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton. (Rice’s lead role in a bill that raised auto registration fees was seen as a factor in his defeat.)

Of Democratic incumbents backed by both teachers’ unions, 16 won and four lost.

Eleven non-incumbent Democrats were supported by both CEA and AFT; seven won and four lost.

Seven incumbents who were backed only by CEA won re-election, and one lost. Both of the Democratic newcomers supported only by CEA lost.

Four other education groups that are active in legislative lobbying and in some ballot measure campaigns do not endorse candidates. They are the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Great Education Colorado.

Final 2010 campaign contribution and spending reports are due to the secretary of state by Dec. 2.

Support and results by House, Senate district

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Information about endorsements and contributions was compiled from campaign spending reports filed with the secretary of state and from information provided by some of the groups. Search financial reports on the state website.

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budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.