Colorado

Monday Churn: Update on budget cuts

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The Colorado School Finance Project, which tracks K-12 spending and budgets, estimates that district cuts in the upcoming 2011-12 school year could be as high as $287 million. The project released its final report recently, after districts had completed their budgets ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

The project’s two sets of numbers are samples and estimates, not a full data collection, but they give an overall idea of the situation.

Some 60 districts responded to a project questionnaire about budget plans. Those responses came up with a range of $191 to $211 million in cuts. Participating districts represent 60 percent of student enrollment statewide. (Read the report.)

The project also compiled a list from information reported in local news outlets. That survey found a range of total cuts from $274 to $287 million for 83 districts covering 90 percent of enrollment. The state has 178 districts. (Get full report and shorter summary.)

School finance legislation passed last spring cut $228 million from total program funding, which covers basic school operating costs from a combination of state and local revenues. (Another $67.5 million will be available to districts next year to partially compensate for enrollment growth and local revenue losses.) But, school districts have additional expenses, other sources of revenue and varying levels of reserves, so total program doesn’t necessarily reflect the full picture of cuts. (Total program funding is about $5.2 billion next year.)

Finally, the project culled questionnaire responses and news reports to spotlight budget trends. That document noted continued use of staff reductions, salary freezes and furlough days by districts. Other cost-cutting steps include increased class loads for teachers in upper grades, reduction of electives and other specialized classes, deferred building maintenance, outsourcing of some functions and higher fees for students and families. (See trend summary.)

A fourth candidate has emerged for the at-large seat on the Denver school board. Baker neighborhood resident John Daniel, 54, filed a statement of intent to run last week.

Daniel hasn’t run for office before and said his political experience consists of serving on the committee that successfully pushed in 2008 for passage of Initiative 100, which requires impounding of vehicles driven by undocumented immigrants. (That measure was repealed last week by the Denver City Council.)

If elected, Daniels said, he’d push to slash 10 percent of the DPS administrative budget, “putting it into teachers.”

Already running for the at-large seat are former City Council member and former DPS employee Happy Haynes, South High School social studies teacher Frank Deserino and Park Hill resident Roger Kilgore, a water resources engineer and consultant.

Good reads from elsewhere

Stack o’ pink slips: The Washington, D.C., schools on Friday fired 206 teachers for poor performance, about 5 percent of the teaching workforce. Most were let go because of unsatisfactory ratings in the district’s evaluation system, which includes meeting student growth targets on standardized tests and also uses multiple observation sessions. Some 75 teachers were let go in 2010, the first year the system was in use. Washington Post

Chiefs look for NCLB out: A group of state chief school officers are exploring ways to use their own accountability systems if Congress doesn’t overhaul the No Child Left Behind law this fall. Some state school leaders said recently that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has signaled he may be open to waivers of the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014. New York Times

Education Week also has details on the waiver chatter.

Loans may be in the crosshairs: Mainstream media coverage doesn’t offer much detail on what specific budget cuts are being talked about in the deficit grudge match between President Obama and congressional Republicans. One interesting specific is a proposal, reportedly by conservative GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor, to require students to pay the interest their loans accrue while they’re enrolled in college. Inside Higher Education

AFT to the defense: Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told reporters recently that the union’s local affiliates will defend the rights of teachers caught up in test cheating scandals, including the mess in Atlanta. Weingarten hastened to add that the union doesn’t condone cheating. USA Today

The Churn is published periodically during the summer.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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