Who Is In Charge

Bargaining sunshine bill moves

House Bill 12-1118, which would make school district-union bargaining sessions open to the public, passed the House State Affairs Committee Thursday on a 5-4 party-line vote.

Colorado CapitolAll the witnesses who appeared supported the bill, but several education interest groups oppose the measure, and it could face problems if it gets to the Democratic controlled Senate.

Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association, supported the bill and described the current practice of closed bargaining as kind of anomaly in the context of state open meetings law.

That law requires any meetings be open when two or more elected officials participate. But bargaining often is delegated to administrators, allowing for closed bargaining.

Only two Colorado school districts, Poudre and Mesa, currently have public bargaining, according to the Colorado Education Association. Colorado Springs District 11 bargaining is partly open, according to board member Bob Null, a D11 board member who testified for the bill.

(Earlier this week, the leader of the union in Douglas County called for open bargaining in that district, something that school board leaders said they also are interested in – see story.)

Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, also pitched the bill as a natural extension of state open meetings law and argued that parents and taxpayers are increasingly interested in the inner workings of district budgets as services such as busing are cut and fees for activities and supplies rise.

Democratic members of the committee raised issues from the start, repeatedly questioning Conti and witnesses about the need for and the advisability of the bill. The committee took testimony and chewed on the bill for two hours.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she’d received an email from union, district and board leaders in Jefferson County opposing the bill.

“I’m concerned that we are going against the local elected schools boards. … Why should we in the legislature force this upon them?”

In addition to the local control argument, Democrats argued that public meetings could distort negotiations. “There are delicate negotiations, and I could see the potential for incredible grandstanding,” Court argued.

Board member Null from D11, saying his district hasn’t been able to fully open bargaining because of union resistance, said, “We need a mandate from the state.”

The bill is formally opposed by the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association. The Colorado Association of Schools Boards lists itself as “monitoring” the bill. No opponents testified, as sometimes happens when lobbyists feel confident a bill will be defeated later in the legislative process.

Five committee Republicans voted for the bill while four Democrats voted no.

Including Conti, the bill has a dozen GOP House members as cosponsors but no sponsors from either party in the Senate yet.

There are about 60 collective bargaining agreements in effect in Colorado school districts, two-thirds of them covering teachers and the rest other employees.

Read the bill text here

A short afternoon for Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee Thursday voted 7-0 to approve House Bill 12-1072, which would direct state colleges and universities to set up systems for evaluating adult students’ military, professional and life experiences as a way to earn college credit.

Some colleges already do that, and there are existing tests to evaluate life experiences and place students. But bill sponsors want to expand the practice as a way to help increase Colorado’s college completion rate.

Army veteran Daniel Warvi testified that he was able to translate military and professional experience into two years’ worth of credits at the private University of Denver. But many veterans have trouble getting experience credits at public colleges, or even transferring credits from service-run community colleges, he said.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs / File photo

Sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, called the bill “a really innovative way for people to cut down on the costs of going to college.”

Having a feel-good bill to consider put committee members in a jovial mood.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, asked how much credit 14 years in the legislature would earn her.

King jokingly suggested six credit hours toward a graduate degree.

“I do not have a bachelor’s degree,” Spence replied, at which point King upped the ante to “24 or 36 hours.”

Johnston’s next assignment

The so-called parent trigger bill, House Bill 12-1149, was introduced in the Senate this week, with Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the sole sponsor. (See this story for details about the measure’s final passage in the House.)

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, assigned the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee, where bills often go to die.

Johnston said Thursday he’s not discouraged by that and is starting work on building support for the measure. He also noted that two of his Senate Ed Democratic colleagues, Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and Rollie Heath of Boulder, sit on State Affairs.

This year Johnston is a prime sponsor of the undocumented student tuition bill and still is talking about introducing a major school finance measure.

For the record

The full Senate Thursday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 12-1090, which would require moving the annual Oct. 1 enrollment count date when it conflicts with religious holidays. The count date already is moved when Oct. 1 falls on the weekend, and current law allows counting of students in a window of five days on either side of the date.

But there’s concern that parents are confused about whether kids can miss school on Oct. 1 for religious reasons. The date periodically conflicts with Jewish holy days.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.
http://www.ednewscolorado.org/ed-bill-tracker

Controversy

Boundary lines of proposed South Loop high school drive wedge between communities

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke
About 30 speakers weighed in on a boundary proposal for a new South Loop high school at a public meeting at IIT.

The parent, wearing an “I Love NTA” T-shirt, said it loudly and directly toward the end of the public comment section Thursday night. “It sickens me to be here today and see so many people fighting for scraps,” said Kawana Hebron, in a public meeting on the boundaries for a proposed South Loop high school on the current site of National Teachers Academy. “Every community on this map is fighting for scraps.”

The 1,200-student high school, slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year near the corner of Cermak Road and State Street, has become a wedge issue dividing communities and races on the Near South Side.

Supporters of NTA, which is a 82 percent black elementary school, say pressure from wealthy white and Chinese families is leading the district to shutter its exceptional 1-plus rated program. A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County in June by parents and supporters contends the decision violates the Illinois Civil Rights Code. 

But residents of Chinatown and the condo-and-crane laden South Loop have lobbied for an open-enrollment high school for years and that the district is running out of places to put one.

“I worry for my younger brother,” said a 15-year-old who lives between Chinatown and Bridgeport and travels north to go to the highly selective Jones College Prep. She said that too many students compete for too few seats in the nail-biting process to get into a selective enrollment high school. Plus, she worries about the safety, and environment, of the schools near her home. “We want something close, but good.”

PHOTO: Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools
The “general attendance” boundary for the proposed South Loop high school is outlined in blue. The neighborhoods outlined in red would receive “preference,” but they would not be guaranteed seats.

One by one, residents of Chinatown or nearby spoke in favor of the high school at the meeting in Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They described their long drives, their fearfulness of dropping off children in schools with few, if any, Chinese students, and their concerns about truancy and poor academics at some neighboring open-enrollment high schools.

But their comments were sandwiched by dissenting views. A member of South Loop Elementary’s Local School Council argued that Chicago Public Schools has not established a clear process when it comes to shuttering an elementary and spending $10 million to replace it with a high school. “CPS scheduled this meeting at the same time as a capital budget meeting,” she complained.

She was followed by another South Loop parent who expressed concerns about potential overcrowding, the limited $10 million budget for the conversion, and the genesis of the project. “It’s a terrible way to start a new high school – on the ashes of a good elementary school,” the parent said.

The most persistent critique Thursday night was not about the decision to close NTA, but, rather, of the boundary line that would determine who gets guaranteed access and who doesn’t. The GAP, a diverse middle-class neighborhood bordered by 31st on the north, 35th on the South, King Drive to the east and LaSalle Street to the west, sits just outside the proposed boundary. A parade of GAP residents said they’ve been waiting for decades for a good option for their children but have been locked out in this iteration of the map. Children who live in the GAP would have “preference” status but would not be guaranteed access to seats.

“By not including our children into the guaranteed access high school boundaries – they are being excluded from high-quality options,” said Claudia Silva-Hernandez, the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. “Our children deserve the peace of mind of a guaranteed-access option just like the children of South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.”

Leonard E. McGee, the president of the GAP Community Organization, said that tens of millions in tax-increment financing dollars – that is, money that the city collects on top of property tax revenues that is intended for economic development in places that need it most – originated from the neighborhood in the 1980s and went to help fund the construction of NTA. But not many of the area’s students got seats there.

Asked how he felt about the high school pitting community groups against each other, he paused. “If we’re all fighting for scraps, it must be a good scrap we’re fighting for.”

The meeting was run by Herald “Chip” Johnson, chief officer of CPS’ Office of Family and Community Engagement. He said that detailed notes from the meeting will be handed over to the office of CEO Janice Jackson. She will make a final recommendation to the Board of Education, which will put the plan up for a vote.

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.