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.

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.