Who Is In Charge

Tax campaigns’ spending nears $1 million

Some $926,860 has been raised by campaign committees that support passage of bond issues and operating tax increases in 22 districts around Colorado.

Election 2012 LogoThe total is nearing three times the amount raised for district tax campaigns in 2011, but the two elections aren’t directly comparable.

Last year, 36 districts proposed a total of 43 bond issues and operating increases or mill levy overrides. Only one large district – Douglas County – was on the ballot.

This year, 30 districts are proposing 37 bonds and overrides, but four of the state’s largest districts have measures before their voters.

Proposals by the Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jefferson County districts account for $664 million of the $1.03 billion being requested by districts statewide. In a similar vein, campaign committees in those four districts have raised $736,523 of the $926,860 total, which is based on campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office as of Oct. 16. Aurora is seeking a property tax rate override for operating expenses; the other three districts all are proposing bond issues and overrides.

Only $7,775 has been raised by the three opposition committees registered this year, two in Jefferson County and one in Denver.

This year’s fundraising totals will grow, of course, because the campaigns aren’t over.

About $325,000 was raised in district campaigns for the entire 2011 election cycle. Roughly a third of that, about $105,000, was contributed in a failed Douglas County bond campaign.

The last time Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jeffco were all on the ballot was in 2008. Fundraising in Denver is running well ahead of 2008 totals, while less money is being raised in the other three districts than four years ago. (See box for details.)

Outside the metro area, the largest amounts have been raised by committees in St. Vrain – $83,794, Greeley – $17,186 and Pueblo County 70 – $14,380.

In the 2,400-student Montezuma-Cortez district, the Cortez 21C High School Committee has raised $21,750 for the campaign urging voters to approve a $21 million bond issue, part of which would be used to match a state Building Excellent Schools Today grant of $23 million.

The smallest war chest – $620 – was raised by the Best for Hi-Plains Students Committee, which is backing a $2.8 million bond issue in the 129-student Hi-Plains district of Kit Carson County. The bond would match a $14 million BEST grant to build a new PK-12 school.

Where the money comes from

Campaign committees have been tapping familiar donors this year – municipal bond firms, construction companies and architects. Community foundations also are significant contributors in some districts, and campaign committees in larger districts report substantial numbers of corporate and individual donors.

Committees in small districts generally have tapped a few local businesses and individuals for contributions. Citizens for Otis School District reported raising $2,188 of its $2,690 total from the proceeds of a pancake supper.

Individual teachers and unions also are contributors.

The Colorado Education Association has given $35,000 to campaign committees in 13 districts, including contributions of $7,000 each in Denver and Jeffco, $6,000 in Cherry Creek and $3,000 in Aurora. The Jefferson County Education Association has given $30,000 to the campaign in that district, and the Pueblo Education Association gave $3,000 to the Pueblo 70 campaign committee.

Tony Salazar, CEA executive director, said union donations are given only when members in a district request them and given proportionate to the number of members in a district. He added this year’s donations are about the same as in past years.

State law bans active campaigning by school districts, so independent citizen committees are formed to raise money and run campaigns. There are no campaign committees in eight districts, based on a review of state filings. One of those is Aspen, which isn’t proposing a bond or override but which would share a sales tax increase being proposed by the city. One committee, Yes on 3A in the Plateau Valley district of Mesa County, hasn’t filed a report.

Spending comparisons

This list shows fundraising to date in 2012 and total fundraising in 2008 in the four major districts with tax proposals in both years.

Aurora

  • 2012 – $121,587
  • 2008 – $235,380 – voters passed a $215 million bond

Cherry Creek

  • 2012 – $157,414
  • 2008 – $181,704 – voters approved a $203 million bond

Denver

  • 2012 – $312,420
  • 2008 – $270,000 (Denver Post, Nov. 5, 2008) – a $454 million bond passed

Jeffco

  • 2012 – $142,102
  • 2008 – $268,288 – the $350 million bond was defeated

Three other major districts held bond elections in 2008, including:

  • Adams 12-Five Star – An $80 million bond lost; $120,831 was raised in support
  • Douglas County – The $395 million bond lost; $94,532.69 raised
  • St. Vrain – The $189 million bond passed; $93,657.89 raised

Unless otherwise noted, totals are based on state records.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.