Who Is In Charge

Merit aid passes, Dougco bill dies

The House Education Committee Wednesday gave 12-0 approval to a bill that’s intended to create a way for state colleges to raise cash from out-of-staters to pay for merit scholarships for top Colorado students.

Colorado CapitolAcross the hall in the Capitol basement, the House Local Government Committee killed a bill that was sparked by conflict between the Douglas County school board and citizen groups.

The scholarship bill, introduced only on Tuesday, is a “do-over” measure drafted after a proposed $3 million for merit aid was stripped from the main 2013-14 budget bill because of a dispute over whether undocumented students would be eligible for the scholarships.

House Bill 13-1320 doesn’t carry any funding. Rather it would allow state colleges and universities, with certain restrictions, to raise limits on the number of out-of-state students they enroll.

The theory behind the bill is that increasing the number of non-resident students – who on average pay $13,300 more a year than Colorado students at four-year schools – will allow tapping some of those funds to pay for the merit scholarships.

The bill “creates more money because they pay a higher rate,” said sponsor Mark Waller, a Colorado Springs Republican who’s House minority leader. His partner on the bill is House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

“Does anything more need to be said? Two leaders, vote yes,” Waller joked.

State-funded merit scholarships were scrapped a few years ago because of state budget cuts. (The state still provides funding for need-based aid.) Administrators, particularly at the University of Colorado, complain that universities in other states are luring top Colorado students with hefty aid packages. “The recruiting landscape has become extremely competitive,” Kevin McLennen, CU-Boulder admissions director, testified.

The bill is still under construction, primarily because it contains no descriptions or standards for what the merit scholarships would look like. Backers of the bill are in negotiations with the Department of Higher Education about adding some detail to the bill. Next stop for the measure is House Appropriations.

By the way, the merit scholarships would be available to undocumented students.

Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff summary.

Inauspicious day for executive sessions bill

Wednesday was an unlucky day in the local government panel for House Bill 13-1313, a bill that would have changed state open meetings law. The measure was prompted by the concerns of some Dougco citizens that the school board is using executive sessions improperly.

Cindy Barnard, president of Taxpayers for Public Education, said the board last year spent half its time in executive session, much more time than in past years. “I have witnessed on too many occasions the important decisions being made behind closed doors.” Under state law only personnel matters, real estate deals and consultations with lawyers can be held in closed-door meetings.

Susan Meek of the group Strong Schools Coalition also testified for the bill. Brenda Smith, head of the AFT-affiliated Dougco teachers union, attended the hearing but didn’t testify. (The union has its own set of conflicts with the conservative school board.)

As originally drafted, the measure would have required that all executive sessions be recorded; current law requires recording but allows it to turned off when elected officials are in private meetings with lawyers. If citizens had concerns about an executive session, they could ask a judge to review the tape. The bill also would have required that elected bodies keep a log of how much time was spent on different issues discussed in private.

Because the bill would have applied to all elected local government bodies – county commissions, city councils and other groups as well as school boards – it drew opposition from a couple of powerful interest groups, Colorado Counties Inc. and the Colorado Municipal League. The Colorado Association of School Boards also had issues with the bill. There were concerns that the measure would have diluted the principle of attorney-client confidentiality.

Facing those headwinds, sponsor Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, offered an amendment that stripped the recording provision and retained only the time-keeping requirement.

Some committee members also were concerned about the attorney-client privilege issue, and others wondered why the dispute required a statewide solution.

“It sounds like this is a local issue. We can’t legislate trust for Douglas County,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora and committee chair.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said the two citizen groups “frankly represent a stark minority of voters in our county” and suggested they seek a solution in court, not in the legislature.

A motion to advance the bill failed on a 5-8 vote, with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats voting no. The measure then was postponed indefinitely on a 7-6 vote.

Alternative schools accreditation bill moves on

House Education voted 13-0 to pass Senate Bill 13-217, a seemingly technical measure that could have important implications for school districts working to raise low state accreditation ratings.

The bill would allow the State Board of Education to adjust how the performance of students at alternative education campuses affects district accreditation levels. Such campuses, which have special status under state law, typically serve very high percentages of at-risk students, such as dropouts, teen parents and students under court supervision.

The state sets different rating standards for alternative schools than for other schools. But currently the performance of alternative school students isn’t weighted any differently when rolled into a district’s rating.

Some districts have been concerned that current system inappropriately drags down their accreditation ratings.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”