Colorado

Education issues a key feature of Election 2013

Colorado’s 2013 election is a great example of the old cliché that all politics is local.

Aside from Amendment 66, the proposed $950 million P-12 statewide tax increase, and the proposed marijuana tax, ballots around the state are dominated by local races and questions.

IllustrationIn Arapahoe County, for instance, there are five city elections for nearly 20 offices and nine ballot measures and five school district elections for 13 board seats, plus two school ballot measures. (That’s not to mention the 15 special district questions on Arapahoe ballots.)

School board elections are a common feature on ballots around the state, although the number of proposed district tax measures is down compared to recent years, partly because some school boards were reluctant to compete with A66 for voter attention.

Elections this year are being conducted this year with mail ballots that voters will need to return by mail or at voting centers.

Here’s a quick review at how Election 2013 shapes up for education:

Statewide issues

The vote on A66 sets up a watershed moment for education funding in Colorado. Passage of the income-tax increase would create significant new revenues for public schools and trigger implementation of Senate Bill 13-213, a sweeping change in how funds are allocated to individual school districts.

Defeat of the amendment could well lock schools into a tight “new normal” of funding that is some $1 billion lower than it would have been if not for recession-induced budget cuts in recent years.

Proposition AA, the proposed taxes on recreational marijuana, also has education implications in that some of the revenue would be earmarked for school construction.

Learn more:

School board races

Colorado’s 178 school boards are organized in a variety of ways. Many boards have five members, some have seven; many board members serve at-large while others represent areas within districts. Some boards preside over multi-million-dollar enterprises; others oversee small budgets and a few hundred students.

But all school board members are elected, and all run in November of odd-numbered years.

There’s also great variation in the intensity of board races, with hot contests in some districts and cancelled elections in others because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

For instance, among the 10 largest districts, there are strongly contested races in Denver, Douglas County and Jefferson County and full slates of candidates in Adams 12-Five Star, Aurora and Colorado Springs District 11.

But only one of two seats is contested in Cherry Creek, and only one of three in Poudre. And Boulder Valley and St. Vrain cancelled their board elections because there weren’t enough candidates to make a race.

Among El Paso County’s 15 districts, about a dozen have at least one contested seat. (El Paso has the largest number of districts of any single county.)

Denver and Douglas County have the highest profile races. In DPS, where four of seven seats are on the ballot, the races are a replay of recent years’ contests in that they put a group of candidates who support the administration’s reform initiatives against a group who are more skeptical of those policies and more supportive of neighborhood school improvement.

In Dougco, there’s a similar four-versus-four split, with challengers attacking the current board’s operating procedures and financial management, among other issues.

The intensity seems a bit lower, but Jeffco has a similar split between administration supporters and critics in its three races.

The Dougco election in 2009 was marked by over Republican Party involvement in the board races, leading to a takeover of the board. This year the GOP is backing certain candidates in both counties.

There’s also an overlay of partisanship or ideology in a few other districts’ races. In Grand Junction’s Mesa 51 contests the county GOP is backing certain candidates. An in northern Colorado’s Thompson district a tea party-type group named Liberty Watch is backing a slate.

Learn more:

District tax proposals

School district tax proposals were the big election story in 2012, when voters in 29 school districts approved 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion. Districts had 38 proposals worth about $1.03 billion on the ballot.

The list is shorter and the ask is smaller this year. Some 23 districts have tax measures on the ballot, but the amount requested is only $206.4 million, according to information compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project. And the largest proposal, an $80 million bond issue in Littleton, wouldn’t require additional property taxes but merely asks voters to approve continuation of an existing tax.

Other proposals of note include a $44 million bond issue in Commerce City and tax overrides for operating expenses in Westminster ($5.2 million), Lewis-Palmer ($4.5 million) and Canon City ($1.3 million).

Six small districts are seeking $30.4 million worth of bond issues to raise the matching funds needed to qualify for state Building Excellent Schools Today construction grants.

Learn more:

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede