Doug redux

Dougco board incumbents go down to defeat

Moderator Jerry Healey (right) lays out ground rules before the Douglas County candidate forum.

The three challengers for seats on the Douglas County school board easily ousted conservative incumbents in Tuesday’s election.

Majority control of the conservative-dominated wasn’t at stake in Tuesday’s election, but election of the three challengers will significantly change the board dynamics. And the outcome ended the conservatives’ run of success in three previous board elections.

The challengers won convincingly, each tallying 58 to 59 percent of the vote.

Board president Kevin Larsen, who lost to Anne-Marie Lemieux in District C, said, “I hope they come in and are able to assimilate with the remaining members on the board and build on what we’ve done to improve the district. … I wish them well.”

The size of the challengers’ margins was “a bit stunning to us. We knew it could go either way, but it definitely was a stronger percentage than we anticipated,” Larsen said.

The conservative majority first elected in 2009 has shaken up the district by championing policies such as a voucher program, a pay-for-performance salary system, breaking the district teachers union and new budgeting practices.

While the board has had some different faces now than it did in 2009, all seven members were in the conservative camp up to now.

In addition to Larsen and Lemieux, the candidates this year were incumbent Craig Richardson and Wendy Vogel in District A and incumbent Richard Robbins and David Ray in District F.

The three incumbents promoted rising achievement, high school graduation rates, declining college remediation and the district’s top-level state rating as reasons to re-elect them.

But the three challengers argued that the board has gone too far in its initiatives, badly implemented some of them, ruined teacher morale and ignored the views of many parents and teachers.

Larsen said he thought the challengers made points with voters by campaigning on low teacher morale and the need for greater diversity of views on the board. “I think their message was effective enough to give them a victory.”

Two hot issues in the campaign were whether the district needs to carry out a comprehensive survey of parent and teacher attitude about the district and the board’s refusal to propose a bond issue to pay for an estimated $250 million in building needs.

Past Dougco campaigns have seen high spending with significant contributions by wealthy individuals from outside the district.

The challengers raised significantly more money that the incumbents in this campaign, but what’s expected to have been significant spending by independent campaign committees hasn’t yet been reported – or doesn’t have to be reported.

The 2009 Dougco election, with its strongly partisan and ideological tone, marked a change in Colorado school board politics. The push to elect conservative candidates spread to other districts, including Jefferson County, Thompson and others. But that wave seems to have receded in many districts this election.

In addition to shaking things up within the district, Dougco board members and top administrators have been critical of state academic content standards and tests and have touted their own system as superior to what the state requires of districts.

Dougco residents vote on all candidates, but the winners are elected by district.

Read what the candidates had to say on the issues in Chalkbeat Colorado’s Election Center, and learn more about the tone of the campaign in this story about a candidate forum.

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”