Who Is In Charge

Open bargaining bill killed

IllustrationThe five members of the Senate State Affairs Committee listened politely to witnesses and then voted 3-2 Wednesday to kill House Bill 12-1118, which would have required that school district collective bargaining sessions be open to the public.

Also Wednesday, a House committee significantly downsized a bill that would allow expansion of gambling, with part of the proceeds going to community colleges and to scholarships.

Bargaining bill was expected to fall

The panel’s three Democrats provided the majority necessary to kill the measure, which had only Republican sponsors and which was opposed by such traditional Democratic allies as the Colorado Education Association. The bill had passed the House, where Republicans hold a one-vote majority, on a 33-31 vote.

Hearing testimony mirrored much of what was said last month during a House State Affairs Committee session.

Sponsor Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said open negotiations are needed “to make sure that the taxpayers have the ability to come in and see what’s happening with their tax dollars.” He said the bill would help restore public trust in government.

Walt Cooper, Cheyenne Mountain district superintendent and a representative of the Colorado Association of School Executives, opposed the bill, saying the decision to open bargaining sessions should be up to local school boards and unions. Greg Romberg, lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Broadcasters Association, urged passage, saying the bill was a logical extension of the state open meetings law.

Perhaps the most interesting witness was Tiffany Vaughn, who identified herself as a Douglas County teacher and parent. Although she said she’s a member of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, she was critical of the union. She argued that because negotiations are closed, “We cannot be assured that the AFT union leadership is actually representing us. … Teachers should be able to see if their unions are truly representing them.”

The bill was formally opposed by CASE and CEA. The Colorado Association of School Boards listed itself as “monitoring” the bill, but lobbyists for the Cherry Creek and Littleton districts were registered as opposing the bill.

Districts and unions currently can choose open negotiations, and three districts have that system.

Gaming bill gets pared down

Statehouse observers have been wondering about the prospects for House Bill 12-1280, which originally proposed to allow creation of three locations with video gambling devices, two along the Front Range and one on the Western Slope, with part of the revenues going to community colleges and to college scholarships.

Under terms of the original bill, community colleges would get an annual cut of up to $29 million from potential revenues, and a state scholarship fund theoretically would receive as much as $43 million. The Building Excellent Schools Today school construction program also would get a cut of the revenue

The bill was the subject of a lively House Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 22, but no vote was taken, apparently because there wasn’t a majority for passage of the bill. (See story about that hearing.)

Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek

Debate over the bill is the latest skirmish in the long-running feud between horse racing interests, primarily a company named Mile High Racing and Entertainment, and casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Casinos fear that allowing video gaming devices in population centers along the Front Range would decimate their business.

The casinos seem to have won a round Wednesday, when the bill came back up in House Agriculture.

Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, moved a successful amendment that would limit the bill to one gambling establishment on the Western Slope, erasing any chances that gaming halls would be located in Arapahoe County and Pueblo, as some supporters had hoped. The amendment also requires the casino be located at least 100 miles away from any of the three gambling towns. (Possible locations are thought to be near the fairgrounds in Montrose or Grand Junction.) Corum is one of the prime sponsors of the bipartisan bill.

Reducing the number of potential locations would reduce the expected net revenue from the project to $34 million in 2013-14, raising questions about whether community colleges would get their full $29 million and about how much would be left for a scholarship fund. A successful amendment by Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Grand County, would take $4 million a year off the top for state tourism promotion efforts.

“It feels like we’re doing less for colleges now,” said Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora.

The bill passed the committee 7-6, with Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the roll call.

The measure is expected to have a rough road ahead. Casino interests argue the whole idea is an unconstitutional expansion of gambling. The bill proposes to put the new gambling hall under the Colorado Lottery Commission – the gaming devices are described in the bill as “video lottery terminals.” But opponents argue it should be approved by voters and be regulated by the Limited Gaming Control Commission.

One more step for Adams State

After a brief but cordial session with President David Svaldi and two trustees, the Senate Education Committee Wednesday voted 6-0 for House Bill 12-1080, which would turn Adams State College into Adams State University.

A bill upgrading Metro State to university status already has passed both houses, and a measure to change Western State College to Western State Colorado University is pending in the House.

During a Senate Ed confirmation hearing last week, two prospective Fort Lewis College trustees were asked if their college also is contemplating a name change. They said no.

For the record

The House Wednesday voted 61-3 for House Bill 12-1043, which would require districts to do a better job of informing students about dual high school-college enrollment options. The measure started out proposing creation of a new concurrent enrollment program, but school district lobbyists, their clients concerned about the potential costs, worked out a compromise with sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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.”