Who Is In Charge

School finance bill set to launch

The 2012-13 school finance bill will be focused on shoring up state aid to school districts, according to its sponsor, with a modest amount of spending for special programs.

Legislature 2012 logoImproved state revenues have made it possible for the Joint Budget Committee to set aside $57 million that’s intended for maintaining average per-pupil spending in 2012-13 at the same level as this year, a little under $6,500.

In years before the state budget squeeze, the annual school finance bill often was used to fund various specialized education programs as well as to set the overall level of school funding. Four years of budget cuts have not only dried up funding for those programs but also forced cuts in operational funding for school districts.

Given that improving revenues make it possible to avoid K-12 cuts, Rep. Tom Massey said Wednesday the school finance act will focus on accomplishing that. The bill could be introduced as early as Thursday.

Massey is a prime sponsor of the finance bill and chair of the House Education Committee. He said he’s proposing two significant “extras” in the finance act, $1.3 million to fund the Department of Education’s regional services program and an extra $1 million for charter school facilities costs.

The regional services program, created a few years ago but not funded, is intended to pay for CDE to provide small districts and boards of cooperative education services with expertise and consulting for work they’re unable to do on their own.

For charter schools, current law provides $5 million a year, distributed on a per-pupil basis, that charters can use for building needs. Massey’s proposal would add $1 million to that amount.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said Wednesday that the bill also will include $300,000 to pay for giving every student skills tests such as the Accuplacer once during high school.

Massey hopes – and thinks – other lawmakers will resist the temptation to dip too much into the $57 million for special programs.

“Everyone understands the realities” of the budget situation and the need to maintain K-12 spending levels, he said.

Massey and other House Ed members met Wednesday morning with CDE staff and two JBC members for a briefing on the budget situation and its effect on K-12.

“I just want you to know we’re in a very tentative position financially,” said JBC chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, subtly urging lawmakers to avoid the temptation to “go shopping” in the school finance act.

Budget hightlights

Leeanne Emm, CDE school finance director, walked the meeting through the expected school finance situation for 2012-13. Based on her analysis, here’s what things look like:

$5.29 billion in total program funding would be available to schools, compared to the current $5.23 million.

  • Average per pupil funding would be $6,474.24, compared to this year’s $6,404.49 without the additional $57 million. (Actual per-pupil funding varies widely by district.) The amount would still be below the $7,076 per-pupil average in 2009-10, a figure approved in the last legislative session before the recession hit.
  • Base funding per student would be $5,843.26 up from $5,634.77 this year. Base funding is the minimum amount guaranteed under Amendment 23 to every school district and is driven by inflation, calculated at 3.7 percent for next year.
  • Next year’s statewide enrollment is estimated at 817,185, an increase of 9,027, or 1.1 percent.

While the latest budget news is a welcome change for education, next year’s funding will be considerably less than what it would be under the original method of applying Amendment 23, the 2000 constitutional change that set a funding formula for K-12.

Prior to 2009, the legislature multiplied both base funding and other parts of school support by inflation to come up with total program funding for the following school year. (Amendment 23 originally required addition of another 1 percent, but that provision has expired.)

Because of declining state revenues, in 2009 the legislature created a “negative factor” that allowed it to cut annual school spending enough to balance the budget without gutting other state programs. K-12 spending accounts for more than 40 percent of spending from the state’s general fund.

The expected negative factor for 2012-13 is estimated at $1 billion, meaning that total program funding for schools would be $6.3 billion next year if Amendment 2 were being used as it was prior to the recession.

See Emm’s slide presentation to the committee here.

The main 2012-13 state budget bill, House Bill 12-1335, was introduced in the House Wednesday. That measure sets the base level of school funding as required by Amendment 23. The “long bill” proposes state funding of about $512 million for state colleges and universities, plus another $100 million for financial aid.

The House isn’t expected to finish work on the budget bill until the middle of next week. Then the Senate has to consider the bill.

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.”