Who Is In Charge

Cary Kennedy’s balancing act

COLORADO SPRINGS – State Treasurer Cary Kennedy walked a fine political line in a speech Friday, defending the orthodox interpretation of Amendment 23 while avoiding criticism of Gov. Bill Ritter, whose proposed 2010-11 budget takes a new view of the amendment.

Kennedy, one of the primary authors of A23, spoke before a friendly audience at the annual Colorado Association of School Boards convention in Colorado Springs.

State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Dec. 4, 2009.
State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Dec. 4, 2009.

“I want to set the record straight,” Kennedy said, referring to questions about where she stands on Ritter’s cuts.

“I don’t believe the state can make these cuts without violating Amendment 23,” she added, to the applause of some 1,000 people in a Broadmoor Hotel ballroom.

But wait, there was more.

“I respect the work the governor and the General Assembly are doing to balance the budget. … There are some new realities in the budget, and these proposals came forth because they had to.”

Kennedy noted that while she has an opinion on the matter, it may ultimately be up to the courts to decide.

While some education interests, primarily the Colorado Education Association, are politely opposed to Ritter’s proposed cuts, there seems to be a general air of resignation about the issue among other groups and at the Statehouse. A budget analyst told lawmakers at a Capitol hearing Thursday that they may have no choice but to accept the governor’s plan (see story).

School districts across the state are facing cuts in state aid of nearly 2 percent in the current budget year and of more than 6 percent in 2010-11.

Passed by voters in 2000, the A23 formula requires state aid to schools to increase annually by the rate of inflation, student enrollment and a 1 percent bonus. (The bonus expires after the 2010-11 budget year – a piece of future bad news for schools.)

In the current budget year, for instance, school aid grew 4.9 percent while other state programs were being cut or, like the higher education system, held together with federal stimulus cash. (Kennedy made no reference to higher ed in her remarks.)

But, for 2010-11, Ritter is proposing that the A23 formula be applied to only about 75 percent of state aid (the per-pupil base), with cuts to additional funds that are used to equalize spending among districts. That would amount to a 6.1 percent overall cut from what state aid would otherwise have been expected to total in 2010-11. The state and school districts currently spend a total of about $5.7 billion a year on K-12 schools.

Although Kennedy said schools face “tough times, challenging times, frustrating times,” she said there has been good news in recent years, including a 2007 state law (and subsequent Colorado Supreme Court decision) that prevented scheduled reductions in local property taxes and a 2008 law that gives lawmakers greater flexibility in spending from the state’s main account, the general fund.

But, Kennedy warned that two proposed 2010 ballot measures pose fresh threats to school funding. One would put tight limits on property taxes while the other would severely limit government debt, threatening the Build Excellent Schools Today program, of which Kennedy was a prime backer.

The proposals are an “opportunity for you people to step up” and fight for education funding, Kennedy said.

Ritter and Kennedy both face reelection next year. The governor is expected to have a tough race against former GOP Congressman Scott McInnis. Kennedy is likely to face Walker Stapleton, a little-known but well-financed GOP businessman who is a member of the extended Bush family.

Kennedy is supporting former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. He’s challenging Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed to the post by Ritter.

In case you didn’t get the bad news

At a breakout session later Friday afternoon, members of the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Dwight Jones were on a panel that discussed current policy issues.

Member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District and the board’s newest member, had the unenviable task of outlining the budget situation.

“Don’t pretend that this is not going to hurt your communities and your students,” Schroeder said, predicting citizens “will be angry.”

She also noted, “Many of us believe this is going to be an ongoing challenge.”

And, Schroeder said, the $110 million cut expected in the current budget might not be the only financial pain districts feel this year. Deputy Commissioner Robert Hammond told EdNews that the costs of larger-than-predicted increases in free-and-reduced-lunch and in online students might have to be absorbed by districts. In a “normal” budget cycle, such increased costs would be covered by the legislature with a mid-year increase in state aid.

The CASB convention is one of the major annual get-togethers in the Colorado education world, drawing board members, superintendents, state officials, lawmakers, vendors and others for three days of training sessions, discussions, speeches and networking. This year’s convention program weighed in at 118 pages.

The convention has been held at the Broadmoor for decades. Using a luxury hotel drew a critical story on one Denver TV station, which questioned the choice of the venue in tight budget times.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.