Who Is In Charge

Ideas emerging from TBD Colorado

PUEBLO – Education and state constitutional issues are emerging as the top two areas of concern for those participating in the TBD Colorado initiative launched earlier this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Word cloud
Word cloud of discussion topics at a recent TBD Colorado meeting.

The first wave of multi-regional citizen summits for TBD Colorado – TBD stands for To Be Determined – was held in three locations around the state late last week, and some issues are rising to the top.

”For anybody who has been paying attention, those two (education and the constitution) have been intertwined for some time,” said participant Dave Dill of Pueblo.

He noted, “The amount of funds that the state has, that it can allocate to something, was greatly reduced by” such provisions as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits state and local revenues, and the Gallagher Amendment, which lays out rules for property taxes. The two are widely considered to create conflicts that restrict state government in budgeting.

People who participated in recent TBD meetings across the state were offered a menu of six broad issues and were asked to select which two Colorado should focus on in the next two years. Those issues are education, health, state budget, state workforce, transportation and the constitution.

The priorities identified by nearly 1,400 respondents were:

  • Education – 28.5 percent
  • Constitutional issues – 23.3 percent
  • State budget – 22.2 percent
  • Health – 13.7 percent
  • Transportation – 8.4 percent
  • State workforce – 1.6 percent

Another 2.24 percent said all six topics were “roughly equal” in importance.

“I think to me the most imperative thing to come out of this is to change, not just to repeal TABOR. I don’t know that that would be successful,” said Lee Merkel of Pueblo, a regional manager for the state Department of Local Affairs and TBD participant.

Participants also were polled on 10 other specific policy proposals. Here’s how opinion on some of those sorted out:

  • Creation of a uniform statewide property tax for schools. – 16.5 percent
  • Make preschool and full-day kindergarten universally available – 15.5 percent
  • Maintaining the transportation system and restoring the state income tax to pre-1999 levels – both at 11.52 percent
  • Providing healthy food choices for students – 6.96 percent
  • Ensuring rural road safety and reliability – 6.16 percent
  • Providing physical education in schools – 6.01 percent

At the Pueblo session last Saturday, participants were asked whether they strongly agreed, agreed, were neutral, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I support a constitutional convention.”

Two thirds said they strongly agreed, and another 17 percent said they agreed.

One feature of the June regional summits is use of a computer program that called “Backseat Budgeter,” which included the TBD policy options in an interactive simulation of the state budget.

Using laptops at circular tables where they sat in small groups, participants were asked to make choices using TBD policy options in the context of their potential impact on the state budget.

The program makes it possible for participants to instantaneously see what effects each choice would have on the overall budget and its implications for the constitution.

Summits were held last weekend in Pueblo, Durango and Greeley, drawing about 130 people total.

Learn more
  • TBD website, including background information, videos and word clouds
  • Backseat Budgeter, an interactive service that allows you to run scenarios for changing the state budget

A second wave of summits is slated for June 23 in Denver, Colorado Springs and Greeley. Registration remains open for the Colorado Springs and Greeley sessions, but the Denver regional meeting is already at capacity.

“At the end of June, we will have held over 60 regional meetings, six multi-region summits, and from that we will have a list of priority options people think are really important to move forward on,” said TBD executive director Kae Rader

“And we’ll have six different state budgets, one for each summit, created by those participants,” he added

Many TBD participants appear to be enjoying the role of citizen policy maker, albeit with some reservations.

“I’m very much in favor of the process, but I’m just real curious about how it might be utilized‚” said Dill.

Following TBD advisory committee reviews set for July 24 and Nov. 17, a final report based on the June summits will go to Hickenlooper, the General Assembly and other state officials in December.

Although initiated by Hickenlooper, the TBD effort is privately funded. The effort is similar to smaller-scale community input processes the administration used to develop economic development and early children policy proposals.

Reporter Charlie Brennan wrote this story for EdNews’ partner, the I-News Network.

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.