Statehouse roundup

Budget panel launches BEST oversight bill

Illustration courtesy Capital Construction Assistance Division

The legislative Joint Budget Committee Wednesday unanimously approved introduction of a bill that would give the legislature greater control over part of the Building Excellent Schools Today school construction program.

The program was the subject of a somewhat critical state audit last year (see story), and that has prompted some proposed legislative tinkering.

The proposed JBC bill would affect the cash grants that BEST gives school districts for smaller projects like boiler replacements, new roofs and the like. Last year the Capital Construction Assistance board awarded $15.7 million in cash grants to 24 projects, including $9 million in state money and $6.6 million in local district matching funds.

The BEST program receives a share of mineral and leasing revenues generated by state-owned lands. Under current law, the program basically can spend whatever amount it wants from those revenues, a system called “continuous appropriation” in legislative lingo.

The bill approved by the JBC would remove that continuous appropriation power, allowing lawmakers to set a specific amount for cash grants in the annual state budget bill.

Meeting at the same time just a block away, construction board members discussed the bill and had some concerns.

“I’m a little uncomfortable” with the idea, said board chair Lyndon Burnett, saying he was concerned about possible legislative tinkering if the cash-grants amount was in the annual budget bill.

Jennifer Mello, lobbyist for the Department of Education, cautioned the board, “Don’t react to something until you see it on paper. … Working off rumors is just dangerous.”

The board spent more time on another issue raised by the audit, whether the state should do a fresh inventory of school building conditions statewide. The audit faulted the program for not being able to rank buildings by health and safety deficiencies, based on an inventory done five years ago.

Program staff told the board that doing a full new inventory would cost $10.9 million, while upgrading the five-year-old building assessment would cost $2.7 million.

Board members seemed more interested in another option, hiring state inspectors (at an estimated $100,000 a year apiece) and spending $100,000 to train those employees to inspect buildings. That plan also would involve integrating building-conditions data that’s maintained by larger districts into the state database.

The board asked BEST staff to prepare more information on that option and present it at the Feb. 26 meeting. (Get more information here on the options discussed by the board.)

First ELL bill introduced

The first in what may be a series of competing bills on English language learners was introduced Wednesday. House Bill 14-1167, sponsored by Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, would expand programs for English language learners, including creation of a five-year period during which students would be eligible for extra funding. (Current state funding is limited to two years.) The introduced version of the bill doesn’t include a price tag nor a funding source.

Last year Navarro teamed with Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, on a similar bill, which died because the sponsors couldn’t find funding.

There’s talk that Buckner may introduce his own bill this year, and that Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, might include such funding in a larger bill that would proposed to resurrect some features of his Senate Bill 13-213. (Read HB 14-1167 here.)

Going through the motions

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday killed Senate Bill 14-033, this year’s version of the perennial Republican proposal to grant tax credits for private school tuition, donations for private school scholarships and for home schooling costs.

Witnesses provided predictable testimony (parents testified for the bill, representatives of the Colorado Education Association and the ACLU opposed it), Democratic and Republican committee members made predictable statements and the three Democrats outvoted the two Republicans to kill the measure. State Affairs is where the majority leadership sends bills that it wants killed. (Get more details on what the bill would have done in this legislative staff analysis.)

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”