Statehouse roundup

$10 million rural aid bill advances one step

A bill that would provide $10 million to help small rural school districts save money by sharing services passed the House Education Committee on a 10-1 vote, but the measure’s price tag likely will get close scrutiny later in the legislative session.

Earlier in the day, the full House gave 34-30 final approval to House Bill 15-1221, which would expand and extend the life of an existing state law that allows some parents unpaid time off from work to attend some school activities. Only one Republican voted for the bill, which other Republicans have argued is unnecessary. The brief floor debate reprised a long debate last Friday – see this story for details.

Without debate, the House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1104, which would give a $250 tax credit to teachers who spend their own money to buy school supplies. This measure has a strong feel-good element to it, given that legislators from both parties agree it wouldn’t have a huge in impact on teachers’ taxes. (See this story for background.)

Inside the shared services bill

The rural schools measure, House Bill 15-1201, is intended to relieve some of the financial pressure felt by small districts, by allowing them to partner with boards of cooperative educational services to share some administrative services. It’s sort of an alternative to school district consolidation, long considered a political non-starter in Colorado.

While the bill has bipartisan support, an advantage in the split-control legislature, its $10 million cost will put it in the end-of-session competition over total K-12 spending.

“I realize it will have to compete with other bills as regards funding, and that’s fine,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, who’s teaming with Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale on the proposal.

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

The $10 million would be used for a three-year grant program. BOCES would develop plans for shared services for interested districts and apply to the Department of Education for grants, which could be as large as $500,000. The program also would be open to charter schools.

Dale McCall, executive director of the Colorado BOCES Association, testified for the measure, saying, “We believe this bill would be especially helpful for the 38 districts in the state that have one administrator.”

McCall said possible shared services could include school nurses, information technology, transportation, data management and analysis, food services, and accounting.

Colorado has 148 districts that could take advantage of the grants, McCall said. That includes 104 districts with fewer than 1,000 students, plus another 44 larger districts that are officially defined as rural. The state has 178 districts.

Supporters of the bill acknowledged that current law allows BOCES and small districts to create sharing arrangements but said funding is needed to jump-start such initiatives.

Read the bill here.

Leaders of rural districts have long complained about what they feel are the administrative burdens of recent Colorado education initiatives, from testing to teacher evaluation to early literacy requirements. Another pending measure, House Bill 15-1155, would give small districts flexibility in evaluating students’ school readiness and reading levels, a prospect that makes some education reform lobbyists nervous.

Committee divided on discipline bill

House Education was less united on House Bill 15-1240, which would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with their local police departments about what kinds of school incidents are referred to police. The bill passed 6-5.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who’s been a tireless advocate of reducing what’s called the “school to prison pipeline” for minority students who get entangled with the police and courts because of school incidents. (Read the bill here.)

A more substantive bill on the issue is scheduled for Senate Education Committee consideration on Thursday. Senate Bill 15-184 would restrict the jailing of students for truancy. It’s sponsored by Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and by Fields.

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.”