changing of the guard

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia resigning two state posts

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia (Manual Martinez/Viva Colorado)

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s most prominent voice on education issues, is resigning both his elected post and as head of the Department of Higher Education.

Garcia will become president of the Boulder-based Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, an organization of 15 western states that works to improve access to higher education. The timing of his leaving the state roles is to be determined.

Garcia told Chalkbeat Colorado he decided to leave state service because of the timing of the career opportunity. Longtime President David Longanecker is retiring and urged Garcia to seek the job.

“It was tough, because I love what I’m doing now,” Garcia said. But moving to the new position “gives me the opportunity to work on the same things I’ve been working on for the state,” such as college access, completion and affordability.

Asked if he felt any dissatisfaction with his current roles, Garcia said, “Not at all. This governor has been great to work for. Most lieutenant governors don’t have the kind of support I’ve had.”

Garcia, a former president of both Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pikes Peak Community College, was something of a surprise pick when Hickenlooper chose him as running mate in 2010. Garcia hadn’t previously run for elected office.

Hickenlooper popped another surprise in January 2011 when he named Garcia executive director of the Department of Higher Education. The lieutenant governor’s office has few duties of its own, and appointing the lieutenant governor to head a state agency was unprecedented.

The appointment signaled a key administration role for Garcia on education issues, including implementation of K-12 reforms, early childhood education and college affordability, which the governor and Garcia made their top education priorities.

Garcia has been closely involved in such issues and initiatives as coping with college and university budget cuts, creation of a higher education master plan and implementation of the higher education performance-funding system mandated by the legislature in 2014. He also was a leading voice on issues of higher education access, affordability and completion.

He’s also had a high profile on early childhood issues, including centralization of state early childhood education programs and the state’s ultimately successful bid for federal Race to the Top early childhood funding.

Last January, as criticism of testing and other state requirements mounted ahead of the 2015 legislative session, Garcia spoke out and urged state leaders not to back down on education reforms.

Garcia said he is most satisfied with his role in passing education legislation, including READ Act early literacy law and early childhood education bills.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” he said.

Asked about future education challenges for the state, Garcia cited lack of investment in education.

“We should not be cutting higher education and K-12 in a time of rising prosperity,” he said. “… One of the biggest challenges will be convincing the people to invest in our future by investing in our educational institutions.”

Hickenlooper has joked that Garcia was the more glamorous half of the team. Garcia’s shaved head, goatee and fondness for motorcycles made him a distinctive figure.

Garcia said he kept Hickenlooper informed about the opportunity with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education all along.

“I listed him as a reference,” Garcia said. He was offered the new job about a week ago.

Hickenlooper said in a statement, “Joe will be nearly impossible to replace. He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado. He has given five years selflessly to the success of this state and the future education of our children.”

The state constitution requires Hickenlooper to nominate a candidate for lieutenant governor who must be confirmed by majority vote of both houses of the legislature. The terms of Hickenlooper and the new lieutenant governor will end after the 2018 election.

Garcia said he’ll stay in office as long as Hickenlooper wants him to but needs to start his new position by July 1.

Asked about any future interest in elected office, Garcia said, “I have not thought about it. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it is the right role for me.”

Higher ed leaders praise Garcia

Other higher education leaders were complimentary in their assessments of Garcia’s work. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Lt. Gov. Garcia has been a great advocate for higher education in Colorado and will truly be missed. I wish him well at WICHE and know that he will continue to be a leader nationally in higher education and a strong advocate for student access and success.” – Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system
  • “I am sincerely happy for Lt. Gov Garcia. His unique background as a community college and university President, as well as the executive director of CDHE will be a true asset to WICHE. I look forward to continuing to work with him to enhance student opportunities and higher education policy among the WICHE institutions and states.” – Steve Jordan, president of Metropolitan State University
  • “Joe Garcia has had a long history of service to education and has added much to the discussion.” – University of Colorado President Bruce Benson

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.