Who Is In Charge

Senate Ed gets into the weeds

The Senate Education Committee Thursday gave 8-0 approval to the least-liked bill of the session, House Bill 10-1369.

That’s the 2010-11 school finance bill, which would cut state support of education by 6.3 percent, a reduction that seems unavoidable because of the state’s weak revenue picture.

Committee members echoed the unhappy comments made earlier as the bill went through the House:

“I think someone needs to say it’s a sad day when we’re cutting education,” said chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, who’s Senate prime sponsor of the measure.

“This is the most horrible aye [vote] I’ve ever cast,” said vice chair Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, never one to hide her feelings.

“This is criminal in many respects,” sighed Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

The comments came as the committee voted. For most of the meeting before that, panel members delved more into the complex details of the bill than did their counterparts in the House.

One seemingly minor provision got special attention. A primary goal of the bill is ensuring that all districts receive an equal percentage cut – the 6.3 percent.

But a handful of the state’s 178 school districts – seven, to be exact – have higher-than-average local revenues and therefore receive relatively small amounts of state aid. As currently written, HB 10-1369 would force those districts to temporarily reduce local revenue in order to realize overall cuts of 6.3 percent.

(The districts are Clear Creek, West Grand, Gunnison, Estes Park, Park, Aspen and Summit.)

That idea unsettled some committee members, because doing that would effectively mean taking away extra revenue that local district voters had approved in the form of mill levy overrides.

“I find this really distasteful,” said Bacon.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, also criticized the forced cut for the seven districts.

“You shouldn’t be surprised that we have to do amazing and weird things,” given the financial situation, quipped Hudak.

Members kicked around various ideas for changing the way the seven districts should take their cuts but reached no agreement except to work on an amendment for consideration when the bill is up for preliminary Senate floor consideration.

The committee also was reminded by a witness of a fact that’s often forgotten in the school finance discussion – school districts have bigger problems than just loss of state aid.

Wil Hatcher, former chief financial officer of the Academy 20 district in Colorado Springs, said that even as revenue is being cut, “We still have this continued mandate on the spending side” – pensions contributions, utilities costs and health insurance. “It’s a double impact in some school districts,” said Hatcher, because increases in those fixed costs sometimes are the same amount as cuts in state aid. (Hatcher’s affiliation was corrected on March 26.)

The committee also spent some time sorting through just exactly what the cuts total, a subject of considerable confusion in many quarters.

HB 10-1369 proposes a floor of $5.44 million in school total program funding for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, meaning state support couldn’t drop below that. Total program funding is the total of state aid and local revenues. (Even if HB 10-1369 is passed this year, the 2011 legislature could change the floor.)

That amount compares to $5.7 billion in 2009-10 total program approved by the 2009 legislature. That was reduced to $5.55 million by legislative action earlier this session.

Legislative economists estimate that full total program funding in 2010-11 would be $5.8 if the full Amendment 23 formula was applied.

Legislative staff fiscal note explaining HB 10-1369

Higher education bills advance

The House Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved three higher education bills:

• Senate Bill 10-079, which would allow Mesa State College to offer a limited number of graduate degrees. The college wants to offer nursing, education and criminal justice graduate degrees to meet local workforce needs. The bill has been on a fast track through the legislature, despite initial concern by the Department of Higher Education that such expansion should be delayed until after the higher ed strategic plan is finished.

• Senate Bill 10-088, which would allow community college students to pursue associate’s degrees with specific academic “designations,” similar to majors. The theory behind this bill is that allowing students to focus early on their interests will improve retention and make it easier for students to move on to four-year colleges. The bill, however, limits the number of designations that can be offered.

• Senate Bill 10-108, which would allow private and proprietary colleges to participate if they chose in the system of common core courses used by state colleges. Common core courses are transferrable between colleges. Private colleges would have to pay fees to cover the costs of course review. According to previous testimony, Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs is the institution most interested in this.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 10-111, which makes various changes in law governing the Charter School Institute, including allowing institute-governed charter schools to contract for services with boards of cooperative education services.

For the record

The full Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 10-HB 1183, which would authorize a study of alternative school finance methods, and House Bill 10-1026, which would create a grant-funded incentive program for quality early childhood programs.

The House gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 10-154, which changes accreditation rules for alternative schools, which serve very high percentages of at-risk students.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

Thursday roundup
Higher ed bills advance
For the record

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.