Who Is In Charge

Enrollment study will be a sprint

A new state study of how to count K-12 students formally got going Wednesday – only about six weeks before the effort is supposed to produce a report.

And discussion at the first meeting of the Average Daily Membership Advisory Committee highlighted fears that changing the way the state counts students will cost school districts money and create more work for them.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver

The author of the legislation that spurred the study sought to calm those fears. “Our belief was [changing the count method] leaves the same amount of money in the system,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, with “less amount of work.”

Witnesses and panel members also sparred a bit over whether the current system makes it too easy for schools to let problem students drop out of school after enrollment is counted every October.

The long lead-up to Wednesday’s meeting is an interesting case study in the pitfalls of legislating in a time of state budget cuts.

Colorado’s current enrollment counting system basically involves adding up the students who are in school on Oct. 1 and awarding state aid to districts based on those counts. (The actual system is rather more complicated. There is a “window” around Oct. 1 in which students can be counted, and there’s extensive checking and adjustment of counts submitted by districts.)

In the summer of 2009 a legislative committee proposed a study of counting students by a method called “average daily membership,” which tallies students based on average enrollment in districts over a school year. What educators call “ADM” is not to be confused with average daily attendance, a method that compiles enrollment figures from actual attendance stats.

The 2010 legislature took up the study panel’s suggestion, added the 17-member advisory committee and passed Senate Bill 10-008, which was signed into law more than months ago, on April 21.

So why didn’t the committee meet before Wednesday?

SB 10-008 forbid the use of tax dollars to fund the study, instead saying the project couldn’t start until the Department of Education raised sufficient “gifts, grants and donations” to fund the effort. Given the state budget crunch in recent years, using gifts and grants has become a favorite tactic for legislators who want to pass pet bills, especially relating to education.

CDE didn’t put together sufficient grants until near the end of October, according to Vody Herrmann, department school finance chief. A total of $45,000 was raised from the Donnell-Kay Foundation ($20,000), the Carson Foundation ($12,500) and the Daniels Fund ($12,500).

With the money in hand, the department put out a bid request and hired Denver-based education research and consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates to do the study. Justin Silverstein of APA, Mark Fermanich of the University of Colorado-Denver and Tracie Rainey of the Colorado School Finance Project are working on the study.

Those three outlined the project Wednesday to members of the committee, which is scheduled to meet only two more times before the report is finished.

Some education reformers believe average daily membership is a more accurate way to count students and get money to the districts that need it most. Some advocates, like the Colorado Children’s Campaign, also believe that using ADM gives school districts an incentive to keep kids in school and will therefore lower dropout rates. The campaign has made reducing dropout rates a major initiative and on Wednesday issued a new report on the subject.

School districts worry that use of ADM could provide a rationale for lawmakers to reduce school funding, and they resent implications that schools let some students go after the Oct. 1 count.

Those conflicting views flared at Wednesday’s meeting.

Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, told the panel any switch in counting methods should be done carefully, and “the idea that our school districts don’t have the right incentives [to retain students] is offensive to me.”

Scott Groginsky, lobbying for the Children’s Campaign, replied that “we’re not” impugning the integrity of school districts but “We’re hearing this does happen … There are attempts to have kids leave school after the Oct. 1 count.”

Renee Howell, a Littleton school board member, raised financial concerns about a change in count methods, saying, “We’ve just gone through three years of massive cuts. … There’s a limit to how much people can do. … There’s reality and there’s what we’d like to build. Please be respectful of the reality.” (Fermanich said most districts gather ADM information now but acknowledged that creating and running a new audit and verification system could be difficult.)

Johnston tried to smooth things over, saying there’s no intent to decrease overall school funding by changing the count method. But he cautioned, “There is, of course, the possibility of redistribution. … We want these dollars to go where the kids are.”

Fermanich had stressed that point earlier, saying, “There may be shifts between districts. Some districts will be winners, and some will be losers.”

The advisory committee next meets on Dec. 15. The consultants said they plan to have the report finished by Jan. 14. The law authorizing the study contains a Dec. 15 deadline, but Johnston said he’d written to legislative leadership explaining why the document will be a month late.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”