Who Is In Charge

Thursday Churn: SchoolChoice numbers

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Denver Public Schools officials say they’re pleased with the results of the new SchoolChoice enrollment process, through which students in transitioning grades were encouraged to complete a new form listing their top five schools in order of preference.

DPS estimates about 13,000 students are in transitioning years – entering kindergarten, sixth or ninth grades – and DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said about 82 percent of those students completed the enrollment forms.

In Far Northeast Denver, 94 percent of incoming sixth and ninth graders turned in forms as of the close of business Jan. 31, the deadline for round one of the new system.

Vaughn said a total of 22,973 forms were submitted. In addition to the targeted students, he said forms were filled out by students who want to stay at their current school and didn’t need to complete forms but did so anyway; students not in transitioning grades who wanted to switch schools; and students enrolling in DPS from outside the district.

Starting the first week of March, families who submitted SchoolChoice forms will be notified by mail about where their child has been assigned. Students will be automatically placed on wait-lists at their higher-preference schools if they could not initially be enrolled there.

A Denver District Court judge on Wednesday said she will rule soon on a motion by lawyers for Denver Public Schools who are seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the teachers union over its approval of numerous innovation schools.

Judge Ann B. Frick told attorneys for DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association that she will issue an order “as soon as possible, so that you are not held up much longer.” Her statement came at the end of a roughly 90-minute hearing on the district’s motion to dismiss.

The Innovation Schools Act of 2008 requires that at least 60 percent of a school’s teachers vote in support of proposed innovation plans, which typically include a waiver of job protections for teachers established through the union-district collective bargaining agreement.

The DCTA is challenging the district’s approval of innovation status for 10 schools, most of them in the city’ Far Northeast during the 2010-11 school year, eight of them existing and two of them new. Additionally, it is targeting the innovation status for the teacher-led Green School, approved during the 2009-10 school year.

In every case, the union is highlighting the fact that votes securing the majority support of the schools’ faculties was not taken prior to the board’s approval of the applications – all of which were also backed by the State Board of Education.

“All we’re seeking to do is preserve the voices of our members,” said Brad Bartels, a lawyer representing the DCTA. “The legislature very clearly said it takes everybody in the school – not just the administrators.”

Attorney Brent Case based most of his arguments for DPS on a contention that the DCTA suit is procedurally flawed, but also noted that the plaintiffs in the case, which include two DPS teachers, do not include any at the contested innovation schools.

“The plaintiffs here are employee organizations and three individuals who are not alleged to be employees of innovation schools,” said Case.

What’s on tap:

Rep. Judy Solano’s House Bill 12-1091, her 2011 attempt to eliminate state writing tests and one set of high school tests, faces uncertain prospects this morning in the House State Affairs Committee, commonly known as the “kill committee.”

The Brighton Democrat wants to use the money saved by cutting the tests to get more kids into the Colorado Preschool Program. A legislative staff analysis estimates that amount at about $6.3 million. The Department of Education, using figures supplied by testing contractor CTB McGraw Hill, estimates the savings at only $1.5 million. EdNews queried CDE Tuesday about the discrepancy, but we haven’t heard back.

The State Board of Education – except for Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District – opposes the bill. Behind-the-scenes lobbying by board members and CDE has helped kill similar proposals in past sessions.

Earlier this month, House State Affairs killed House Bill 12-1049, a Solano bill that would have strengthened parent rights to opt out of state tests.

This afternoon, the Senate Education Committee takes up Senate Bill 12-148, the bill that would turn Metro State College into a university.

The Colorado Cyberschool Association says 1,000 online education supporters will rally on the Capitol’s west steps at noon today to “educate state legislators and the public about this increasingly popular choice in public education.” Five Republicans lawmakers – and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver – are scheduled to address the crowd. Get more info

It’s the latest in a series of education field trips at the Capitol. School board members from around the state roamed the marble halls last Friday, and national board certified teachers were honored on Monday.

A good read from elsewhere:

Teacher evaluations: A lot of states are taking a quick-fix approach to upgrading education evaluation systems, and that’s led to problems, according to this New York Times article. (Those of you familiar with Colorado’s multi-year schedule for implementing Senate Bill 10-191 know that it’s anything but quick.)

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.