Who Is In Charge

Gebhardt gets construction board seat

Kathleen Gebhardt, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs’ in the Lobato v. State school funding lawsuit, has been named to a vacant seat on the state Capital Construction Assistance Board. The board decides on grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today program.

Kathleen Gebhardt
Kathleen Gebhardt

Gebhardt runs the non-profit Boulder law firm Children’s Voices and filed the original Lobato lawsuit in 2005. A Denver judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor late last year, finding the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional. The case currently is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. (Get more information in the EdNews Lobato archive.)

She was appointed by Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, a legislative lame duck who currently is running for Congress in the 4th District.

Gebhardt said Tuesday evening that she didn’t seek the seat but that “several” members of the construction board had suggested her name to Shaffer.

Asked if she thought there was an sort of conflict of interest in joining a state board when she’s suing the state, Gebhardt said, “I struggled with that” but decided it’s not a problem. She said she will recuse herself in grant applications involving the 21 school districts that are plaintiffs in Lobato.

Gebhardt also was a lead attorney in another school-related lawsuit against the state, Giardino v. State Board of Education. That suit, filed in 1998, challenged the lack of state funding for school facilities. The case was settled in 2000, with the state agreeing to allocate $190 million a year over 10 years for school buildings. Those payments ended after the BEST law was passed in 2008.

Under the complicated formula created by that law, various members of the nine-person board are appointed by the State Board of Education, the governor, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and the minority leaders of the House and Senate.

Board members also have to represent various constituencies, such as different sizes of school districts, or have specific professional expertise in school design, construction and facilities management. The board’s conflict of interest policy requires members to recuse themselves on applications involving their districts or districts their employers do business with.

The vacancy filled by Shaffer is for “one member who has public school finance expertise and knowledge regarding public school trust lands,” in the words of state law. The BEST program receives a portion of revenues from school trust lands to finance its grants.

Mary Wickersham
Mary Wickersham

Gebhardt replaces Mary Wickersham, an original board member who served as chair. As a researcher working with the Donnell-Kay Foundation, Wickersham laid some of the groundwork that led to the BEST law. She later worked as an aide to then-Treasurer Cary Kennedy, a key advocate for passage of the law. The treasurer’s office is responsible for setting up the financing of BEST projects. Wickersham, who now works for the Piton Foundation, recently resigned from the construction board.

Board members can serve up to three consecutive two-year terms. (Find out about other board members here.)

The board has one remaining vacancy, a position that is supposed to be filled by an architect and which is appointed by the governor. Another vacancy recently was filled with the appointment of Pete Hall, facilities manager for the Poudre school district.

The construction board and the Division of Public School Capital Construction Assistance are part of the Colorado Department of Education. The state board and education Commissioner Robert Hammond are named as defendants in the Lobato case.

Some construction board members recently discussed whether the body should file a friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the Lobato plaintiffs. But the matter was dropped after the state attorney general’s office advised the board it couldn’t do that because it’s part of a state agency.

Another state agency, the University of Colorado Board of Regents, has intervened in the Lobato case on the side of the state, at the urging of Attorney General John Suthers. The regents are an elected board.


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.”