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
PHOTO: TN.Gov
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.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.