Who Is In Charge

No choice but higher taxes for colleges?

Should there be a statewide property tax to help pay for Colorado’s public colleges and universities? What about sales taxes or levies on professional services? Or maybe the state income tax should be raised?

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

Those are the kind of questions being asked by the panel that’s crafting a new strategic plan for Colorado’s public colleges and universities.

The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee, created by Gov. Bill Ritter last December and formalized by a legislative bill passed earlier this month, has been studying financial and other issues for four months and now is getting ready to put together a first draft of its ideas.

The full steering committee met Wednesday for kind of a “what’s next” session, and the problem of paying for higher education took a significant chunk of time.

Higher education funding has taken major hits during both recessions in the last decade. Total higher ed revenue for this school year, last year and for 2010-11 is stable at just under $2 billion a year. But, college and university budgets have been maintained only with federal stimulus money, which runs out after 2010-11, and tuition increases.

With no immediate end in sight for the state’s revenue woes, some observers fear higher ed could face cuts of up to $300 million in state support in 2011-12.

Dick Monfort

A subcommittee of the steering panel has been focusing on financial issues, and chair Dick Monfort said, “The fact is, we’re looking for earmarked funds.”

The Sustainability Subcommittee has been kicking around five scenarios: A statewide property tax, higher local property taxes in college communities, earmarked sales taxes such as a prescription drugs tax to support medical education, a sales tax on services and use of minerals taxes for higher ed.

Monfort, an owner of the Colorado Rockies, also is co-chair of the main steering committee.

After listening to Monfort’s report, Jim Lyons, the other co-chair, said, “The cleanest, simplest way to raise the money is to raise the income tax. … We have the capacity in this state.” Lyons is a politically well-connected Denver lawyer.

“There were easier roads to take,” Monfort said while noting there might be public resistance to the kinds of tax increases discussed by the subcommittee.

Don Elliman

Ex-officio member Don Elliman said, “Fundamentally, we all know the venting that Jim indulged in is right. … I’m sorry but we need a little bit of a tax increase.” Elliman is the state’s chief operating officer and a key advisor to Ritter.

Three other subcommittees have been studying issues such as access to college and the structure of the state system. According to reports made Wednesday, some of the ideas being kicked around by those panels include combining the departments of education and higher education, granting automatic college admission to high school students who meet certain academic requirements, concentrating state funding in community colleges and four-year colleges and giving universities additional autonomy, and awarding financial aid and stipends directly to students rather than through colleges.

Lyons, trying to draw the discussion together, said he saw three key themes in the work done so far:

  • The need for a performance-based funding system that allocates money to colleges based on results like retention and graduation.
  • Creation of a “tiered” system of institutions that, for instance, makes it easier for community college students to move on to other schools.
  • Preservation of excellence at the state’s research universities.

Panel members went back and forth on whether their ultimate recommendation should be “aspirational,” an ideal system, or “operational,” designed to meet the financial challenges of the next several years.

Meg Porfido

“I think our charge is the aspirational one,” said panel member Meg Porfido, a lawyer who serves on the community colleges board.

Bruce Benson, University of Colorado president, and Joe Blake, Colorado State University chancellor, aren’t members of the panel but sat in on Wednesday’s meeting. They both seemed to lean toward the operational side of the discussion.

“We can talk about all the formulas in the world, guys, but if we don’t have the money it doesn’t matter,” said Benson.

“There is a short-term and intermediate reality, and that is there is no money,” added Blake.

The group will meet June 23 is discuss initial drafts of recommendations and is planning town hall meetings around the state in July. The steering committee must make a final report to the legislature and the governor by the end of the year.

Significant changes in the state system could require legislation, and new taxes would need voter approval.

Senate Bill 10-003, which is awaiting Ritter’s signature, gives state colleges and universities various kinds of financial flexibility, including the ability to raise tuition up to 9 percent a year for five years starting in 2011-12. Requests for larger increases can be made to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. But, the measure was crafted as a temporary response, and the steering committee is to consider longer-term fixes.

As a sign of how tight things have gotten in higher ed, Benson and Blake mentioned that their two systems are discussing ways they can cooperate to save money.

“Maybe you ought to have one football team,” quipped Lyons. Benson and Blake just smiled.

Do your homework

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.