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

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.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.