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

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: