Future of Schools

Tuesday churn: Weighing in on vouchers

Daily Churn logo What’s churning:

Parents and community members in Douglas County get their first chance tonight to weigh in on a voucher proposal being mulled by school board members.

Board members spent much of Friday and Saturday hearing reports from seven subcommittees of a School Choice Task Force, but vouchers – also known as option certificates – dominated the conversation.

Tonight’s board meeting begins at 5 p.m. and the community hearing is set to start at 7:15 p.m. An hour has been allotted but Susan Meek, the district’s communications director, said speakers may be allowed to run over that time or asked to complete their remarks at the end of the meeting.

The meeting is at district headquarters, 620 Wilcox in Castle Rock. The full agenda is here.

In case you missed it, here is an evening update from yesterday’s churn:

Denver Public Schools contract attorney Martin Semple countered an opinion from attorney Mark Grueskin saying that three school board members facing censure did, in fact, attend a meeting closed in violation of the Sunshine Law.

“It fell without question under the aegis of the (state) open meeting law,” Semple said at a school board work session Monday evening. “The only question…is whether it was convened to discuss public business that would be public business of the school district.” And that, was in fact, the case he said.

Earlier yesterday, The Denver Classroom Teachers Association posted on its website a legal opinion stating three school board members facing censure did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law. The opinion from Grueskin states that, “Put simply, there is no requirement for public notice at a gathering where three or more board members are in attendance. The only condition to such a meeting is that it be open to the public.”

Meanwhile, it appeared likely that a vote to censure school board members Andrea Merida, Jeanne Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez for attending the meeting in question would be delayed beyond Thursday’s board meeting so it would not distract from a crucial vote on a school transformation plan for Far Northeast Denver. And board President Nate Easley, who is bringing the censure motion forward, lacks the four votes needed to get it passed. See this blog post by board member Mary Seawell explaining why she does not support the censure motion.

What’s on tap:

Aurora Public Schools’ board of education also meets tonight at 6 p.m. at the usual place, 1085 Peoria St. Here’s the agenda, which includes a discussion of the district’s progress in meeting the goals outlined in its strategic plan, VISTA 2015.

Good reads from elsewhere:

  • DREAM-like decision: The California Supreme Court says undocumented students should get in-state tuition. The New York Times
  • Battling over boobs: Moms sue Penn. district over ban on “I Heart Boobies” bracelet. USA Today
  • Tight squeeze: Failed tax levy initiatives leave districts cash-starved. Education Week

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”