Who Is In Charge

Revenue picture still iffy

The 2012 legislative session probably will face budget cuts similar to those made by the 2011 session, based on revenue forecasts released Tuesday.

Colorado CapitolEconomic recovery remains slow and uncertain, and conditions have deteriorated since the last set of forecasts was issued in June, legislative and executive branch economists told the Joint Budget Committee and a hearing room packed with lobbyists and state bureaucrats.

Some education budget watchers expect Gov. John Hickenlooper will propose a K-12 funding cut of $200 million to $300 million when he makes his 2012-13 budget proposal on Nov. 1. Hickenlooper proposed a $332 million K-12 cut for 2011-12, but the legislature managed to whittle that to about $160 million, using a variety of fiscal devices.

Henry Sobanet, director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, told the committee that his September forecast will guide the governor’s budget plan. Another set of forecasts will be issued in late December, on the eve of the legislature’s 2012 session.

Both Sobanet and Natalie Mullis, the legislature’s chief economist, noted increased economic weakness since they made their June predictions.

“The recovery has slowed,” said Mullis, adding, “The chances of recession are rising. … The ability of the economy to withstand outside shocks is waning.”

Sobanet’s June forecast was more pessimistic than Mullis’, and he said, “We really didn’t change our expectations” in the latest forecast.

Both forecasts predicted the state will have enough revenue in 2012-13 to cover current levels of spending – but that rising costs and caseloads, such as Medicaid patients, schoolchildren and college students, will mean more demands for state spending than available revenue.

The Legislative Council forecast estimates that the legislature will have $367.2 million more to spend for 2012-13 than it did for the current 2011-12 budget year. (The current general fund budget is about $7.2 billion.)

Mullis said the rule of thumb is that caseload and cost increases amount to about $300 million a year.

Past legislatures have cut some programs temporarily, like $100 million in property tax relief for seniors, to soften cuts in other areas. The suspension is supposed to expire for the next budget year, so lawmakers will have to decide if they want to cut elsewhere to cover that or suspend it again.

So to balance the 2012-13 budget, next year’s legislature will have to cut other programs to meet caseload and costs growth, decide to ignore some of those commitments – like school and college enrollment growth, reduce the size of the state reserve or continue money-saving tactics like suspension of the seniors’ tax break. Lawmakers likely will use a combination of all four tactics.

Because schools and higher education consume nearly half of the state general fund budget, there’s no way to avoid cutting them in the current situation.

“Balancing the budget will require the legislature to make many difficult choices,” said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton and chair of the JBC.

The state ended the 2010-11 fiscal year with more money that was required for the reserve, triggering a transfer of $226.9 million to the perennially strapped State Education Fund and of $67.5 million to the State Public School Fund. The two funds are used to support state aid to districts and for other education programs. The $67.5 million will be distributed to some school districts next year based on enrollment growth and declines in local tax revenue.

In recent years the state has dipped heavily into the SEF to reduce the amount of K-12 spending that had to be supported by the general fund, the state’s main account for a variety of departments and programs.

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Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”