Who Is In Charge

Ballot measure campaign finally launches

Advocates of a $950 million education tax increase Tuesday kicked off their campaign with a low-key news release.

Stacks of cashThe campaign now has a name – Colorado Commits to Kids.

“It’s no secret that we need to invest more in education in Colorado if we want our students and state to have a bright economic future,” said Barbara Baumann, president of Cross Creek Energy Corp. and identified in the release as “supporter” of the effort.

The release was issued by OnSight Public Affairs, a Denver political consulting firm that has been advising backers of the effort.

As expected, supporters are moving ahead with what’s currently called Initiative 22. That measure would raise state individual income tax rates to generate an additional $950.1 million a year to pay for Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed overhaul of the state’s school funding system. The initiative proposes a two-step increase in rates.

The business-oriented civic group Colorado Forum filed 16 versions of a proposed ballot measure by a state-required deadline last March. Since then there have been prolonged behind-the-scenes debates, primarily within the business community, over which version to propose to voters. There was persistent disagreement over whether to push a flat tax increase or a graduated proposal.

The campaign has until Aug. 5 to gain the 86,105 signatures needed. Political veterans generally feel at least 100,000 signatures should be gathered to provide a cushion for invalid signatures. The petition campaign will use a combination of paid and volunteer circulators, said Curtis Hubbard of OnSight. Paid petition circulation will be handled by FieldWorks, a Washington-based firm.

Some backers of the tax increase, particularly in the education community, had become increasingly nervous as the petition deadline approached without any formal campaign launch. Backers did receive state approval for the format of petitions a couple of weeks ago, petitions were printed and some petitions already have been circulated by members of the Colorado Education Association.

Hubbard said the campaign was launched now, about 40 days before petitions must be turned in, because “We were trying to build a coalition and get feedback … trying to make sure that process was as inclusive as possible. It takes time; now we’re ready to move forward.”

Members of the advocacy group Great Education Colorado also are expected to circulate petitions. “There are more volunteer groups that are coming on board all the time,” Hubbard said.

“We fully expect to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. How hard that will be remains to be seen,” said Hubbard, who recently joined OnSight after resigning as editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He said there isn’t a specific target for an “overage” of signatures.

“We’re focused almost exclusively on qualifying for the ballot,” Hubbard stressed. He said that gathering a formal list of supporting organizations, creating a full-blown campaign organization, fundraising and other tasks will come later.

“The campaign structure is something that’s going to be designed as we go along,” Hubbard said. He did note that Mike Melanson and Ben Davis, founding partners of OnSight, “will be involved in campaign strategy on a day-to-day basis.” In recent years those two have been heavily involved in campaigns for Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats.

The initiative would repeal the annual K-12 increase formula contained in Amendment 23, passed by voters in 2000. Instead, a minimum of 43 percent of current tax collections would be devoted to K-12 support. The revenue raised by the new rates, called the “income tax increment,” would go into a special account to be used for “educational reforms and programmatic enhancements” above current levels of school funding.

Colorado’s current income tax rate is 4.63 percent of federal taxable income for all individual taxpayers. Initiative 22 would impose an additional .37 percent on all income up to $75,000 a year. Taxpayers who earn more than that would pay the additional .37 percent on the first $75,000 of income and an increase of 1.27 percent on the amount above $75,000.

Colorado Commits has registered as a campaign committee with the Colorado Department of State. The registered agent is listed as Tracie Moore, an employee of the campaign consulting firm Tightline Strategies, which has office in Washington, D.C., California and Missouri. The campaign also has a bare-bones website here.

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: