The cost of reform

Budget panel gives ed department half a loaf amid staffing controversy

The legislative Joint Budget Committee agreed Tuesday to fund five of the seven staff positions the Department of Education had requested to help districts with teacher evaluations and rollout of new standards.

Funding for those jobs has been a touchy issue for some committee members for a couple of reasons. First, because the state is being asked to pick up costs previously borne by federal and other one-time sources. Second, because a private foundation paid for two of those CDE employees in the past.

Committee staff analyst Craig Harper recommended funding none of the positions, largely as a symbolic way to express displeasure with the department.

But some committee members argued that not funding the jobs would hurt school districts that need help evaluating teachers and integrating new content standards into classroom teaching.

“Discontinuing this kind of support sends a very poor message to our school districts,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat and vice chair of the budget panel.

The committee voted 4-2 to fund five positions in CDE’s educator effectiveness unit but deadlocked on a motion to fund two content specialists who help districts with standards. A tie vote means the jobs won’t be included in the department budget. However, the committee is recommending that five other content specialists already on the CDE payroll be funded in 2015-16.

The JBC’s decision isn’t the final word on the issue. The department could request the committee reconsider this issue, or the content specialists could be restored by an amendment when the full legislature considers the long bill.

CDE officials didn’t have immediate comment Tuesday on the committee vote.

This kind of dry business is usually followed only by top bureaucrats and lobbyists, but the CDE issue has a complicated backstory that makes it interesting. Here are the elements:

Worries about outside influence: Starting in 2012-13, two employees from the private foundation the Colorado Education Initiative (formerly known as the Colorado Legacy Foundation) worked at CDE as director of standards and instructional support and as a literacy specialist. They were paid directly by the foundation.

CDE officials told Chalkbeat Colorado they approved the arrangement because they were having trouble finding applicants for what would be short-term jobs.

Harper, the JBC’s staff analyst, raised questions about the propriety of that arrangement during a committee briefing in December. Department officials maintained there were no legal problems with the two workers but ended the arrangement Dec. 31.

The two employees now are classified as state workers, and the foundation has made a grant to CDE. (It’s common for outside groups to make direct grants to the department to help support specific programs, but it’s not common for an outside group to directly pay individual salaries.)

Some budget committee members were concerned that the arrangement distorted how the state personnel system is supposed to work. But some Republican lawmakers and activist groups had other concerns about the Colorado Education Initiative because it has received substantial funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is a frequent target of criticism by groups opposed to the Common Core State Standards, multi-state testing, and other education reform efforts.

Glossing over the costs of reform: A bigger issue is the legislature’s propensity to create sweeping programs without paying for them up front. The education department’s request for state funding of the educator effectiveness staff and content specialists represents bills coming due for earlier education laws the legislature chose not to pay for when those laws were created.

Sponsors of both the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and the 2010 educator effectiveness law downplayed the potential costs of those reforms, because high price tags would have made the bills less popular, and because true costs were hard to estimate, given that both programs had long implementation timelines.

In the case of educator effectiveness, sponsors were counting on use of federal Race to the Top money, which didn’t come in until a couple of years after the law was passed.

CDE has funded implementation of education reform measures through a combination of one-time state, federal and private funds, money that largely will run out this year.

“We’ve been over the river and through the woods” on promises that education reform was cost-free, said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Criticizing “winking and nodding and pretense that it wouldn’t cost anything. That’s all water under the bridge.”

Putting the educator effectiveness law into practice has evolved in some unexpected ways. For instance, CDE developed a model evaluation teacher evaluation system that districts could choose to use. State officials expected most districts would develop their own systems. But the vast majority of districts have opted to use the state system, requiring continuing support by the department.

School finance base set

The JBC devoted most of its day Tuesday to figure-setting for the alphabet soup of CDE programs as well as base district funding for 2015-16.

The panel opted for a plan that would increase average per pupil funding from $7,025 this year to $7,265 in 2015-16. That would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion, an increase of $281 million in state and local funding over current district funding of $5.9 billion.

The JBC’s recommendation is not the final word on school funding for next year. The proposal basically increases support based on constitutional and legal requirements. A separate piece of legislation, called the school finance act, typically is used to provide additional K-12 support.

So proposals like Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to give schools a $200 million one-time increase, and a plan by superintendents to funnel another $70 million to at-risk students and rural districts, will be part of the discussion on that second bill.

For the record

The House gave final 45-19 approval to House Bill 15-1104, which would provide a $250 tax deduction to teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets. The bill is considered a feel-good measure that would recognize teacher contributions to their classrooms but not provide significant tax savings.

Who says bipartisan sponsorship helps pass bills in a split-control legislature?

The Finance Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday killed House Bill 15-1079, a bipartisan bill that would have expanded a teen pregnancy and dropout prevention program now operating in three Western Slope counties. Anything involving “sex” is a touchy issue in the Senate, given the strong social conservative views of Republicans in that chamber.

How I Lead

This Memphis principal says supporting teachers and parents helped pull her school out of the bottom 10 percent

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Principal Yolanda Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years, and was previously the academic dean.

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Principal Yolanda Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

It takes a lot of walking to manage two schools. Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years and was previously the academic dean. She temporarily took over Frayser Achievement Elementary when the schools had to share space this year because of maintenance issues at Georgian Hill’s original building.

“I am constantly on the move,” Dandridge said. “How else can you keep up with elementary students?”

Both schools are part of the Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools but has struggled to accomplish the task.

This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent. In 2016, before Dandridge took charge, Georgian Hills was in the worst 2 percent of schools.

Dandridge was honored by the achievement district for her work.

“She is a real standout among our principals of someone who understands what it takes to turn things around,” said interim achievement district leader Kathleen Airhart.

Dandridge talked to Chalkbeat about how she gets to know her students, her efforts to motivate teachers, and why school buildings are important.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

I tell my teachers to always stay focused on the “why” behind their careers. For me, my “why” was the fact that my little brother got all the way through elementary school without learning to read. He wasn’t able to read until the fifth grade. He came from a family of educators, and he still slipped through the cracks. If that could happen to him, it could happen to so many kids.

I started teaching in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and I taught in that state for more than a decade. I came to Memphis as a teacher, I was asked later to consider taking on the principal role at Georgian Hills. I said, “You want me to do what?” Now, I’m grateful for all those years in the classroom and as an academic dean to prepare me for this role.

How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?

Any chance to get into the classroom, I will. If a substitute teacher doesn’t come, which does happen sometimes, I will teach the students in that classroom for a day. I love getting to know students by helping out in the classroom.

I am also constantly walking the hallways of both schools. That’s how I start the morning — I greet students and their parents by name when they walk into the school. I walk students to their classrooms. I’m constantly monitoring the hallways.

When a new student registers for classes, the first thing the office staff knows to do is call me down so I can meet them.

How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?

I really prefer to always consider the experiences that a child may have had prior to entering our building.  When you approach discipline with a keen awareness of the types of situations a child might have or experience, it really makes you a better educator.  And you understand that the best thing for us to do is to ensure that students know and understand that we have their best interests in mind. When children connect with you and other teachers in this way, discipline is less challenging.

What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of what we’ve done at Georgian Hills and now at Frayser to really focus on our teachers.

Every Wednesday after school, we’ll have a period of professional development. I try to be attentive to what my teachers tell me they want to learn more about. There is a lot of coordination on lesson plans in particular. Teachers work together on their lesson planning, and I also will personally give feedback on a teahers’ lesson plans. My biggest, driving question is “What do my teachers need most?” They don’t need to be spending hours everyday lesson planning when they can collaborate. We can help there.

Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?

Evaluating teachers has always provided me with the opportunity to hear and see the creativity and passion that our teachers bring to the classroom.  My thought on evaluations is to take the anxiety out of it and ensure that teachers are comfortable and understand that the overall process is about improving their skills and enhancing the tools in their toolbox.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent of schools in Tennessee.

When I was early in my teaching career in Mississippi, I had a student with a single mom. Her mom was an amazing support system for me and my classroom. She was always wanting to volunteer at the school. But she struggled to provide basic needs for her daughter — she was struggling to get a job. But she was trying so hard. There’s a stigma of parents, especially in low-income communities, not participating or caring about their child’s education. This mom was giving her all, and it changed my view of parental support. The school needed to find ways to also support her.

And so as a principal, I’m always thinking about how I can support my parents and invite them into the school. So that they feel welcome and wanted, and also so they are encouraged in their own role in their child’s education. We hold math and science nights, where parents learn how to do math games or science experiments at home with their kids. We provide them with materials and knowledge so that they can provide enrichment in their own home.

What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?

We, like many schools in Memphis, don’t have the facilities we need for our students. Georgian Hills had to vacate our school building due to an issue with the roof. That created a hard environment for this school year — moving to a new building where we share space, and then me taking on that school as its school leader when the principal left. Honestly, I thought this year could break me as a school leader. But it didn’t, and it didn’t break our school either. We had a culture in place where our teachers felt supported among the chaos of the start of the year. After a year of repairs, we’re planning on moving back to our original building this fall.

But the issue here is that we don’t have the school buildings we need. Schools should be palaces in a community.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

You have to mobilize people’s efforts to “win.” The first secret to this is to love your people. They are here for a purpose and you have to help them understand the higher purpose that they are here to serve.  You have to have the right people in place, be responsible for developing them, and have the courage to let them go when student’s needs aren’t being met. Finally, transparency rules.

School Finance

How much are Indianapolis teachers paid? Here are the highest and lowest paid districts in the city

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

As teachers across the country rally for more education funding and higher salaries, policymakers and the public are paying renewed attention to how much educators are paid.

Nationwide, stagnant teacher pay coupled with plentiful well-paying openings in other fields means that it’s even harder for principals and administrators to fill open positions. For some teachers, low pay is one reason they leave the classroom altogether, whether to become administrators or find another career.

In Indiana, cash-strapped districts often struggle to pay for raises even for their current staff — making it difficult to retain teachers. Educators in Indianapolis have lots of schools to choose from, and teachers can increase their pay by heading to nearby districts.

Educators in Indiana school districts made an average of about $48,743 last year, according to the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board. Pay is higher in districts in the state’s capitol, but it varies widely, with educators in the lowest paying district earning about $11,000 less on average than teachers in the top paid district. (The board only collects data on districts with teachers unions so it does not include average pay for teachers in charter schools.)

When teachers with particularly high demand skills switch jobs, they can also boost their earning by moving higher on the pay scale.

Average teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

One reason why average pay might be higher in some districts than others is because the pay scale is higher. Starting pay in Beech Grove Schools, for example, is $38,000 per year. In Speedway Schools, a district with consistently high pay, teachers earn a minimum of $44,252.

Minimum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

The gap is even wider for experienced educators. In Indianapolis Public Schools, the pay scale sets the maximum salary at $72,740. That’s almost $14,000 less than the max pay for teachers in Speedway — $86,702. (Some teachers may earn more because they are still paid based on older pay scales with higher caps.)

Maximum teacher pay in Marion County 2016-17

Source: Indiana Education Employment Relations Board collective bargaining report. (Image by Sam Park)

But there’s another reason why some districts have lower average pay than others — they have more inexperienced teachers. Both Beech Grove and Indianapolis Public Schools have higher floors and ceiling for pay then they did in 2013-2014. Nonetheless, the average pay in those districts has declined, likely because they have more inexperienced teachers with lower salaries.

This year, both districts have relatively high numbers of teachers in their first year, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. In Indianapolis Public Schools, nearly 10 percent of certified educators are new to the classroom. In both Beech Grove and Warren Township Schools, about 7 percent of educators are new.