Who Is In Charge

Concerns subside after huge school deregulation bill is scaled back further

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
IPS will give bonuses to many support staffers and administrators. But AFSCME Local 661 has not ratified the contract.

When Republican state Sen. Peter Miller first introduced the massive, 307-page Senate Bill 500 in January, it frankly scared a lot of people.

But the bill looked much less intimidating today when it passed the House Education Committee 12-0 after words of support came from across common political divides. It was backed by Republicans and Democrats, business groups and unions, teachers and administrators.

Miller, R-Avon, said he assembled the school deregulation bill from dozens of suggestions from school leaders throughout the state for ways to cut red tape and allow schools to focus more on teaching and learning.

But teachers unions, principals, superintendents and a host of interest groups raised concerns about everything from worker safety to bullying to diabetes care for students, saying it went too far in several instances.

That sent Miller, and the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, repeatedly back to the drawing board to rework the bill. Despite a slew of changes before it passed the Senate 31-18 last month, the House added big new amendments to the bill this week.

Miller and Cook said all of the more than two dozen controversial parts of the bill were removed, such as provisions that made school accreditation optional, changed rules around collective bargaining, rolled back some health and safety-related rules and reduced a wide range of reporting requirements for schools.

“The basic purpose, what’s driving this bill, comes from the people,” Cook said. “It’s a good bill presented to us from the public schools, from their administrative offices, to focus on instruction in the classroom.”

So what does the bill do now? It’s still more than 275 pages long and makes many changes. Among them, the bill would:

  • Create a new seven-member statewide committee appointed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Indiana State Board of Education and groups representing superintendents, principals, private schools and charter schools to review all reporting requirements for schools and recommend changes to reduce them by Dec. 1.
  • Reduce the fees that can be charged for requested searches of public records. But it also adds a new exemption to the state’s requirements for public board meetings to be open to the public. That change would allow school boards to hold two out-of-town training sessions in private each year.
  • Eliminate outdated rules around purchasing and management of school buildings.
  • Make contracts for bus drivers optional rather than mandatory.
  • Drop some limitations on employee health care plans.
  • Give schools some added flexibility when they contract with outside companies for busing.
  • Eliminate the required recognition of Arbor Day each April.
  • Assign a series of remaining questions about school regulations to a summer study committee.

The full House could vote on the bill as early as next week.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.