Who Is In Charge

Hearing teases out teacher bill fears

Just what does the Colorado Education Association want in a teacher evaluation system?

Headquarters of Colorado Education Association in Denver

Members of the Senate Education Committee kept raising that question in different forms Wednesday as the panel opened two days of hearings on Senate Bill 10-191, the proposed teacher evaluation and tenure legislation.

The 40,000-member CEA was first in line to oppose the bill after it was introduced last week, saying the just-started work of the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness should be allowed to proceed without change by SB 10-191.

An extensive set of amendments has been prepared for the bill, changes that were discussed a bit on Wednesday and that Senate Ed is to vote on Thursday. Those amendments seem to have diminished potential opposition by some committee members and have raised interest in how CEA would react.

Bev Ingle, CEA president, and executive director Tony Salazar made it clear that the proposed amendments haven’t changed the union’s mind.

“We object to reform that is being done to teachers rather than with teachers” Salazar said, calling the bill “one more example of untested top-down policy.”

“We need to work as partners, not have things done to us,” Ingle said.

Ingle and Salazar were among several CEA officials who testified Wednesday, and the main points of concern emerged in all that testimony.

Timetable: The CEA believes definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness have to be developed before taking other steps, like changing the system of education evaluations and deciding how evaluation results can be used in discipline, assignments, salaries and termination.

“The real issue is building a system in the right way. It’s about not determining outcomes before the system is built,” Salazar said.

Some committee members had some difficulty with that view. “I don’t see anything here that interferes with that process” of doing effectiveness definitions first, said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “Is that not enough time?” (One of the key proposed amendments would substantially lengthen the implementation timeline, compared to what was proposed in the original bill.)

Due process: Prime sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, has maintained that the bill wouldn’t change existing due process rights for teachers. (Probationary teachers in their first three years of work can be dismissed without cause. Non-probationary teachers have the right to impartial arbitration in dismissal cases.)

But union lobbyist Julie Whitacre and CEA general counsel Martha Houser raised due-process concerns about provisions of the bill that would allow non-probationary teachers to be put back on probation if they had unsatisfactory evaluations, require mutual principal-teacher consent for placement in a school and allow administrators to consider evaluations when deciding on layoffs.

House said returning non-probationary teachers to probation would eliminate their due process rights, and that mutual consent would in effect allow principals to remove even teachers with a strong evaluation record.

Cost: The CEA witnesses repeatedly raised concerns about the uncalculated and unfunded potential costs of a new evaluation system. (One proposed amendment would fund initial costs from “gifts, grants and donations.”)

The bill “creates unfunded mandates for school districts,” Salazar said. “The funding issue … that’s a major issue we can’t brush aside.”

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, Colorado Education Association President Bev ngle (center) and CEA executive director Tony Salazar listen to committee discussion of Senate Bill 10-191 on April 21, 2010.

Whitacre suggested it would cost “a minimum of over $70 million” in costs for evaluations and professional development of evaluators. The bill calls for annual evaluations. Current practice generally evaluates teachers every three years.

Colorado has a recent history of passing education reforms without the budgets to pay for them. Several small programs have been legislated with “gifts, grants and donations.” The major example is the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which calls for a multi-year overhaul of content standards, tests, high school graduation requirements, college admissions requirements and more. A recent estimate put the price tag for just the first phase of that at more than $170 million. Further studies are scheduled.

Lynn Huizing, president of the Colorado PTA, testified Wednesday that her group opposes the bill because “we are concerned this bill sets forth a system without adequate funding.”

Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus said that group is “in favor of the broad concepts of the bill” but is worried about “a huge administrative burden. … We don’t know if this is the time to ram legislation through for the sake of change.”

Committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins has set aside four hours for testimony on the bill. The committee will resume at 1 p.m. Thursday, take another hour of opposition testimony, two hours of supporter testimony and then decide on amendments and vote on the bill. Bacon hopes to finish all that by 5 p.m.

Thursday’s testimony will allow the coalition of education reform, civic and business groups backing the bill to make their case. To bolster their case, the advocacy group Stand for Children commissioned a poll of Coloradans about school spending, education issues and teacher effectiveness.

In opening remarks Wednesday, co-prime sponsor Sen Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, cited the poll as showing public support for changes such as those proposed by SB 10-191. (See the at the end of this article for a summary of poll results.)

The bill got a boost Wednesday from Gov. Bill Ritter and his three predecessors, Republican Bill Owens and Democrats Roy Romer and Dick Lamm. In a column distributed for newspaper publication, the four wrote they “enthusiastically support” SB 10-191 and “passionately urge” the legislature to pass it. (Text of column via Denver Business Journal. PDF)

Meanwhile …

While the committee was mulling the future of the Educator Effectiveness Council, that very body was meeting across East Colfax Avenue (at CEA headquarters) and actually discussing how to define teacher and principal effectiveness.

During its second meeting, the panel did some organizational tasks, received a briefing on research about effectiveness and then broke into small groups to brainstorm what effectiveness might look like (previous story with background on the council).

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Controversy

Boundary lines of proposed South Loop high school drive wedge between communities

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke
About 30 speakers weighed in on a boundary proposal for a new South Loop high school at a public meeting at IIT.

The parent, wearing an “I Love NTA” T-shirt, said it loudly and directly toward the end of the public comment section Thursday night. “It sickens me to be here today and see so many people fighting for scraps,” said Kawana Hebron, in a public meeting on the boundaries for a proposed South Loop high school on the current site of National Teachers Academy. “Every community on this map is fighting for scraps.”

The 1,200-student high school, slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year near the corner of Cermak Road and State Street, has become a wedge issue dividing communities and races on the Near South Side.

Supporters of NTA, which is a 82 percent black elementary school, say pressure from wealthy white and Chinese families is leading the district to shutter its exceptional 1-plus rated program. A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County in June by parents and supporters contends the decision violates the Illinois Civil Rights Code. 

But residents of Chinatown and the condo-and-crane laden South Loop have lobbied for an open-enrollment high school for years and that the district is running out of places to put one.

“I worry for my younger brother,” said a 15-year-old who lives between Chinatown and Bridgeport and travels north to go to the highly selective Jones College Prep. She said that too many students compete for too few seats in the nail-biting process to get into a selective enrollment high school. Plus, she worries about the safety, and environment, of the schools near her home. “We want something close, but good.”

PHOTO: Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools
The “general attendance” boundary for the proposed South Loop high school is outlined in blue. The neighborhoods outlined in red would receive “preference,” but they would not be guaranteed seats.

One by one, residents of Chinatown or nearby spoke in favor of the high school at the meeting in Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They described their long drives, their fearfulness of dropping off children in schools with few, if any, Chinese students, and their concerns about truancy and poor academics at some neighboring open-enrollment high schools.

But their comments were sandwiched by dissenting views. A member of South Loop Elementary’s Local School Council argued that Chicago Public Schools has not established a clear process when it comes to shuttering an elementary and spending $10 million to replace it with a high school. “CPS scheduled this meeting at the same time as a capital budget meeting,” she complained.

She was followed by another South Loop parent who expressed concerns about potential overcrowding, the limited $10 million budget for the conversion, and the genesis of the project. “It’s a terrible way to start a new high school – on the ashes of a good elementary school,” the parent said.

The most persistent critique Thursday night was not about the decision to close NTA, but, rather, of the boundary line that would determine who gets guaranteed access and who doesn’t. The GAP, a diverse middle-class neighborhood bordered by 31st on the north, 35th on the South, King Drive to the east and LaSalle Street to the west, sits just outside the proposed boundary. A parade of GAP residents said they’ve been waiting for decades for a good option for their children but have been locked out in this iteration of the map. Children who live in the GAP would have “preference” status but would not be guaranteed access to seats.

“By not including our children into the guaranteed access high school boundaries – they are being excluded from high-quality options,” said Claudia Silva-Hernandez, the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. “Our children deserve the peace of mind of a guaranteed-access option just like the children of South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.”

Leonard E. McGee, the president of the GAP Community Organization, said that tens of millions in tax-increment financing dollars – that is, money that the city collects on top of property tax revenues that is intended for economic development in places that need it most – originated from the neighborhood in the 1980s and went to help fund the construction of NTA. But not many of the area’s students got seats there.

Asked how he felt about the high school pitting community groups against each other, he paused. “If we’re all fighting for scraps, it must be a good scrap we’re fighting for.”

The meeting was run by Herald “Chip” Johnson, chief officer of CPS’ Office of Family and Community Engagement. He said that detailed notes from the meeting will be handed over to the office of CEO Janice Jackson. She will make a final recommendation to the Board of Education, which will put the plan up for a vote.

budget season

New budget gives CPS CEO Janice Jackson opportunity to play offense

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced the district's $1 billion capital plan at Lázaro Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village.

Running Chicago’s schools might be the toughest tour of duty in town for a public sector CEO. There have been eight chiefs in a decade – to be fair, two were interims – who have wrangled with mounting debt, aging buildings, and high percentages of students who live in poverty.

Then there’ve been recurring scandals, corruption, and ethics violations. Since she was officially named to the top job in January, CEO Janice Jackson has had to clean up a series of her predecessors’ lapses, from a special education crisis that revealed families were counseled out of services to a sexual abuse investigation that spotlighted a decade of system failures at every level to protect students.

But with budget season underway, the former principal finally gets the chance to go on the offensive. The first operations budget of her tenure is a $5.98 billion plan that contains some good news for a change: 5 percent more money, courtesy of the state revamp of the school funding formula and a bump from local tax revenues. CPS plans to funnel $60 million more to schools than it did last school year, for a total of $3.1 billion. Put another way, it plans to spend $4,397 per student as a base rate — a 2 percent increase from the year prior.

CPS’ total budget comes out to $7.58 billion once you factor in long-term debt and an ambitious $1 billion capital plan that is the focus of a trio of public hearings Thursday night. When it comes to debt, the district owes $8.2 billion as of June 30, or nearly $3,000 per every Chicago resident.

“The district, without a doubt, is on firmer footing than it was 18 months ago, but they’re not out of woods yet,” said Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “When you look at the overall picture (the $7.58 budget), they’re still running a deficit. This is now the seventh year in a row they are running a deficit, and the amount of debt the district has, combined with the lack of reserves, leaves them with little flexibility.”

Earlier this week, standing in front of an audience of executives at a City Club of Chicago luncheon, Jackson acknowledged that it had been an “eventful” seven months and said she was ready to focus on strategies for moving the district forward. “I won’t be waiting for next shoe to drop or wasting time and resources waiting for next problem. I want to design a system to educate and protect children.”

“I’m not in crisis mode,” she added.

Here’s what that looks like in her first year when you just consider the numbers. The biggest line items of any operating budget are salaries, benefits and pensions: Taken all together, they consume 66 percent of CPS’ planned spending for the 2018-2019 school year. Rounding out much of the rest are contracts with vendors ($542.6 million, or 9 percent), such as the controversial janitorial deals with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC; charter expenditures ($749 million, or 13 percent); and spending on transportation, textbooks, equipment, and the like (12 percent).

A closer look at how some of those items are allocated offers a window into Jackson’s vision. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the plan July 25.

Investing in choice

Earlier this month, the district announced a nearly $1 billion capital plan, funded by bonds, that would support new schools, technology upgrades, and annexes at some of the district’s most popular campuses. The operating budget, meanwhile, accounts for the people and programs driving those projects. It proposes nearly doubling the staff, from 10 to 17, in the office that manages charters, contract programs, and the creation of new schools. It reestablishes a chief portfolio officer who reports directly to the CEO. And it adds expands access to International Baccalaureate programs and Early College STEM offerings. In a letter at the beginning of the 2019 Budget Book, Jackson said such expansions “move the district closer to our goal of having 50 percent of students earn at least one college or career credential before graduating high school.” 

Advocating for students

The budget seeds at least two new departments: a four-person Office of Equity charged with diversifying the teacher pipeline, among other roles, and a 20-person Title IX office that would investigate student abuse cases, including claims of student-on-student harassment.

Leaning into high schools

Fitting for a budget designed by a former high school principal – Jackson was running a high school before age 30 – the plan leans in to high schools, establishing $2 million to fund four new networks to oversee them. (That brings the total number of networks to 17; networks are mini-administrative departments that track school progress, assist with budgeting, and ensure policy and procedures are followed.) And it earmarks $75 million across three years for new science labs at neighborhood high schools. What’s more, it supports 10 additional career counselors to help campuses wrestle with a graduation mandate – set forth by Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that seniors have a post-secondary plan to graduate starting with the Class of 2020.

Throwing a lifeline to small schools

The budget also sets forth a $10 million “Small Schools Fund” to help schools with low enrollment retain teachers and offer after-school programs. It also earmarks an additional $5 million to help schools facing precipitous changes in enrollment, which can in turn lead to dramatic budget drops.   

Supporting modest staff increases

After a round of layoffs were announced in June, the budget plan adds at least 200 teachers. But the district would not provide a clear accounting of whom to Chalkbeat by publication time. Earlier this week, it announced plans to fund additional school social workers (160) and special education case managers (94).

The district plans to add positions for the upcoming 2018-2019 year.

As Chicago Teachers Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner candidate Brandon Johnson pointed out in an impromptu press conference earlier this week in front of district HQ, the budget is still “woefully short” on school psychologists, nurses, and counselors. And it doesn’t address the calls from parents to restore librarians and instructors in such subjects as art, music, physical education — positions that have experienced dramatic cuts since 2011. “What is proposed today still leaves us short of when (Mayor Emanuel) took office,” Johnson said. “The needs of our students must be met.”

Principal Elias Estrada, who oversees two North Side schools, Alcott Elementary and Alcott High School, said he was still figuring out how the additional staffing would work. He’s getting another social worker – but he oversees two campuses that sit three miles apart, so he figures he’ll have to divide the person’s time between campuses. Estrada asked the board at Monday’s budget hearing to help him understand the criteria it uses to determine which schools get extra staff or additional programs, like IB. “I need a counselor, a clerk, and an assistant principal,” he said; currently those positions also are shared between the elementary and the high school.

After the meeting, he said that schools might have gotten slightly bigger budgets this year, but the increase was consumed by rising salaries and he wasn’t able to add any positions. What’s more, his building needs repairs, but it didn’t get picked for any of the facilities upgrades in the $1 billion capital plan that accompanied the budget.

“What is the process?” he asked. “The need is everywhere.”

At two public hearings on Monday, fewer than a dozen speakers signed up to ask questions of the board, central office administrators, or Jackson.

To see if your school is getting one of the newly announced positions or any funding from the capital plan, type it in the search box below.