Who Is In Charge

Revised higher ed bill proposes big changes

Two top Senate leaders Wednesday unveiled a revised version of Senate Bill 10-003, the higher education flexibility bill, that would give state colleges and universities greater freedom to set their tuition rates and more flexibility in their financial affairs but also create new requirements for  maintaining student access and affordability and for improving quality.

Campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

The proposal also would give advisory student members on college boards the right to vote – but only on budget matters. (That wouldn’t apply to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, whose members are elected by the voters.)

Also up consideration at the Statehouse is a resolution to allow video keno games in bars and restaurants, with revenue going to colleges. 

The rewritten version of SB 10-003, originally introduced last Jan. 13, will have its first hearing, in the Senate Education Committee, on April 28, just 10 working days before the legislature must adjourn. It was unveiled during a “stakeholder” meeting Tuesday.

The bill has its origins in a study committee that met last summer but since January has been the subject of lengthy behind-the-scenes discussions about tuition policy, how much financial freedom colleges should have and how to best deal with an intensified financial crunch that’s expected to hit higher ed beginning in 2011-12.

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, R-Colorado Springs, and Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, have been leading the effort. College presidents, who’ve long sought more freedom to manage their budgets, the Department of Higher Education and the business-backed civic group Colorado Concern also have been part of the talks.

The proposed revisions to the bill cover a wide range of issues.

Tuition and budgets

Beginning in 2011-10, college boards could set their own resident and non-resident tuition rates. (Currently annual ceilings are set by the legislature.)

But, boards could not raise resident undergraduate tuition more than 9 percent a year unless a higher increase was needed to cover “significant decreases” in direct state support.

Beginning next Nov. 10 (and every Nov. 10 after that), each college and university would have to submit detailed, five-year financial projections to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Joint Budget Committee. The projections would have to include projected tuition revenue, other sources of revenue and funding plans for various levels of increase or decrease in direct state funding.

Those reports also would have to include a governing board’s plan for preserving accessibility and affordability for low- and middle-income students, plans for use of need-based financial aid, and plans for improving student retention.

By next Dec. 10, and every December thereafter, the CCHE would have to give the JBC an overall higher ed system plan for handling reductions in state support.

College quality

The revised bill also would require each governing board to annually give the commission a five-year plan for performance goals in areas such as access and affordability, improved student success, improved quality of instruction, improved operational efficiency and substantial additional information.

The CCHE would be required to establish benchmarks by which to evaluate each institution’s plan and annually review progress. Those progress reports would have to be submitted to the JBC.

Institutions that failed to meet one or more benchmarks by 5 percent or more would lose some of its tuition-setting freedom.

(The bill would repeal the existing system of performance contracts.)

Enrollment

The bill also would change the current controls over numbers of resident and non-resident students, allowing colleges to admit as many non-residents as they chose. But, colleges would have to admit all qualified Colorado applicants based on admissions requirements, plus the additional 20 percent of Colorado students colleges can admit for other reasons. (That’s the so-called “window.”)

Financial operations

The revised bill also proposes various changes in the degree to which certain state construction, purchasing and financial rules and procedures apply to colleges and universities. It also contains some provisions that would apply only to the Colorado School of Mines.

The higher ed flexibility discussion comes at a time when college and university spending has been maintained only through increased tuition and federal stimulus funds. Some legislators fear higher education may have to be cut by $300 million in 2011-12, with a similar cut for K-12 aid.

It’s unclear how the bill might fit – or conflict – with the ongoing higher education strategic plan study that was commissioned by outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter. The administration in the past has urged that no major changes be made in higher education until after the strategic plan is finished at the end of this year.

College presidents and some legislators have been pressing for action to be taken sooner.

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Movers and shakers

Former Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg lands a new gig

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, high-fives students, parents, and staff on the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy in August.

Former Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg has been named superintendent of another organization 9,000 miles away: the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia.

Boasberg will start his new position July 1. He stepped down as superintendent of Denver Public Schools last month after nearly 10 years at the helm of the 92,000-student district. The Denver school board is in the process of choosing his successor.

Boasberg has spent significant time in Asia. After graduating from college, he taught English at a Hong Kong public school and played semi-professional basketball there. He later worked as chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

He and his wife, Carin, met while studying in Taiwan. They now have three teenage children. In 2016, Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live in Argentina with his family. At the time, he said he and his wife always hoped to live overseas with their children.

“This gives us a chance as a family to go back to Asia,” Boasberg said, “and it’s something the kids are looking forward to, as well as my wife Carin and I.”

The Singapore American School is an elite non-profit school that was established in 1956 by a group of parents, according to its website. It now has more than 3,900 students in preschool through 12th grade, more than half of whom are American.

The school boasts low student-to-teacher ratios and lots of Advanced Placement classes, and sends several of its graduates to Ivy League colleges in the United States. Its facilities include a one-acre rainforest.

Boasberg notes that the school is also a leader in personalized learning, meaning that each student learns at their own pace. He called the school “wonderfully diverse” and said its students hail from more than 50 different countries. High school tuition is about $37,000 per year for students who hold a U.S. passport or whose parents do.

Leading the private Singapore American School will no doubt differ in some ways from leading a large, urban public school district. In his time as Denver superintendent, Boasberg was faced with making unpopular decisions, such as replacing low-performing schools, and the challenge of trying to close wide test score gaps between students from low-income families and students from wealthier ones.

“Denver will always be in my heart,” Boasberg said, “and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

it's official

Memphis schools chief Dorsey Hopson calls his work ‘a remarkable journey,’ but seeks new career at health care giant

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announces that he's resigning from the district to take a job with Cigna.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is leaving Shelby County Schools to lead an education initiative at a national health insurance company effective Jan. 8.

Prior to his departure, the school board expects to name an interim before the district breaks for the winter holidays, giving the panel time to seek a permanent replacement, said board chair Shante Avant.

Hopson’s job with Cigna is a new national position in government and education that will be based in Memphis, he said. He called the decision a “difficult” one that he ultimately made because of the demands on his family that are part of his job as superintendent.

“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Hopson said. “I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made together.”

A likely successor the board could tap is Lin Johnson, who was hired in 2015 as chief of finance. Johnson previously was director of special initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education and director of finance and operations for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. He recently overhauled the district’s budget process to be more responsive to student needs rather than to a strict pupil-teacher ratio — a move Hopson lauded as a potential vehicle to reduce gaps in test scores for students of color living in poverty.

Hopson’s future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks, especially after he endorsed Republican Bill Lee for governor in a race that the Williamson County businessman eventually won. A position in the governor’s office, or as education commissioner to succeed Candice McQueen, was considered among the possibilities for Hopson. But Hopson said on Tuesday that he would not be heading to Nashville to work for the Lee administration.

Cigna, Hopson’s future employer, is a Connecticut-based company that manages health insurance for about 19,500 district employees and retirees under a $24 million contract. The company is the third-largest health plan provider in Memphis with about 200 local employees, according to the Memphis Business Journal. In his new role, Hopson will help Cigna expand its services to school districts for health benefits and wellness programs.

“Having an individual with Hopson’s expertise in school administration and school district leadership in this role will be a great asset to Cigna’s consultative work serving K-12 schools,” a Cigna spokesperson said in a statement.

An attorney who had worked for school districts in Atlanta and Memphis, Hopson was named the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools in 2013 following the historic merger of city and county schools.

His hiring came on the cusp of massive change in Memphis’ educational landscape. The district’s student enrollment steadily declined after six suburban towns split off from Shelby County Schools in 2014 to create their own districts, and the state-run Achievement School District continued to siphon off students by taking over chronically low-performing schools in the city. Hopson and the school board eventually closed nearly two dozen schools to shore up resulting budget deficits.

Since then, under Hopson’s leadership, the district has gone from a $50 million deficit to investing more than $60 million in personnel, teacher and staff pay raises, and school improvement initiatives by lobbying for more county funding, dipping into the district’s reserves, closing underutilized schools, cutting transportation costs, and eliminating open job positions. The district has also sued the state in pursuit of more funding, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

“We have accomplished a great deal together, such as eliminating a $100 million deficit, investing more and students, and developing the Summer Learning Academy to prevent summer learning loss. That, in part, is what makes this decision so difficult,” Hopson said. “I would love to see this work to the finish line, but I feel confident that we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader.”

Now, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state-run district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from when Hopson took over. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban school district leaders.

“For the past six years, we have worked together to guide this great school district through monumental changes,” Hopson said. “Through it all, our educators and supporters have remained committed to aggressively increasing student achievement.”