Who Is In Charge

House Ed puts CDE on hot seat

Members of the House Education Committee spent a free-wheeling 90 minutes Monday afternoon raising questions about – and criticizing parts of – Department of Education plans for future state tests and for implementing the educator evaluation law.

Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster
Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster
A top CDE official, summoned by the department lobbyist, had to hustle across East Colfax Avenue to the Capitol and take the witness chair to answer committee questions in the middle of the meeting.

The discussion is by no means over and could resume as early as Wednesday.

The unusual session was sparked, at least indirectly, by the SMART Government Act, a new law that allows all legislative committees to make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee about the budgets of relevant state departments. (So the two education committees can make recommendations about the departments of education and higher education, and other committees make them for other agencies.)

The agenda for Monday afternoon’s House Ed meeting was devoted solely to that SMART Act assignment, prompting a free-form discussion and complaint session of the kind that usually doesn’t happen during a normal committee meeting, when members have bills to consider and parliamentary procedure to follow.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, opened by telling his colleagues they were “under no obligation” to make formal recommendations. “We can just punt this back to the JBC and tell them to take care of it.”

Panel members took him at his word – no formal motions were offered – but the chatter made clear what some members think about two key issues – the $25.9 million cost of designing a new state testing system and $7.7 million in proposed spending for implementing the new educator effectiveness and evaluation system.

Part of the discomfort is sparked by the fact that the executive branch is sending mixed signals on those two issues. The State Board of Education and CDE have asked for the $25.9 million, but Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to spend the money. The governor, in turn, asked for the $7.7 million. But that wasn’t part of CDE’s formal 2012-13 request, although the department supports Hickenlooper.

“Those interested persons should get together,” said Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and a longtime critic of the state testing system. “I think there needs to be more discussion” within the executive branch.

Other committee members agreed with her, but Massey noted gently that the costs and timing of multi-state tests, the alternative to buying a Colorado-only set of tests, are unknown.

The discussion detoured into a round of test bashing before Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, took aim at the $7.7 million request for implementation of the education evaluation system.

(To add to the confusion, there are various amounts of money in play here. CDE wants about $425,000 in 2012-13 to continue paying current staffers who are working on the program. There’s Hickenlooper’s $7.7 million ask. And the state recently won a $17.9 million federal Race to the Top grant that will be split between CDE and school districts to help implement the evaluation system.)

“The money is really beyond what’s necessary,” said Ramirez, citing his experience as a corporate trainer to stress the project could be done for a lot less money. “I just really think they’re going about it the wrong way.”

“There’s got to be more discussion about the cost of implementing,” chimed in Solano.

“Just because we got the [R2T] money it doesn’t mean we have to spend it all,” Ramirez said.

Jill Hawley, Colorado Department of Education
Jill Hawley, Colorado Department of Education
After about half an hour of this, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, interjected to say, “I just feel like we need to hear from CDE to defend themselves.”

CDE lobbyist Anne Barkis, cell phone in hand, left the room, and 10 minutes late Jill Hawley, department policy chief, showed up with her arms full of binders and settled in at the witness table.

“At this point we’ll let Miss Hawley be grilled,” said a smiling Massey.

Hawley, composed and smiling herself, launched into a detailed explanation of how the R2T money will be used for creating key elements of the evaluation system that can be used by districts. The $7.7 million will be needed for outreach to and training in school districts, she said.

Ramirez listened intently but didn’t seem convinced. He said the funding was “a lot of top-heavy money in terms of directors, executive directors and office space. … This can be done a lot less expensively,” throwing out an estimate of $700,000.

“It’s complicated,” Hawley offered.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County and a former superintendent there, said, “The implementation is a huge cultural shift” for schools, “So I’m not surprised it’s going to take time and money.”

The back-and-forth continued with a discussion about whether the legislature was uninformed or misinformed about costs when it passed SB 10-191, but Hawley finally was able to escape after about 45 minutes of grilling.

“Thank you for jumping into the fire,” said Hamner.

Things may warm up again on Wednesday morning, when the House and Senate education committees have a previously scheduled session with CDE leaders to talk about implementation of various recent reform initiatives.

That session will be followed later in the morning when the two committees are scheduled to meet with JBC members to talk about the SMART Act.

Members of Senate Education had their own problems with the SMART Act and testing costs at a meeting late last week (see item).

Although the budget requests from the Hickenlooper administration and CDE have been public since last Nov. 1, and the department has provide extensive briefing papers about its plans, Monday’s meeting made clear that the department has a more to do to bring lawmakers up to speed.

For the record

Speaking of the educator effectiveness law, the House Monday gave 64-1 final approval to House Bill 12-1001, which ratifies the regulations issued by the state board to implement SB 10-191. The bill has generated zero controversy in the legislature. The only no vote was Rep. Ed Casso, D-Adams County.


Judge orders Nashville schools to turn over student information to state charters

A Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the tussle over whether local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law.

Chancellor Bill Young this week ordered Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to turn over information requested by LEAD Public Schools, which operates two state-run schools in the city. The district has until March 16 to comply or appeal.

The ruling is a blow to local district leaders in both Nashville and Memphis, who have argued that a federal privacy law gives them discretion over who gets that information. They also contend that the intent of Tennessee’s new charter law, which passed last year, was that such information should not be used for marketing purposes.

The State Department of Education has backed information requests by LEAD in Nashville and Green Dot Public Schools in Memphis, both of which operate charter schools under the state-run turnaround district known as the ASD. State officials say the information is needed to increase parental awareness about their school options and also to help the state’s school turnaround district with planning.

Nashville’s school board has not yet decided whether to appeal Young’s ruling, according to Lora Fox, the city’s attorney.

Shelby County Schools was not included in the state’s lawsuit leading to this week’s ruling, but the case has implications for Memphis schools as well. Last summer, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered both districts to turn over the information. Both have been defiant.

Lawyers representing all sides told Chalkbeat this week that Young set the March 16 deadline to allow time for the legislature to address ambiguity over the state law and for Nashville schools to notify parents of their right to opt out.

Rep. Bill Forgety already has filed a bill in an attempt to do clear the air. The Athens Republican chaired the key House committee that advanced the new charter law and has said that recruitment was not the intent of the provision over student contact information. His bill would restrict charter school requests to a two-month window from January 1 to March 1, confine school communication with non-students from February 1 to April 1, and open up a two-way street for districts to request the same information from charter schools.

The disagreement began with longstanding requests from state-run charter organizations for addresses, phone numbers and emails of students and their parents who live in neighborhoods zoned to low-performing schools. When local districts did not comply last summer, the charters cited the new state law requiring them to hand over student information to the charter schools within 30 days of receiving the request.

To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer on student data sharing and FERPA.

Who Is In Charge

Inner circle: Here is the team helping Ferebee chart a new course for Indianapolis schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has been leading Indianapolis’ largest school district for nearly five years. But in recent months, his circle of advisers has seen some notable changes.

Two leaders who played essential roles in crafting the district plan to close nearly half its high schools and create specialized academies at the remaining campuses have left for other jobs. And a new chief of staff has joined the district as Ferebee’s deputy.

As 2018 begins, the district is at a watershed moment that includes redesigning high schools and appealing to voters for $936 million more in school funding over the next eight years. Here are the eight lieutenants who report directly to Ferebee.

Ahmed Young, chief of staff

PHOTO: Provided by Indianapolis Public Schools
Ahmed Young
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2017
  • Duties: General counsel, managing a portfolio of issues related to risk management, IPS Police, student assignment, human resources, and research, accountability and evaluation.
  • His story: Young is the newest member of Ferebee’s team. Before joining in October, he oversaw charter schools for the administration of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Young has a background in education and in law. He taught middle school in Lawrence Township and New York City schools, then practiced law as a prosecutor for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and at Bose McKinney & Evans. Young has a secondary education degree and a law degree from Indiana University.

Le Boler, chief strategist

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Le Boler
  • Salary: $136,000
  • Hired: 2013
  • Duties: Leads strategic planning, public relations, and parent involvement. She is responsible for fundraising and collaboration with outside organizations.
  • Bio: Boler is one of Ferebee’s closest advisors. She worked with Ferebee in Durham Public Schools, where she was a program strategist, and joined him in Indianapolis at the start of his administration. She also worked with him at Guilford County Schools. She started her career in education through administration support roles for districts in North Carolina. Boler earned a B.A. in business leadership from Ashford University, a mostly online college based in San Diego, and she is pursuing a certificate in strategy and performance management from Georgetown University.

Weston Young, chief financial manager

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Weston Young
  • Salary: $140,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees budgeting and management of finances. Participates in procurement, accounting, financial reporting, audits, investments, debt service, and economic development issues.
  • His story: Young came to Indianapolis from the private sector, where he was a wealth manager in Zionsville. Previously he worked as a manager, tax consultant, and accountant. He is a CPA with a degree in accounting and business from Taylor University.

Aleesia Johnson, innovation officer

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Aleesia Johnson
  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees innovation schools, including supporting schools, and developing processes for recruiting and selecting school leadership, evaluating existing schools and ending contracts with underperforming schools.
  • Her story: When Johnson joined the superintendent’s team, it was a clear sign of the district’s growing collaboration with charter schools. Before joining IPS, she led KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory, the local campus of one of the largest national charter networks. She previously worked for Teach for America and as a middle school teacher. Johnson has a BA from Agnes Scott College, a master’s degree in social work from University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in teaching from Oakland City University.

Scott Martin, deputy superintendent of operations

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Scott Martin
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees all non-academic operations, including facilities, construction management, maintenance, transportation, technology, and child nutrition.
  • His story: Martin came to Indianapolis from Davenport, Iowa, where he oversaw support services for a district of about 16,000 students. He also previously spent nearly a decade with the district in Columbus, Indiana. He has a degree in organizational leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Tammy Bowman, curriculum officer

  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees curriculum, professional development, gifted, and prekindergarten programs.
  • Bio: Bowman came to Indianapolis from North Carolina, where she oversaw a high school academy for five years. She was director of the early college program, AVID coordinator, Title I coordinator, and a beginning teacher coordinator. She previously taught elementary and middle school. She has education degrees from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a counseling degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, and a certificate in administration from Western Carolina University.

Joe Gramelspacher, special project director

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Joe Gramelspacher
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Manages the administrative affairs of the Superintendent’s Office, coordinates the monthly work of the Board of School Commissioners, and leads and serves on special project teams.
  • His story: Gramelspacher previously served as special assistant to the superintendent. He began his career in education as a math teacher with Teach for America in Colorado and then in Indianapolis. He has degrees in finance and economics from Indiana University and is a 2017 Broad Resident.

Zach Mulholland, board administrator

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Zach Mulholland
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Manages operations for the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, including developing board policy, developing agendas and schedules, and assisting the board president.
  • His story: Before joining the district, Mulholland was a research analyst for the Indiana University Public Policy Institute Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. He has degrees in political science and economics from Wabash College and a law degree from Indiana University.