Who Is In Charge

Fed funding for Eagle-Net suspended

Federal stimulus money for Eagle-Net Alliance’s Colorado-wide broadband expansion project has been suspended while questions about its permitting are sorted out.

Testing illustrationThe move suspends a $100 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) stimulus grant until Broomfield-based Eagle-Net submits documentation related its fiber optic network construction plans.

Eagle-Net’s work has been closely watched by many Colorado school districts anxious to get improved Internet service ahead of the planned launch of online state tests in a couple of years.

The project, funded through the NTIA grant and another $35 million of private donations, has been under construction for months.

It started drawing criticism over the summer when rural telecoms complained Eagle-Net’s lines were being built in areas they already served.

Those companies asked their congressional representatives to stop Eagle-Net’s construction or force changes to its practices.

The NTIA started reviewing Eagle-Net’s compliance with grant requirements in late August.

The review concluded Eagle-Net had failed to submit sufficient documentation of environmental and historic preservation reviews after modifying its network routes in some areas, according to a suspension letter dated Dec. 6.

In a note to its constituents, Eagle-Net said the funding suspension won’t affect current customers, and it will work “diligently” to get its grant restored.

“Although construction has been temporarily postponed, it was already winding down for the 2012 build schedule. Our non-construction related operations will not be affected,” Eagle-Net’s Dec. 7 note said.

Eagle-Net’s 4,600-mile network is the nation’s fifth-biggest broadband project funded under federal stimulus grants.

Eagle-Net is raising $35 million in private funds in addition to the $100 million it was awarded in 2010 by the NTIA, an agency of the U.S Department of Commerce.

Eagle-Net’s mission is to expand fiber-optic lines for high-speed Internet in areas where school, libraries, local government buildings and other “community anchor institutions” either lacked broadband access or found it too expensive.

Local institutions were expected to be eager about Eagle-Net’s arrival and its promise of more affordable broadband.

Eagle-Net cannot sell its services to private organizations or residential customers, and in most cases it tries to partner with the local telecom to provide service to a community institution that seeks access to Eagle-Net’s network.

But rural telecoms that built their own fiber-optic networks using other federal subsidies complain that Eagle-Net’s construction duplicated existing broadband infrastructure and will undermine their businesses.

Copyright 2012 Denver Business Journal. Published with permission.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.