EdNews Colorado's EdWire

From the notebooks of the journalists who bring you EdNews Colorado, the independent news organization covering Colorado's public schools.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Friday that his office needs to do a line-by-line review the petitions submitted for the K-12 tax increase ballot measure.

The group Colorado Commits to Kids submitted 165,706 signatures on Aug. 5. Some 86,105 valid signatures are required to put the proposed on the $950 million tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The Department of State samples petition signatures to determine if there’s a probability supporters have gathered a sufficient number.

The department sampled 5 percent of the submitted signatures – 8,286 – and found 4,645 were valid and 3,641 were not. From that sample the department projected 92,892 valid signatures, 107.9 percent of the required number.

According to the department, state law “requires the verification of each signature filed if the random sample shows the number of valid signatures falls between 90 percent and 110 percent of the 86,105 signatures needed.”

So line-by-line verification is needed because the projected number of tax-plan signatures didn’t exceed the 110 percent threshold.

The signatures have to be verified by Sept. 4. Department spokesman Rich Coolidge said staff will have to review all 165,706 signatures.

Andrew Freedman, campaign director of Colorado Commits, said, “We have turned in nearly double the required number of signatures, and the random sample suggests we have collected more than enough to qualify for the ballot. We look forward to that announcement before Sept. 5.”

Read full statement from the department.

The Jeffco schools Friday announced a $5.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund professional development for middle and high school teachers. 

The three-year grant will be used for teacher training with an emphasis on professional development created by teachers.

Jeffco was one of three districts chosen from nine applicants for the Innovative Professional Development (iPD) grants.  

Heather Beck, Jeffco chief academic officer, said the training for teachers will use a variety of learning models including online, in person or a combination of both.

“In the past much of professional development has been developed for the masses,” Beck said. “Now we’re building a system that will personalize learning for our teachers, just as we are personalizing learning for our students.”

Robin Johnson, who has represented District 1 on the Jeffco school board, has resigned effective immediately because she has moved, according to a statement issued Monday afternoon.

The seat is on the November ballot, but Johnson had not planned to run for another term. However, the school board has to fill the vacancy by Oct. 10, less than a month before the election.

Get more information about the requirements of office and how to apply for the vacant seat here. Also see this page for other information about the election and about candidates who have already announced.

An interesting name has popped up in the already-crowded field of candidates for four seats on the Douglas County school board.

Republican James Geddes, a University of Colorado regent, has filed the paperwork to run for the board and to set up a campaign committee. (School board candidates also are required to gather 50 petition signatures by Aug. 30 to get on the ballot.)

Geddes lives in board district B, currently represented by board President John Carson, who is term limited.

A surgeon who practices in the metro area and Summit County, Geddes has been a conservative voice on the nine-member Board of Regents, which has a Republican majority but doesn’t necessarily split on partisan lines. (See this Boulder Daily Camera story for background on the politics of the regents.)

Since the election of a conservative majority in 2009, the Douglas County board has been embroiled in controversy over a proposed voucher program, its strained relations with the teachers union and how it conducts its business, including lengthy close-door sessions. Pro-voucher and GOP-endorsed candidates won the three board seats that were contested in 2011. (Colorado school board candidates run on a non-partisan basis, but the Republican Party has been overtly active in Dougco.)

EdNews left a message for Geddes Thursday but hasn’t yet heard back. One question we’d like to ask is if he intends to continue serving on the regents if elected to the school board.

Apparently he could do both. Kristine Wooley, spokeswoman for the Colorado Association of School Boards, told EdNews, “I spoke to one of our attorneys and she said, “There are no statutes limiting the qualification for school director that relate to holding another office.’”

According to the Department of State, legislators are barred from holding other elected offices, and a person can’t run for two offices in the same election.

Geddes was elected to the CU board in 2008, representing the 6th Congressional District. His current term ends in January 2015, so he wouldn’t have to run until November 2014 if he wanted another term on the regents.

Seven other candidates have said they intend to run for the Dougco board, including incumbent Meghann Silverthorn. Incumbents Carrie Mendoza and Doug Benevento haven’t yet announced if they plan to run, according to a recent article in Our Colorado News. Neither has active candidate or committee registrations on file with the Department of State.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has been named chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Education Reform.

In that role, Hancock “will lead the mayors … in a comprehensive discussion regarding closing the achievement gap, through specific strategies and innovative practices and programs,” in the words of a news release.

Hancock talked a lot about education during his 2011 campaign and later that year formed the Denver Education Compact, a group of education, business and civic leaders intended to help coordinate school improvement efforts. The low-profile group meets four times a year and has two main goals – helping ensure that 90 percent of city third graders read at grade level by 2017 and increasing the number of first-generation students who earn postsecondary credentials and get jobs. (Get more information here.)

Unlike mayors in some other big cities, Denver’s mayor has no direct control over the city’s school system.

The conference includes mayors from 1,295 U.S. cities of 30,000 population or more. The group recently completed its annual summer meeting.

Students at nine schools in far northeast Denver got an early start to the school year on Thursday. While most DPS students begin the year on August 26, but schools in the Montbello and Green Valley Ranch areas started more than two weeks early. 

Mayor Michael Hancock, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and District 4 school board representative Landri Taylor were on hand at High Tech Early College to greet students as they arrived for class and welcome ninth-graders to the school. 

Above, Boasberg participates in a ropes course team-building exercise with a group of HTEC ninth-graders; Denver Math Fellow Nikki Weddle coaches her group of students on the activity; and principal John Fry and Hancock attempt to get a group of ninth-graders excited about the coming school year.

A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Colorado is one of only three states studied where obesity rates among low-income preschoolers increased in recent years.

In contrast, the study of 43 states and territories found that obesity rates declined in 19 and stayed the same in 21 from 2008-11. Pennsylvania and Tennessee are the other two states where obesity rates increased during the three-year period.

In Colorado’s case, obesity rates among the preschoolers studied started at 9.4 percent in 2008, dipped to a low of 9 percent in 2009 and rose to 10 percent by 2011. Despite Colorado’s upward trend line, it still has lower-than-average obesity rates for the low-income preschool population. Overall, rates ranged from 9.2 percent (Hawaii) to 17.9 percent (Puerto Rico) in 2011. Tennessee and Pennsylvania ended at 14.2 percent and 12.2 percent respectively.

The CDC report is based on body mass index data from low-income children, aged two to four, who participated in programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as WIC.

Students in some Front Range districts are already back at the books (or iPads), and everyone will return to class before the month is over.

Some Douglas County students went back to school Monday, and the rest return to the classroom on Aug. 12. (Nowadays, with districts offering a variety of programs and school types, many districts have multiple opening days.)

In Aurora students in grades 6-12 were back at it Tuesday, with everybody back in class by Aug. 13, when preschoolers and kindergarteners start.

Students are Cherry Creek’s four year-around elementary schools have been hard at it since July 8. Other students return Aug. 12 and 19.

Here are the starting dates for other major Front Range districts:

  • Aug. 15 – St. Vrain
  • Aug. 19 – Adams 12-Five Star, Colorado Springs District 11, Jeffco and Poudre
  • Aug. 22 – Boulder Valley
  • Aug. 26 – DPS

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider an appeal in a long-running lawsuit that challenges 2010 reforms to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

The lawsuit, Justus et al v. State and PERA, was filed after the 2010 legislature passed a comprehensive overhaul of PERA, including a provision that allowed reduction of the annual cost-of-living increases paid to retirees.

The pension system covers all Colorado teachers and a wide variety of state, higher education and local government employees.

The case has followed the usual winding path through the courts. A Denver district judge ruled in favor of PERA in 2011, but the plaintiffs took the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals later that year. The appeals court set a legal standard for reduction of pension benefits and sent the case back to the district court. The state and PERA appealed to the supreme court last year.

The high court agreed to consider the issues of the legal standard set by the Court of Appeals and of whether retirement benefits can be reducd.

The PERA reform, known as Senate Bill 10-001, was crafted by a coalition of interest groups and both political parties and easier passed the legislature. But its provisions have been under fire ever since, both by some retirees in their lawsuit and by legislative Republicans, who so far have been unsuccessful in changing the law.

The Colorado Court of Appeals Thursday rejected an attempt by state Treasurer Walker Stapleton to access individual information for some members of the Public Employees Retirement Association.

Stapleton, a Republican, is a vociferous critic of the current PERA structure. The state treasurer is automatically a member of the 16-member PERA board. First elected in 2010, Stapleton in 2011 asked the board for access to individual records (without names) of the top 20 percent of PERA retirees, based on pension amounts.

High-dollar pensions have been something of a fixation for GOP critics of PERA, even though the average monthly benefit paid by the system is $3,020. Most PERA members aren’t eligible for Social Security. The PERA system covers all Colorado teachers and many higher education employees.

The rest of the board rejected Stapleton’s request, and he sued. In April 2012 a Denver district judge ruled against Stapleton because state law requires that such information be kept confidential unless disclosing it would “solely” further the interests of PERA members and retirees.

The appeals court’s Thursday ruling said, “Because we conclude Stapleton is not entitled to unfettered access to the PERA records that he requested, we affirm” the district court decision. (Read the appeals court ruling here.)