Dear members of the Jeffco Board of Education:
Your recent decisions about the proposed budget, negotiations with JCEA and the continued refusal of Mr. Witt to hold a public discussion of the necessity, scope of work and cost of the newly-created Board of Education attorney position held by Brad Miller, have prompted me to ask you again to please listen to all the voices in Jeffco.
Let’s start with the April 3 board meeting. I was amazed to hear numerous charter school parents speak as if they were the only parents in the Jeffco who volunteer countless hours in the classroom, who fundraise thousands of dollars to fill gaps in school budgets, and whose schools need more funding. My child attends a neighborhood school where we also volunteer countless hours in and outside the classroom, fundraise thousands of dollars to fill gaps in the school budget, and whose school—like every single school in Colorado—needs more funding.
The discussion was about equal funding. I want equal funding too: the same funding that Mr. Witt’s children received during their years of education, and the same funding that Ms. Williams’ children received. My third grader has only known steep budget cuts, larger class sizes and reduced educational resources since she started kindergarten in 2010. Her teachers have not had a raise during this time.
Would money from Amendment 66 have helped both neighborhood and charter schools? Yes, but three board members campaigned against it, despite the fact that better funding and additional resources were available when their children were in school (with the obvious exception of Mr. Newkirk’s youngest).
Would buying down the negative factor make millions of dollars available for Jeffco’s charters and neighborhood schools alike? Yes, but our three new board members declined to direct the lobbyist to support such actions, citing ignorance about the “larger impact.” Our students don’t have time for your ignorance. Do your homework before you get to the board meeting, or take advice from our experienced, qualified and highly informed Jeffco employees and our two experienced school board members. The good news is that it’s not too late. Talk to your state representatives and direct the lobbyist to tell them Jeffco Schools supports the move to buy down the negative factor without strings attached. Do it now. All of our kids will benefit.
The funding issue, after all, is not that we need to rehash already-negotiated mill levy override funding from 3A. The real problem is that everyone is suffering from the effects of huge cuts in state funding. More funding would solve the problem without pitting parents against each other or discounting what 176,785 Jeffco voters said by voting yes on 3A in the 2012 election. (By the way, note that more than twice as many voted to approve 3A as voted to elect any of the three new board members. The number of “voters who have spoken” as some put it, gives 3A considerably more weight, and the 2013 election doesn’t in any way negate the 2012 election).
Please direct your efforts toward securing more funding from the state and even from private sources rather than taking money from neighborhood and options schools (or their teachers’ paychecks) to fund charters. It creates needless and harmful division and ignores the fundamental funding shortage affecting all of our 85,000 students.
In addition, I was extremely disappointed by your decision to cut $600,000 for free full-day kindergarten in certain low-income schools from the proposed budget. The discussion made it clear that some board members have not taken the time to find out what full-day kindergarten entails or how it improves student achievement and would help meet the board’s stated goals. This is unacceptable. If you don’t know, ask. If the experts tell you it works, don’t contradict them with your own limited knowledge and whatever rumors you have mistaken for facts.
If your concern is that some parents in those schools could pay for full-day kindergarten might be taking advantage of your tax dollars, then propose an obvious solution: why not make free full-day kindergarten available to all low-income students in any of the Jeffco schools that currently offer full-day kindergarten, and charge tuition to everyone else? (The other obvious solution is to make free full-day kindergarten available to everyone, but without additional funding to support it, making the additional academic time available to the children who are most at risk makes sense fiscally and educationally.) Your job on the school board is to find solutions or yield your seat to others who are more committed to educating our children.
In addition, your budget conversation regarding PERA was also incredibly disappointing. While you are within your rights to deduct the SAED portion of PERA from monies available for compensation, I question the decision by Mr. Newkirk, Mr. Witt and Ms. Williams to include the AED portion — the district’s portion — in that deduction as well. What purpose does that serve? If you’re trying to send a message to our teachers that their work is not valued, that you have no intention of honoring any previous agreements, and that you will fight to pay them as little as possible, you’ve accomplished it. It’s poor leadership and it will cost us teachers.
Real leaders would have been ready for negotiations with questions about PERA and similar costs already discussed so that actual negotiations could take place. Real leaders would not have declined to provide their negotiators with any direction about compensation, despite requests from JCEA. Real leaders would understand that they should stop using the phrase “laser-like focus” in relation to student achievement when their actions make it clear that their laser-like focus is on who pays PERA increases rather than on what budget decisions will help our 85,000 students.
Our teachers are our most important classroom resource, and the Jeffco budget survey that the community expects the board to increase teacher compensation. Your disrespect for JCEA, for our teachers in general, and for the two experienced board members who are arguing that we need to do the right thing is completely unacceptable. Stop playing games with the people who literally shape my children’s education. Offer a reasonable compensation increase, restore the steps and levels as per the agreement made in previous negotiations, and recognize that if Jeffco wants to remain a compelling place for our best and brightest teachers to work, you will need to compensate them fairly. Your current offer does none of those things.
Finally, I spoke to the board about having a conversation about the newly-created school board lawyer position during the board’s January meeting at Arvada High School. I specifically asked that you would have a public conversation about the expected scope of work, cost and explain how this position differs from the attorney hired by the superintendent. You failed to acknowledge my voice later in the meeting when you refused to have that conversation and refused to approve Dr. Stevenson’s candidate to fill the position left vacant by Alan Taggert. This month, there was a request to discuss the work Brad Miller had been doing, review scope of work, and review the contract. Mr. Witt, you used the curious word “rehash” in response. The word choice was curious specifically because you have not yet had a public discussion about these topics.
You said you would listen to all voices, so I’m going to say this again: please have a public conversation so that this Jeffco parent and taxpayer hears why you think it’s necessary to spend thousands of dollars on a position that did not exist until you were elected. How long you intend to retain this position, what work are Mr. Miller and his firm currently doing, and are any of those items tasks that are already performed by existing Jeffco Schools employees?
Thank you for your time.
Lisa Cook, Ph.D.