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Hundreds turned away from May 1 meeting as Jeffco Board discusses budget

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An epic seven-hour Jeffco School Board meeting featured more than three hours of public comment by more than 50 public speakers on May 1. Parents, teachers, students and community members packed the auditorium to capacity at Bear Creek High School, as another 400 would-be attendees were locked out in order to be in compliance with the fire code.

More than 1000 people attended the meeting, but no overflow room was provided for those locked out of the meeting. At past meetings, such as April’s regular meeting at the Jeffco Education Center and March’s meeting at Golden High School, a second room for the overflow crowd has been available to allow the overflow audience to listen to the meeting as it happens.

Expanding free full-day kindergarten, teacher compensation and the amount of money to put away in reserves continued to be hot topics during the meeting, both in board discussions and public comment.

The issue of full-day kindergarten remained undecided after the board meeting after board member John Newkirk asked district staff to research “the financial impact to provide free full day kindergarten for all those 34 percent” of Jeffco Schools students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. The original budget proposal had been to expand free full-day kindergarten to schools where the free and reduced lunch exceeded 35 percent.

Earlier in the meeting, board member Lesley Dahlkemper made a motion to reinstitute funding for full-day kindergarten expansion to schools with free and reduced lunch rates of 35 percent or higher. Her motion followed a presentation on the school board’s goals to improve TCAP writing scores. Those goals include increasing the number of proficient and advanced students to 64 percent at the elementary school level, 66 percent in middle school and 59 percent in high school by August 2014. Dahlkemper asked the district presenters if full-day kindergarten would also positively impact writing scores and help meet the board goals, and was told yes.

Board President Ken Witt questioned the usefulness of full-day kindergarten. “The second and more important question we have to answer… is do we have enough significant success in the implementation of full-day kindergarten … to actually see results? And while I will not make a budget decision based on a 10-minute public comment presentation, I welcome some research by this district to get to the root of the question.”

Witt’s comment referenced a presentation made during public comment. The group used data from Colorado and within Jeffco to show a correlation between full-day kindergarten and improved student achievement scores.

Dahlkemper’s motion to expand free full-day kindergarten failed on a 3 to 2 vote, with Witt, Newkirk and Williams voting against it. The board has until June 30 to finalize and approve the 2014-15 budget.

In other board news, board also approved a new elementary math curriculum, Math Expressions. Math Expressions will replace the current curriculum, Math Investigations. The motion also approved the purchase of materials and professional development training for the new curriculum at a cost of $4.3 million.

How much money to budget for reserves also resurfaced during the May 1 meeting. During the study session that preceded the regular meeting, Dahlkemper made a motion to allocate $2 million dollars to reserves.

Newkirk asked where the $2 million would come from, since all the money had already been allocated. Fellman said it could come from the charter school allocation, because the charters would already be receiving additional equalization funding from the state, as had been reported earlier in the meeting. The finance package passed by the state legislature includes a boost in per-pupil funding for facilities costs at charter schools.

Williams disagreed with a move to take the money specifically from one area, and instead suggested that they could cut a little across the board. “All of our children are important and there’s many other areas to take $2 million from,” Williams said. “So we can take a little from teacher compensation, from . . .” she continued, but any following comments were drowned out by the audience shouting its disapproval.

“We’ve already taken dollars from teacher compensation,” Dahlkemper said. “We’ve already reduced teacher compensation by $4 million dollars where you compare a budget we looked at two months ago to the current budget.”

The issue of Jeffco School Board attorney Brad Miller’s contract was a hot topic again after Dahlkemper tried to add the issue to that night’s agenda. She requested a 20 to 30 minute conversation about Miller’s month-to-month contract and billing invoices, pointing out items like “research for the board” on the invoice.

“Since all his invoices are being redacted, I believe the public deserves to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent,” Dahlkemper said. “I’m wondering who authorized this work and these expenses. When did the board’s five members request that research be conducted? I don’t remember having that conversation at the board table and I’d love to have a discussion about that.”

“And why, Mr. Witt, are you approving these invoices when five members were elected to this board, five members represent Jefferson County, and five members authorize work and provide direction in the best interests of 85,000 students?” Dahlkemper asked. “That’s what we need to have a conversation about.” The motion failed on a 3 to 2 vote.

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