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Jeffco School Board approves loan increase to charter school, declines CDE grant

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The Jeffco School Board approved an increase to an existing loan for charter school Collegiate Academy during its Dec. 12 meeting after Collegiate found itself in financial straits for the second year in a row.

Jeffco charter school Collegiate Academy asked the school board to approve a $450,000 loan payable for a five-year term after they experienced a 22 percent drop in enrollment this year.

Collegiate Academy was approved for a $150,000 loan from Jeffco Schools in December 2012 after failing to adjust their budget for the cuts all schools in the district had experienced. At the time, Collegiate also made $150,000 in cuts, including the layoffs of 2.5 full-time teachers and the loss of the K-6 Spanish specials class.

“With prudent budgeting and positive news from the state and county regarding 2013-14 school funding, we are confident in the school's ability to repay on time, if not early,” Becker said in 2012.

The 2012 cuts allowed the school to avoid borrowing the entire $150,000 last year, but this year’s steep enrollment drop caused more budget shortfalls.

According to Collegiate’s budget documents, the charter could experience a deficit of as much as $255,000 this year, and subsequent shortages totaling as much as $450,000 to $500,000 during the next two years.

Board members questioned the enrollment drop, but Principal Chris Becker blamed the 2012-13 management issues and last year's concerns that Collegiate might close. He said the school expected some former students to return for the 2014-15 school year.

In addition, he said the school had enrolled nine students since the Oct. 1 preliminary count and would continue to enroll interested students throughout the year.

Forty-five students have submitted choice applications for the 2014-15 year, Becker said, and the school is conducting school orientation tours daily.

Board members asked about the school’s student achievement scores, strategic plans and marketing plans.

The charter school’s TCAP scores have consistently fallen below Jeffco's district average during the past three years.

In 2013, 71.2 percent of Collegiate students scored proficient or advanced in reading in comparison to the district average of 76.6 percent, and 51.6 percent were proficient or advanced in writing compared to the district average of 60.6 percent. In math, 59.8 percent of Collegiate's students scored proficient or advanced compared to the district average of 62.6 percent, and in science 53.3 percent of Collegiate's students were proficient or advanced compared to the district average of 59.7 percent. Collegiate’s poverty rate is 20 percent.

Jill Fellman and Ken Witt told Collegiate Academy that they wanted to see a five-year strategic plan and a corrective action plan that had been vetted by a consultant experienced in charter schools before approving a second loan. Lesley Dahlkemper added that she also wanted to see a marketing plan to attract students to the school.

The board approved a motion to increase the amount of Collegiate’s 2012 loan to $250,000, with the stipulation that Collegiate present its strategic plan, corrective action plan and marketing plan at the Jan. 16 Jeffco School Board meeting.

In other business, the board approved a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant award of $5.2 million to support innovative professional development, but declined a separate grant from the state to fund school readiness.

Jeffco Schools was one of only three school districts in the nation to win the prestigious three-year Innovative Professional Development (iPD) grant from the Gates Foundation to fund individualized professional development for teachers.

The grant money will be used to build systems, strategies and resources for secondary teachers that will allow them to design and implement professional training that helps them meet the teaching demands of students and focuses on areas in which individual teachers most need to improve.

The new board members had a number of questions about the grant, including how grants were approved and what would happen if they didn’t approve the Gates Foundation grant.

Superintendent Cindy Stevenson explained that all grants come to the board for approval, and that without this grant, Jeffco would not have the money to pay for innovative professional development for secondary teachers.

Earlier in the evening, Jenny Braketa, a math teacher at Ralston Valley High School, had spoken of the impact the innovative professional development had on her teaching. Because it allowed her to focus on further developing skills she needed with her current students, she had already made changes and seen a positive impact on her students.

Stevenson also noted that in comparison, Denver Public Schools has received $28 million in Gates funding. The board approved the grant unanimously.

The school readiness grant from the state did not fare as well.

The Colorado Department of Education had awarded Jeffco Schools $56,000 to participate in the School Readiness Assessment Program, but all three members of Jeffco’s majority voted to not accept the grant money and to stop all use of TS Gold in hopes that CDE approves additional assessment programs for 2014-15.

The readiness assessment is related to the Colorado READ Act (HB 12-1238), which was passed in 2012, and CAP4K (SB 08-212), which was passed in 2008.

By law, all Colorado districts must assess their kindergarten students using a readiness assessment approved by the Colorado Department of Education. Currently, only the program TS Gold is approved by CDE.

With the grant, Jeffco Schools had planned to assess only five students in each kindergarten classroom so that teachers could learn TS Gold and get professional development feedback before full implementation next year. Literacy, match and socio-emotional data are collected in the system.

The grant would have covered 100 percent of the TS Gold subscription cost and had the potential to be renewed for three years.

Some board members expressed concerns about the assessment.

Witt said he thought it might be “too behavioral and not academic enough,” and that it hoped other assessments might become available before next year.

Marcie Hoefner, Jeffco’s director of early childhood education, told the board that the socio-emotional component of the assessment helps to guide instruction because children’s developmental stages often affect their readiness. She added that data gives teachers more to go on than simply a “gut feeling” as they have in the past.

The state has given the schools a one-year extension on the law, but it is not clear whether assessment programs other than TS Gold will be approved before the 2014-15 year.

If the CDE does not approve alternatives, Jeffco Schools teachers will be learning how to use TS Gold while simultaneously using it to assess kindergarten students next year.

The school board also approved changes to public comment at regular meetings.

Under the new rules, both agenda-related and non-agenda public comment will be combined during the first public comment session near the beginning of the meeting. If the total amount of public comment exceeds 45 minutes, however, the non-agenda-related items will be moved to near the end of the meeting, in what had been known as Public Comment Part Two.

Stevenson also updated board members about the potential for streaming board meetings live, per a request from Witt at the November meeting.

Stevenson said the Jeffco Schools board room is equipped to stream meetings live, but that area schools are not equipped for streaming.

The Jeffco School Board majority had previously said they wanted to meet at different schools in the area rather than in the boardroom, and the Dec. 12 meeting took place in the Lakewood High School Auditorium.

Streaming the meetings from area schools would require an investment of money and staff as well as time, Stevenson said.

Witt said he preferred to continue meeting at schools.

Julie Williams asked about surveying the Jeffco community to find out their preference for meetings, and Fellman asked about adding the question to Engage Jeffco so that interested community members could comment.

The board also passed a procedural change to combine the superintendent consent agenda with the board consent agenda. The move will allow any board member to move an item on the consent agenda to the discussion agenda without requiring a majority vote.

Under the previous rules, any board member could pull an item from the board consent agenda to the discussion agenda, but a majority vote was required for the superintendent consent agenda.

The Jeffco School Board also heard a presentation on choice enrollment and wait lists in Jeffco. The board will revisit the issue at their Jan. 16 regular meeting. Witt said he wanted to the board to meet in a school rather than the board room, but a location has been announced yet.

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