At last Saturday’s board retreat, the Jeffco School Board officially met with new Superintendent Dan McMinimee for the first time since he stepped into the position on July 1. The retreat was used to discuss policies and procedures before the first regular school board meeting on Aug. 28.
Public comment and public correspondence were two primary issues discussed by board members. Public comment often ran as long as two and three hours during board meetings in the spring and many, including some board members, felt the policies surrounding public comment and signup were enforced inconsistently.
Board members discussed how to balance listening to the public at meetings while still having adequate time to address items on the agenda. Strategies for additional pubic engagement, such as a telephone town hall held the evening before a meeting, were also floated as possibilities that would make it more convenient for parents and community members to participate and potentially reduce the strain on public comment times during the regular meeting.
“We were elected to listen,” said board member Jill Fellman. But, she continued, listening the public needs to be balanced so the board is not getting down to business at 10 pm.
Board member Julie Williams suggested that members of the public could sign up to speak on a pro or con side, in a manner similar to that used by the state legislature. Williams also expressed concern that the public comment signup open and close at consistent times. She compared the process of signing up for public comment to trying to buy tickets to a rock concert.
The board decided to adopt a new “3-2-1” public comment policy will allow for one hour of agenda-related comment during part one. The time allotted to speakers will vary between one and three minutes depending on the number of individual speakers signed up.
Individual speakers will have three minutes to address the board if 20 or less people sign up to speak, two minutes if 21 to 30 people sign up to speak, and one minute if more than 30 individuals sign up to speak. Groups of four people or more will have 10 minutes to speak if 20 or less people sign up, and 5 minutes if more than 20 individuals sign up. If public comment part one exceeds an hour, remaining speakers will need to wait until public comment part two later in the meeting. The board will also continue to listen to public comment about items not on the agenda during that time as well.
Public comment signup will open online at 10 am on Mondays and close at 3:30 pm on the day of the board meeting. Those who wish to speak can also sign up in person at the district office during those times.
The board also received more than 900 letters and email messages this year, according to Helen Neale, Chief of Staff for the school board and superintendent. That is more than they typically receive in a full year. Board members discussed ways to streamline the process so that board secretary John Newkirk, who said he was completely overwhelmed by the volume, could respond to correspondence in a more timely manner.
The budget process was another topic on tap Saturday. Jeffco Schools Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis told the board that they were recommending an earlier timeline that would allow the district to adopt the budget in May instead of June.
This year’s budget process is also likely to include more input from school accountability teams. Board member Lesley Dahlkemper said she would like to see wording about including input from the Strategic Planning & Advisory Committee, as well as from PTA as well.
Board President Ken Witt questioned the recommendation to solicit budget recommendations from SPAC. He asked whether a district accountability team was different from SPAC under the new laws passed by the state legislature regarding school accountability committees. McMinimee said that his staff had looked into the issue, and that district accountability committee requirements had been implemented in SPAC.
This year’s budget process may also include a move to student-based budgeting. Gillis said that McMinimee has a lot of experience in student-based budgeting, and that her own office has also done researched the topic. She also said that this is a process that moves slowly and changes will be gradual.
The school board also heard a facilities report that highlighted several urgent needs. Among them, according to Chief Operations Officer Steve Bell, is a new school at 58th and Hwy 93 to accommodate new home growth in the area and Phase II construction at Sierra Elementary School to finish the work that they had hoped to fund with the failed 2008 bond campaign. The successful 2012 bond issue had not included funds for new construction.
Increased new home growth in the Solterra and West Lakewood area will also require the addition of a school or the expansion of current schools in the area. A south area athletic complex was also on the list to relieve current pressure on the two existing stadiums.
To fund the proposed projects, Bell is recommending the district consider Certificates of Participation, which allows existing facilities to be used as collateral over a more traditional voter-approved bond issue. This would allow the district to address the housing growth more quickly.
In other news, Bell told the board that the district had received a letter from the Jefferson County Assessors Office regarding the disputed 2090 Wright St. property in Lakewood. The Assessors Office said that in their analysis, the property belonged to Jeffco Schools and would stay on the books as district property. A judge had ruled earlier this spring that the land belonged to Lakewood as open space.
Jeffco Schools spokesperson Lynn Setzer said the district has no plans to take further action on the property. It is not clear if the City of Lakewood or the 2090 Wright St. Coalition will take any action about the letter.
Communication between the school board, superintendent and staff was also discussed. Witt said was not happy with the wording in board policy BSL-01 that states, “The Board’s sole connection to the operational organization of the school district is the superintendent.” Witt said he wanted to change the policy to read “primary connection” instead because he felt the policy was too restrictive. He said that if he had a question about the budget, he wanted to be able to email Gillis directly rather than communicating through the superintendent.
McMinimee stressed the importance of making sure that he was a part of the conversation, because in the end he was the one accountable to the board. He promised “clear, quick communication” and would work to make sure every board member has the same information.
Similar issues were brought up regarding board member visits to schools. McMinimee said that he wanted to facilitate all school visits so the staff can be prepared and make sure the appropriate people are present that day to answer questions.