Archives for category: Denver

Candidates for Public office endorsed by NPE Action won big. 

We didn’t give them money.

We gave them our valued Seal of Approval, demonstrating that they are the real deal, genuine supporters of public schools.

We also celebrate the apparent victory in Kentucky of Andy Bashear and the apparent defeat of Governor Matt Bevin, who mistreated teachers and sought Betsy DeVos’s approval. Kentucky has a charter law but no funding for charters.

And we congratulate the brave Democrats in Virginia, who won control of the legislature.

And salutations to the new school board members who won control of the Denver school board. Aloha   to Senator MIchael Bennett and other pseudo reformers.

November 5 was a great day for public schools and teachers!

Denver is one of the jewels of the Corporate Reform/Disruption crowd where outside the state money has purchased board seats in the past.

This election, however, three seats were up for grabs and the corporate reformers were defeated in all three races.

In their place, candidates who are skeptical of charters, school closing, and high-stakes testing were elected with the support of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Supporters of commonsense, real reform (not Corporate Reform) already held 2 seats on the seven-person board.

The anti-Corporate Reform, pro-Public School bloc now controls 5 of 7 seats on the Denver school board. (Time for DFER to panic!).

 

Candidates backed by the Denver teachers union held the lead in Tuesday’s election as of 10 p.m., making it appear likely that the largest school district in the state will take a new direction.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association had endorsed Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann and Brad Laurvick for three open seats on the seven-member board. No incumbents were running, as two reached term limits and one decided to bow out.

Currently, five members of the board generally support “reform” ideas, such as closing schools that underperformed on tests and graduation rates, and opening new options like charter schools. The Denver teachers union and allied groups saw an opportunity to “flip” the board’s majority by electing candidates who opposed closing schools and were more suspicious of charters.

In the first returns for the at-large seat, Anderson was leading with 48.8% of the vote. Alexis Menocal Harrigan was in second, with 38.2%. Natela Manuntseva was trailing, with 13.0%.

Anderson, a restorative justice coordinator at DPS’ North High School, previously ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2017, when he was 19. Harrigan works for Code.org, which focuses on technology education, and previously was a staff member for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped launch DPS’s current reform agenda during his time as superintendent. Manuntseva works for a kombucha company.

In District 1, which encompasses southeast Denver, Baldermann led early with 49.7% of the vote, followed by Diana Romero Campbell, 31.2%, and Radhika Nath, 19.2%.

Baldermann is a stay-at-home father who previously owned an architecture business. Nath is a health policy researcher, and Romero Campbell is president of Scholars Unlimited, which offers tutoring and other services.

In District 5, which covers northwest Denver, Laurvick had a narrow lead, with 36.3% of the vote. Tony Curcio followed with 32.9%, and Julie Bañuelos brought up the rear with 30.9%.

 

I am happy to endorse Scott Baldermann for District 1 on the Denver school board.

Scott is a native of Denver, a graduate of Aurora public schools, and a parent of children who attend Denver public schools.

He is an architect and software developer. He sold his small business and is now devoted to his children and their school. He is president of the PTA.

He has been endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the Colorado Education Association, and other professional groups, as well as by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

Former Mayor Webb put the issue succinctly:

The Denver Public Schools philosophy of education reform has destroyed Cole Junior High and Manual High School, which houses three different schools. The current DPS Board of Education’s philosophy of education reform is not addressing these concerns and other issues. Therefore, I am endorsing a slate of three new candidates for the board supported by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. They are: Tay Anderson for At-Large, Scott Baldermann for District 1, and Brad Laurvick for District 5.

Baldermann’s critics complain that he is funding his own campaign. This is the reverse of the usual scenario in Denver, where out-of-state groups like Democrats for Education Reform spend large sums to maintain control of the board by advocates for charters and testing.

If Scott can pay for his campaign, good for him!

Too often, the genuine supporters of public schools have been beaten by plutocrat money.

Scott Baldermann doesn’t need money from the Waltons, Charles Koch, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg or others who want to disrupt and privatize Denver’s public schools.

Scott is exactly the kind of public-spirited good citizen who should serve on the school board.

He is a true friend and supporter of Denver’s public schools.

I hope he is elected.

Another reason to vote for Scott Baldermann and the other grassroots candidates: Arne Duncan showed up in Denver to endorse their opponents and urge voters to continue supporting Obama’s “legacy” of charter schools, school closings, and high-stakes testing.

Vote for Scott Baldermann and vote for real public schools and a board led by public school parents, not NYC hedge funders or out-of-state billionaires.

 

 

 

The Denver school Board is up for grabs, and a battle looms between progressives supporting public schools and a slate controlled by Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, and groups controlled by Wall Street and billionaires. The “reformers” support school closures, disruption, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. The powerful, who control the board, say that any challenge to their total power is “divisive.”

Denver Public Schools at a crossroads: 3 new board members will help decide district’s direction

The Denver Public Schools board will welcome three new members next year, but voters will have to decide whether it also has a new direction.

Board president Anne Rowe, who represents District 1, and at-large member Allegra “Happy” Haynes are term-limited, and District 5 representative Lisa Flores opted not to run again. Each of the three open seats seat has attracted three candidates.

A vocal group of teachers and activists are looking to “flip” the board, putting the majority that has favored tactics such as closing poor-performing schools and opening new charters into the minority. Two current members of the nine-person board have been skeptical of the so-called “reform” movement, though votes don’t always break down along ideological lines.

Fundraising numbers suggests that candidates aligned with the current majority on the reform side may not go easily, however.

Wendy Howell, deputy director of the Colorado Working Families Party, said the overriding issue is reducing corporate influence in education. The party hasn’t released its endorsements yet, but Howell is been active in the online Flip the Board community, which is attempting to turn energy from February’s DPS teachers strike into a political force.

Charter schools started with good intentions, but they’ve become a way to privatize public education services without improving students’ results, Howell said. Districts also have had to add extra administrative staff to deal with compliance issues for different types of schools, which diverts money from classrooms, she said.

“We want to get Wall Street out of our school board,” she said.

The flip community supports candidates who want to pause the development of new charter schools and to examine other ways of improving education, Howell said. They also want to see new board members take a critical look at DPS’ finances, she said.

“This experiment (with reform) has gotten out of control,” she said.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association has endorsed candidates who aligned themselves with the Flip the Board movement: Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann and Brad Laurvick. Students for Education Reform and Stand for Children have backed candidates who gravitate toward the reform side: Alexis Menocal Harrigan, Diana Romero Campbell and Tony Curcio.

Now look at the rhetoric of the privatizers. Only they care about children. They have been in total control for years and accomplished nothing other than disruption of schools, communities, and families. But they will call upon their billionaire funders to keep the disruption gang in power. Questioning their failure is “divisive.”

Krista Spurgin, executive director of Colorado Stand for Children, said the emphasis on flip versus reform candidates is “divisive,” and that the focus should be on working together to improve education. The parent volunteer committee that made the endorsement decisions wasn’t focused on ideology, but on whether candidates had a record of commitment to have students reading by third grade and on-track to graduate high school, she said.

“It’s about them having the experience and the knowledge to make improvements for families,” she said. “They also have the ability to push the district to improve.”

The candidates they endorsed also support school choice, which is valuable to parents, and giving schools autonomy to figure out what will work for their kids, Spurgin said.

Christian Esperias, national director of campaign strategy of Students for Education Reform, said the questions their student leaders considered when making their endorsement decisions weren’t focused on issues like charter schools and school closures, but on how candidates would close the opportunity gap for underserved groups like students of color and low-income kids. They also looked for candidates who support higher pay for teachers, he said.

“I would frame it as putting kids first versus focusing on the bureaucracy and the special interests,” he said.

Krista Spurgin, executive director of Colorado Stand for Children, said the emphasis on flip versus reform candidates is “divisive,” and that the focus should be on working together to improve education. The parent volunteer committee that made the endorsement decisions wasn’t focused on ideology, but on whether candidates had a record of commitment to have students reading by third grade and on-track to graduate high school, she said.

“It’s about them having the experience and the knowledge to make improvements for families,” she said. “They also have the ability to push the district to improve.”

The candidates they endorsed also support school choice, which is valuable to parents, and giving schools autonomy to figure out what will work for their kids, Spurgin said.

Christian Esperias, national director of campaign strategy of Students for Education Reform, said the questions their student leaders considered when making their endorsement decisions weren’t focused on issues like charter schools and school closures, but on how candidates would close the opportunity gap for underserved groups like students of color and low-income kids. They also looked for candidates who support higher pay for teachers, he said.

“I would frame it as putting kids first versus focusing on the bureaucracy and the special interests,” he said.

 

Mitchell Robinson, professor of music education at Michigan State University, sends out a warning that Michael Bennett is pure Corporate Reformer. 

Robinson reminds us that Bennett has more in common with Secretary Betsy DeVos than he wants you to know.

Michael Bennet, US Senator from Colorado and presidential candidate, had what the pundits this morning are calling “a moment” at [the second] Democratic Debate on CNN. Let’s hope that moment ends immediately.

Ironically enough, Bennet’s big moment came as he waxed poetic about “America’s public schools”, a topic that has received a depressingly minuscule amount of attention. Because while Bennet can point to his experience as Superintendent of the Denver school system for 4 years, his record in that position could well serve as the trailer for a dystopian movie of the disastrous impact of the corporate education reform agenda on the public schools of one of America’s most vibrant urban centers.

In case you don’t know much about Bennet–and really, how could you?–here’s a little primer…

  • Like our current Secretary of Education, Sen. Bennet never attended a public school himself. He attended the posh St. Alban’s school as a child; “the kind of go-to prep program that serves a lot of DC’s political elite.”
  • Although he had no educational background in teaching, or experience in public schools, Bennet was appointed Superintendent of Denver’s schools from 2005-09, the position that launched his bid for US Senator. While in that position, Bennet was a huge charter school cheerleader
  • He was a proponent of “school co-location,” a practice in which charter schools are “located” in space within an existing public school building–and a practice that often creates damaging tensions in school communities.
  • Bennet also forced through a contentious teacher merit pay system that left veteran teachers feeling demeaned and devalued. This punishing strategy was drawn directly from the venture capitalist/investment manager playbook–which should come as no surprise given Bennet’s background as…you guessed it: a lawyer and investment manager. Bennet’s merit pay ploy also contributed to the lingering discontentment among Denver’s teaching force, leading to this year’s teacher strike in Denver.
  • Bennet also pursued an aggressive school closing campaign, with devastating results:

No decision was more controversial or fraught than the one to close Manual High School, a northeast Denver institution with a storied legacy that had struggled immensely in the preceding decade. Bennet was attacked for ignoring the community’s wishes and inadequately planning for what would happen to hundreds of displaced students, many of whom would never finish high school.

Bennet seems to have realized that his record as a pro-charter, anti-teacher corporate reformer may prove to become a drag on his candidacy for president, and has attempted to distance himself from the Trump/DeVos education agenda–such as it is–with a public statement criticizing the Secretary, calling her nomination “an insult to schoolchildren and their families, to teachers and principals, and to communities fighting to improve their public schools all across this country”.

Given the alignment of Bennet’s education policy positions with those of Ms. DeVos, this is an exceedingly narrow needle to try to thread:

  • both Bennet and DeVos are big supporters of charter schools, and enemies of teachers unions–Bennet was a disciple of hedge fund guru Phillip Anschutz, the founder of a billion dollar anti-education foundation and owner of the publishing company “behind the anti-teachers’ union movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for ‘Superman’”–as a result, Denver now has more charter and “innovation” schools than traditional public schools
  • both Bennet and DeVos favor “school choice”, a policy that has been toxic in both DeVos’ home state of Michigan, and Bennet’s adopted state of Colorado
  • both Bennet and DeVos are ardent supporters of alternative certification programs, like Teach for America, that provide a “fast track” to the classroom for uncertified and unqualified applicants, and replace veteran teachers with short-term “edutourists”
  • both Bennet and DeVos are proponents of “portfolio school districts,” an approach to school organization and governance that’s proven to be a disaster in New Orleans and many other communities
  • both Bennet and DeVos have targeted teachers’ pension funds as a means of destabilizing school systems and hastening the glide path to privatization

Former Denver Board member Jeanne Kaplan started her own blog with a warning that Bennett and his successor Tom Boasberg had made minuscule progress academically, but had succeeded in inflicting maximum disruption on the children and public schools of Denver. Worse, Bennett engaged in risky financial investments that were damaging to the district’s finances.

She wrote:

Fifty seven charter schools (57), seventy five percent (75%) housed in taxpayer owned or leased facilities. Fifty two percent (52%) of taxpayer approved new schools money going to two Charter Management Organizations (CMOs). Forty percent (40%) of schools non-union. These are the outcomes Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg must be looking at when he repeatedly declares education reform is a success in Denver. He certainly can’t be looking at the academic outcomes.

My name is Jeannie Kaplan. I had the honor and privilege of serving on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education for 8 years, from 2005 through November 2013. Michael Bennet was superintendent, having been selected in June of 2005. Mr. Bennet served until January 2009 when he was selected to be the junior Senator from Colorado. His replacement was and continues to be Tom Boasberg, Michael’s childhood friend and former DPS Chief Operating Officer.

I believe today as I did when I first ran for the school board that public education is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. I am starting a blog to explore and hopefully shed some light on the complicated issues challenging public education today. I am going to be writing about my passion, public education, with a focus on Denver Public Schools. I will try to provide a voice for a side of this debate that is often overlooked by the main stream media.

Let us hope that Michael Bennett stays below 1% in the polls and fades away. He is not a spokesman for public schools. He is a spokesman for the corporate reformers who want to privatize public education.

 

 

Jeannie Kaplan was twice elected to the school board in Denver. She has long been active in civil rights and education issues. She has been a persistent and vocal critic of school closings, choice, and boasting about paltry gains in test scores. She was ignored by the “Reformers” like Michael Bennett and Tom Boasberg. As “Reform” money poured into Denver elections, the grassroots candidates she favored were defeated time and again, and Denver’s school board became unanimous for disruption.

When she recently read a blunt admission by her fellow Coloradan Van Schoales that “reform as we know it, is over,” she was astonished, outraged, and not amused.

Here is her response.

She summarized it in the title of her post: “OMG, ICYMI, SMDH.”

For a translation, open the link.

She begins:

Soooooo…it appears   “The education reform movement as we have known it is over.”  This from none other than “education reformer” extraordinaire, Van Schoales,  writing in the May 6, 2019 Education Week: Education Reform as We Know It Is Over.  What Have We Learned? Along his way to becoming the president of Colorado’s own reform-oriented “oversight” committee, A+ Colorado , Van has worked at Denver’s Piton Foundation and Education Reform Now (ERN), the advocacy arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  He has also been integrally involved with starting and supporting local charter schools and drafting statewide education reform-oriented legislation. When Denver media has needed a quote to support “education reform” outcomes, whom have they called?  Not Ghost Busters!  No, their go-to guy has been Van Schoales. So his partial about face in his recent post in Education Week is quite surprising.  In his words:

 “There are three primary reasons that education reforms failed to live up to our expectations: too few teacher-led reforms, a lack of real community support from those most impacted, and a lack of focus on policy change for public schools across the board, not just the lowest of low-performing schools.” 

Gee.  Who knew?

If I weren’t so darn mad, I’d be shedding tears of laughter.  If we hadn’t fought and fought and fought against “education reform” for the last 15 years, foretelling the recent conclusions of ed reformers,” the whole education reform movement could be viewed as a bad joke.  If we the taxpayers hadn’t spent hundreds of millions of dollars and if we the people hadn’t lost at least a generation of students and teachers to the chaos and churn and complete lack of common sense of “education reform,” we could all be lifting a glass of whatever to toasting “we told you so.”  If only the past 15 years could have been a bad dream, and we could all be like Dorothy and wake up in our safe places, wiping out the nightmare. But alas, that is not the case. And even with these mea culpas coming from unexpected places, most reformers are still unwilling to fully accept the disasters they have wrought upon community after community, most of which just happen to be populated primarily by people of color.

Mark Simon, a former teacher and current parent activist in D.C., is hopeful that the District is ready to reverse the failed policies launched by Michelle Rhee in 2007.

The district is under mayoral control, which itself is a failed structure that bears no relationship to improving schools. The mayor chose Lewis Ferebee as the new chancellor, who arrives with a reputation as a privatizer who aided in closing public schools in Induanapolis, which has been a target for the Disruption Movement.

Simon writes:

“The experiment of tying teachers’ evaluations and pay to student test scores is over. It captured the imagination of decision-makers in D.C., Denver and nationwide a decade ago. As Post columnist David Von Drehle pointed out, the demand to end the experiment motivated a citywide strike in Denver. An “innovation” when it began in 2006 has become what Von Drehle called “an anachronism.”…

“Acting D.C. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, responding to questions at his nomination hearing before the D.C. Council this month, acknowledged he was brought to Indianapolis by reformers to be the disrupter of neighborhood schools. That’s not how he wants to be seen now. He’s spent the past two months listening to parents, principals, teachers and students, and he’s learned a lot.

“If policymakers pay close attention to what teachers, parents and students are saying, the District may stumble into insights to fix teacher turnover and tackle school instability. At public hearings, demoralized parents and teachers say teacher and school ratings over which they have little control feel inaccurate. Standardized test scores are driven by factors outside school, including the socioeconomic background of students and the quality of neighborhood assets, more than by what takes place in classrooms.

“Ferebee admitted that teacher turnover is a big problem in the District. He wants to take another look at the Impact evaluation system and the short-leash one-year contracts given principals. He’s heard there’s a culture of fear in schools. Teachers and principals are afraid to exercise their judgment or say what they think. He heard the District may, by design, have created a school system in which respectful relationships of trust have been undermined. In the rush to fix the outcome data on a few narrow indicators — test scores, graduation rates, attendance — we may have jeopardized the heart of what defines good teaching and what parents want from great schools.

“Listening to the questions D.C. Council members and the legions of public witnesses asked Ferebee, it’s clear that the tide has turned. There is a broad consensus that we need a correction in education reform in the District. Regardless of whether Ferebee gets confirmed as chancellor, the nominee, his overseers on the D.C. Council and teachers and parents who have lived through almost two years of scandals seem to have reached the same conclusions. The metrics used to judge schools and teachers have lost credibility. The voices of teachers and parents are starting to have newfound respect.

“I recently watched an amazing prekindergarten teacher, Liz Koenig, and her daughters, ages 2 and 4, at an EmpowerEd meeting. EmpowerEd was created two years ago by classroom teachers in D.C. Public Schools and the charter sector to elevate teacher voices and relational trust in each school and citywide. I watched Koenig as she allowed her daughters to make decisions while providing subtle feedback, building a sense of agency. It struck me that great teaching — the talent to nurture a child’s development — is personal, interactive and requires tremendous skill. I’ve seen the adoring letters from her students’ parents. She’s beloved. Teachers at her school voted her “best of staff.” So, it was a shock this week when we found out that the Bridges Public Charter School administrators have told her not to come back in the fall. It had nothing to do with the quality of her teaching, they said. The unspoken message was that charter operators are accountable only to the metrics that rate them as Tier 1, 2, or 3. There’s something wrong in DCPS and the charter sector when teachers are expendable.

“Teachers and public education have been subjected to one failed experiment after another over the past decade. It’s time to get back to measuring teachers and schools by the things that make them valuable and to admit that the past 10 years may have led us in some wrong directions. Schools are best measured by what parents, teachers and students say they’ve experienced: the learning culture.

“According to University of Massachusetts professor Jack Schneider, who spoke at a public Senior High Alliance of Principals, Parents and Educators meeting at the Columbia Heights Education Campus attended by the deputy mayor for education and other elected officials last month, there are excellent climate surveys of parents, teachers and students that should be on D.C.’s school report card, overseen by the state superintendent of schools on the My Schools DC website. Instead, most of the simplistic five-star rating is derived from the PARCC test.

“Teachers should be tapped and retained because they create a love of learning and change students’ lives — not just their standardized test scores. If we learn the lessons of this moment, and it looks as if there’s a good chance we are starting to, the District’s education future looks bright.”

Friends, the Corporate Reform Movement is dying.

 

Denver teachers ended their strike and settled with the district for a substantial pay raise, CNN reports:

“Denver educators have been promised pay raises as part of a tentative deal they reached with their school district after three days on strike.

“Under the tentative agreement between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, educators would see between 7% and 11% increases to their base salaries and a 20-step salary schedule, the union said in a statement Thursday.
“Teachers went on strike to demand higher, stable salaries, because the district uses unpredictable bonuses to compensate for low base pay.
“They also hoped higher salaries would keep more educators from leaving the city, where the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, one teacher told CNN.
The agreement would also put an end to “exorbitant five-figure bonuses” for senior administrators, the union’s statement said.
“This agreement is a win, plain and simple: for our students, for our educators, and for our communities,” union President Henry Roman said.”

Meanwhile, Oakland teachers authorized a strike and will do so if necessary.

This historic wave of teacher militancy seems to have a multiplier effect.

Teachers in most states are underpaid and finally have the public support they need as media coverage accurately portrays the national underinvestment in education over the past decade amp longer.

Back to Oakland.

Poor Oakland has been a Petri dish for Reform. State takeovers. Near bankruptcy. A series of Broadie Superintendents who opened multiple charters, stripping the district of resources.

No wonder teachers are talking Strike.

As teachers in Oakland prepare for a possible strike, the district office is trying to hire substitutes (scabs) to replace the teachers, offering double what subs usually earn. The Oakland teachers will have none of it.

https://eastbaymajority.com/oakland-unified-school-district-treats-scabs-better-than-teachers/?fbclid=IwAR1jZyKck5lrmS18PMFrfyfJX8HbqEGlDyVRjC4Uz4SC6njV6clETbg0jUY

Oakland teachers, you have the support of your allies across the nation!

Save public education in Oakland!

 

 

 

Jeannie Kaplan served two term on the elected Denver school board. I asked her to explain the issues behind the strike.

 

https://kaplanforkids.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/pcops-pensions-and-picketlines/

 

She writes:

 

PCOPS, PENSIONS, and PICKETLINES

Posted on by Jeannie Kaplan

 

On April 24, 2008 the Denver Public Schools agreed to borrow $750 million dollars from some of America’s top financial institutions for its outstanding pension debt. As I write this blog this morning February 12, 2019 Denver’s teachers have entered the second day of their first strike in 25 years. The amount of money being contested is somewhere less than one-half of one percent of the overall DPS budget.  0.04%.  Less than $10 million out of $1.4 billion.  The following tells some of the complicated story that connects these two events.

The $750 million taxpayer debt was divided this way: $300 million was to pay back already existing pension debt, $400 million was to fully fund the DPS retirement fund.  The remaining $50 million went to legal and financial fees. By the time this transaction was “fixed out” in 2013 a veritable Who’s Who in the Wall Street world was involved:  RBC Capital Markets, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank, Wells, Fargo, Bank of America. Part of the incentive to borrow this money was so DPS’ stand alone retirement fund could join the statewide retirement fund (Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA for short) which would in turn allow for more employee mobility into and out of DPS and would reduce DPS’ annual retirement contributions which would in turn provide more money for classrooms.  Because of previous financial miscalculations DPS was paying more per pupil for its retirement fund than any other school district in the state. Had this deal not been executed, the dollars paid to banks and lawyers could have been put directly into the DPS retirement fund itself. The DPS Superintendent at the time:  Michael Bennet. The Chief Operating Officer: Tom Boasberg.

Bennet and Boasberg came from the business world and were heralded as financial wizards. (They were boyhood friends growing up in Washington, D.C. together). Bennet had worked for billionaire Phil Anschutz and had already demonstrated a skepticism toward public pensions.  Boasberg arrived at DPS from Level 3 Communications, “an American multinational telecommunications and Internet service provider” where he was a mergers and acquisition guy.  Long story short they, along with bankers and lawyers concocted this very complicated and risky transaction using taxpayer money.  They were convinced that despite what was happening in the financial world at the time, DPS was going to save millions of dollars in pension costs.

Remember back to 2008. And remember we are talking about public, not private, money.  In February the auction rate securities froze.  In March Bear Stearns went under.  There were many indicators that something big could be going on in the world financial markets.  Nevertheless, in April the DPS board was encouraged to proceed with the high risk transaction which relied on the weekly LIBOR rate (it is the primary benchmark, along with the Euribor, for short-term interest rates around the world. Libor rates are calculated for five currencies and seven borrowing periods ranging from overnight to one year and are published each business day by Thomson Reuters.), swaps, (A swap is a derivative in which two counterparties exchange cash flows of one party’s financial instrument for those of the other party’s financial instrument. The benefits in question depend on the type of financial instruments involved.), bonds that were auctioned weekly.  And here is the headline from that deal.  In 10 years that $750 million loan has ballooned into twice as much debt  ($1.8 BILLION) and only for the past two years has the district begun paying any principal.  And simultaneously,  Bennet and Boasberg were able to convince the Colorado legislature that DPS should get the equivalent of “pre-payment” credit to deduct the PCOPs fees and interest from what would have been their normal pension contributions.  Because of these actions DPS employees have witnessed their pension fund drop about 20% from fully funded (100%) on January 1, 2010 to a little under 80% funded in June 30, 2018. But as Bennet and Boasberg would say as this defunding is occurring, “we are making our legal contributions, ” to which one must add, “Legal, but is it ethical?”

This story has become very relevant today because after 15 months of negotiations the district and the teachers have been unable to reach an agreement. Denver’s teachers have gone on strike over a compensation system called ProComp (Professional Compensation).  And the ProComp fight comes back to the pension.

In 2005 Denver voters approved a $25 million tax  (adjusted for inflation) for teacher pay-for-performance incentives.  A few thousand dollars was awarded for teachers who worked in hard to serve schools and taught hard to teach subjects.  The awarded dollars ($500-$2500) was intended to permanently raise base salaries.  It was reliable raise and it was PENSIONABLE.

In 2008 – hum, is this a coincidence? – the ProComp “bonus” went from a completely base building system to a yearly one-time bonus system.  And to further complicate matters, new bonus criteria (based primarily on high-stakes testing) have since been added. The result has been teachers cannot tell how much they will be making from year to year.  Some have said they can’t even tell how much they will make from paycheck to paycheck. Oh, and of course, these bonuses do not contribute to a teacher’s PENSIONABLE income resulting in…less retirement money  for retiring teachers, and simultaneously smaller demands on a dwindling pension fund.

While all this business bonus mess has been imposed in Denver, surrounding school districts have far surpassed Denver’s base pay scale, resulting in very high teacher turnover for DPS and a dwindling number of long serving professionals. Teachers are retiring earlier, teachers are leaving the district, and sadly teachers are leaving the profession. And because Denver is the quintessential reform district, DPS has been very welcoming to the reform idea of hiring short term, unlicensed educators with non-traditional training.  Think six week training programs.  The result of all this brilliance: fewer long serving employees resulting in less demand on a pension fund.  So the conflation of financial wizardry and education reform has hit Denver: businessmen Bennet and Boasberg take over the finances of a public school district, concoct a complicated and risky scenario during an unstable financial time, get the legislature to allow the defunding of the pension, implement a bonus based pay system to replace base-building, and voila – a strike by Denver’s teachers for a fair, reliable, sustainable pay system.

One more important headline. ProComp bonuses for teachers range from $500-$3000 per category per year. Last month a list of administrative bonuses without a rubric as to how the money has been awarded became available:  the current COO (Boasberg’s first job in DPS) received a $34,000 (!) bonus on top of his $198,000 salary, an “IMO executive principal” got $36,900 on top of his/her $130,000.  An IMO executive principal is the newest layer of reform administration.  He/she oversees a network of innovation schools (non union schools overseen by the district) and makes two to three times as much as a DPS teacher.  There are approximately 10 such positions with each person gathering around $20,000 in bonuses. These bonuses are not part of the ProComp agreement but rather come out of the DPS general fund.  Just imagine.  You could save almost half of the 8 million dollars they two sides are bickering over if you just eliminated these positions and the bonuses.

We must never end any story about Denver Public Schools without a reference to educational outcomes, for isn’t the first priority of a public education system educating its students? After 15 years of education reform brought by Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg, 42% of Denver’s students are proficient in English Language Arts and 32% proficient in math.  Bennet and Boasberg  financial actions have also contributed to the doubling of the pension debt, and their policies have resulted in the first teacher strike in 25 years in Denver.  Quite a legacy left by the boys from D.C.

 

 

Gary Rubinstein heard that Teach for America corps members were persuaded not to take part in teachers’ strikes. 

But did they stay neutral?

They are scabs if they don’t strike. They risk their Americorps funding if they do.

What do they do?

What do you think?