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MEEKER | Meeker School District Superintendent Chris Selle shared with the board last week the district’s response to a survey from key legislators and referred the board to a compilation of active legislative issues.
A few weeks ago, a small group of legislators sent school districts across the state a survey asking key questions that could jump start an effort to establish a vision for Colorado’s public education. They asked the districts to discuss the questions with their school boards and their district accountability committees. Meeker’s state representative Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Frisco), both members of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, are part of this legislative group.
One of the last questions asked on the survey was whether the district or community members would be interested in getting involved in helping legislators develop a statewide plan to improve public education and would the effort be meaningful.
Meeker responded: “We are not particularly interested in getting involved with this plan and question if it is meaningful. With regard to school funding, multiple studies and multiple plans have been conducted and presented with no tangible improvements in funding. Caution exists regarding what benefit can come from another study or plan……We do not need another plan. We need the resources and freedom to use our professional judgement (sic) to address the needs we see in our local communities.”
Regarding whether the Meeker groups were satisfied with student achievement and outcomes, and five top strategies, the response was that while Meeker academic achievement is generally strong, top strategies to improve are: additional student emotional support so as to further limit classroom interruptions; smaller classes; more technical curriculum and instruction; academic interventions via reading and other federal programs; and greater differentiation for advanced students.
The reply further identified other needs: To have salaries and benefits that are competitive with other industries requiring similar education and training; expanded curricula and electives; broader cultural experience for students; greater service opportunities for students; more up-to-date curriculum materials; and filling some growing gaps in appropriate educational facilities.
Regarding what learning experiences are foreseen for students down the road, the types and levels of learning, and how information and learning will be accomplished, Meeker’s response was: through STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) and technical integration students will become more creators of technology rather than simply being consumers; increased critical thinking and problem solving; increased collaboration in order to be competitive in the worldwide market; and it will become increasingly important for all kids to get a high school education in order to position themselves for post-secondary education in some form or to have a marketable skill set.
Regarding what the Colorado legislature has done to support or detract from the district’s ability to do the best for our students, Meeker’s response was: most legislation has detracted—getting mandate after mandate over the last seven to eight years without the resources to implement them; recent reductions in state standardized testing has been beneficial, but the constantly changing policies have caused much frustration; cutting required uniform improvement plans to once every two years (from every year) for rural districts has been helpful, but there’s not much benefit to improvement plans in general; and the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant program has been a real plus.
Regarding the district’s top challenges: Insufficient funding to meet student needs; dealing with legislation or rules suitable for urban/suburban districts that have no context for rural districts; redundant data reporting; increasing social, emotional needs of students; providing competitive salaries; aging and inadequate facilities (especially the high school); funding curriculum materials; funding instructional coaching; and funding transportation (buying school buses and small vehicles).
In closing remarks, Meeker said legislative efforts to address funding inadequacies for K-12 education are greatly appreciated and that they hope this effort will afford local communities the flexibility needed to determine the best uses for additional dollars when they become a reality.
Selle’s legislative referral was to an analysis of bills important to education done by the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance (CRSA). They identified finance, assessment (testing) and flexibility as the big issues. On the state budgeting process, they report that the current budget (Long Bill) for K-12 education, which was released last week, is $140 million higher than the governor requested, and that it does not rely on any increase in marijuana taxes or a partial repeal of the senior homestead exemption. Total funding for Colorado public schools looks to remain flat for 2017-2018, but there is skepticism that the legislature can actually find the necessary dollars to make that a reality. There is still an expectation of an increase in the negative factor (balancing take-away).
With regard to the TABOR (Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights) Act from 1992, two Republican western slope legislators have introduced a bill to put a proposition before voters on the November ballot which would change the way the excess state revenue cap is calculated. The change would grow the cap annually by the average rate of change in state personal income for the previous five years. Proponents argue that this is a better measure of state prosperity. It would reduce revenues due back to state residents by $133 million for the next fiscal year and $203 million for 2018-19. CRSA supports this bill.
A measure to require the sharing of school district mill levy revenues with charter schools is in progress. This bill would have little to no impact for Meeker, but is an important funding question for alternative charter schools state-wide. CRSA opposes this concept.
Regarding the vision and study of education in Colorado down the road, it’s possible the legislature may form an interim committee to study school finance and create a better funding formula. Rankin and Hamner may also push the creation of a legislative task force to focus on a strong education vision and finding a way to generate the necessary revenue. This is a follow-up effort on the survey discussed above.
Legislation to set a uniform mill levy for every school district, as has been recommended by the Joint Budget Committee, is expected but has not yet been introduced.
On flexibility, Rep. Jim Wilson (R-Salida) has a bill which would allow rural districts to hire unlicensed teachers if they cannot find a qualified, licensed teacher for a given position. The school board, in those cases, would have to enact a “critical teacher shortage” resolution.
On standardized testing, a bipartisan bill is pending which would eliminate current ninth grade PARCC tests, replacing them with a test aligned with the 10th grade tests which are now from SAT. CRSA supports this change.
The current 110/140 day limits on retired (PERA) teachers would be eliminated for those who return to teach, cook or drive a bus for a rural district. PERA itself opposes this legislation citing fiscal issues, but CRSA, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Education Association support it.
A bill to allow a diploma endorsement for mastery in STEM subjects is pending. CRSA is neutral on this issue as students in rural schools would be disadvantaged by not having access to advanced classes.
Newly elected state representative Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango) has introduced a bill that would require the Colorado Departments of Higher Education and K-12 Education to do strategic planning regarding teacher shortages. CRSA supports her bill.