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As I have been in our schools visiting with teachers, I have been asked a lot of questions about the Board of Education.  People have heard a lot of information about our board that, frankly, is not true.  I am not the defender of the board, but at the same time, I am also not the kid who stands on the playground and stands by as another kid gets picked on.  Here are some of the most common questions and the answers.

Q – Does the board hate teachers?

A – No, the board loves great teachers.  They want to pay them more money, they want to stop judging great teachers through the lens standardized test craze, and they know that great teachers are the key to student success – their number one priority.

Q – Does the board want to privatize public education?

A – No, the board has 18 children and all 18 go to a DCSD public school.  They have great things to say about their schools.  Of the 18, 17 go to neighborhood schools and 1 attends a charter school.  The board is interested in empowering parents to understand what schools are available so that parents can make the perfect match for their children.  The board wants every child to have the highest probability of success and they want to partner with parents in making that happen while keeping everything in balance with the needs of the greater district.

Q – Does the board want to cut all of our salaries?

A – No, I have never heard that – not once.

Q – Why did the board endorse a political candidate? Aren’t they supposed to represent us?

A – The board members exercised their free speech rights and endorsed someone as individuals.  They did not take a vote or pass a resolution on the matter.  It is not the district’s position – it is their individual positions.

Q – Is there an effort for the board and union to work together?

A – Yes, board members have been meeting with union officers.  President Carson just met with Brenda Smith and Cindy Lietch on Monday.  I was there also.  Negotiations can be challenging – particularly in difficult economic times.  The Board is going to negotiate on behalf of all employees and work hard to do what they believe is in the best interest of students and staff.  They are not always going to agree with the union’s positions.

Q – Did you fire the union?

A – No.  I learned that the district paid 70% of 3 union officers, 20% of clerical, 50% for president and 50% for classified leader last year.  I was told it was a special arrangement, and wanting to partner in good faith, we continued it.  It is a significant amount of money ($1.3 million over the last five years).  Then, Brenda Smith and I negotiated last spring to change the arrangement to make it (in my view) more comfortable, accountable, and transparent – moving to the district paying for 50% of 4 union officers who were working on specific projects with the district.

During tight budget times when class sizes are going up etc., I think we need to do a good job with our resources, and I (we) believed this was a better arrangement.  However, after a test period of many months, the project-specific work did not seem to be working.  After many conversations about how to fix that, I asked for more accountability and Brenda happily agreed to pay 100% for all officers in lieu of accountability for time or deliverables.  I thought more time together would be good, but steadfast in her position, I agreed to the change.  We have been working with our attorneys to execute this agreement change because part of it requires changes to our contractual language.

Q – Does the board want open negotiations?

A – Yes, we would like to be able to speak freely about what we want to do differently next year.  It is difficult to not be able to discuss ideas with everyone – to hear feedback, input, and discussion on important matters.  Last night, Brenda Smith (during the public forum) agreed to public negotiations.  We are really looking forward to sharing all that we would like to do and the associated rationale with all of you.  I am excited to hear more input and feedback.  People have really done a good job talking with me during my visits about what is most important to them.  The themes are very consistent across schools in our district.

Q – What about teacher morale?

A – Teachers across this district are sharing with me that they would really like a raise – that is part of the picture.  We want that too.  In addition to that, people are sharing various fears and worries that are hurting them.  I think communication, visibility, and opportunities for employees are key to improving morale, trust, and pride.  We can’t fix the economy or the budget, but most of what I am hearing about we can fix – we will fix.

For example, my teacher advisory is very interested in working on these items also.  They are currently developing strategies (brainstorming) that they believe will spread positive, factual information, build trust, and restore pride.  I personally believe (and the board agrees) that this is an extraordinary district.  It is not broken.  Yes, we have had some challenging years.  We started budget cuts in 2009 to repair the fund balance (first actual decrease in revenues was 2011), and we have continued those cuts for four years.  Some have struggled to move on, but almost everyone knows that there is no better education in Colorado and maybe the nation than here.  We have an excellent history of being innovative – of being a leader, and all of us want to get back to talking about instruction and being a leader in education – in instruction.  We want our students to be the best prepared in the world.  We want to show the right way to identify outcomes, the right way to assess important outcomes, and the right way to compensate and reward great employees.  We always have been that leader and we still are today.  There is no place I would rather have my two daughters educated than right here.

Pat McGraw (Innovation and Development Officer) says it best, “No one can argue with what we want for kids!”

As always, my team and I are interested in hearing your comments and questions. We would like to encourage you to direct them to the specific District department they are related to at Feedback Central. Since it has not always been feasible for me to provide detailed responses within this blog, comments and questions will be addressed by myself and my team in future meetings, blog posts and articles.

No, it is not a ploy to reduce salaries.  It is a ploy to increase them!

Everywhere I go there is tons of misunderstanding and misinformation about pay for performance.  I am going to do my best to answer questions that I have been asked.

Q – If only the top 10% of teachers in a school (for example) can get the pay for performance money, it discourages us from working together because we are competing.  Isn’t that bad for our students?

A – The draft of the pay for performance framework has always been criterion referenced, not norm referenced.  In a literal sense, this means that if every employee in the system met the rigorous targets set forth in the plan (differentiated for them), every employee would qualify and be paid the additional compensation.  There is no “curve.”  It is straight achievement or performance.

Q – Where are we in the development of the pay for performance system?  Where are the details?

A – When I arrived, the board was clear that they wanted to pay great teachers and employees more money.  They know that this district was and is built on great people, and they feel that old school compensation is not paying great people what they are truly worth.  They directed me to update the pay for performance system.  After some initial study, it was clear that we did not have the money to build the system the way we wanted to build it.  We started to study election years – 2011, 2012, 2013.  We could not go out in 2012 because it is a Presidential election and that makes a tax increase in Douglas County a more expensive campaign than our supporters could handle.  Therefore, we had to look at 2011 or 2013.  My position was that 2013 was too late – no money until January 2014, and while 2011 was fast, we felt we could collaboratively build the framework that would provide enough information to our supporters that they would support the campaign and also vote for the increase.

Therefore, Doug Harman began the work of leading a team in the development of the framework.  When Doug left, Dan McMinimee took it forward.  The framework basically has 3 main parts:

  1. Evaluation (CITE/LEAD) – required by SB 191
  2. Balanced Assessment – SB 191 requires that part of evaluation be student growth and achievement data.  Since we are not satisfied with CSAP or TCAP as a high quality indicator of the growth and achievement of our students on the MOST important things we teach and develop, we started to build our own balanced assessment system – one that will take the most important outcomes (content and skills) and measure them well (real time) to create a balanced data set that tells us how are students are growing and achieving.  We want to value the assessments our teachers are giving now – formative, interim, and summative as well as include more standardized measures.
  3. World Class Education Targets – these are the things from the research and literature that we know are good for our students – things that will make our students (continue to make our students) some of the most prepared in the world for any college or career pathway of their choice.

This is the framework.  As you can see, it is like the frame of a house.  It has no “meat” on the bones yet.  That was by design.  We did not have enough time to do a high quality job creating differentiated “meat” prior to an election and we are committed to doing it well.  I used to really dislike evaluating my amazing counselors, music teachers, art teachers, physical education teachers and more using an instrument that was clearly not written for the most valuable things they do.  I was having word wall conversations with physical education teachers instead of talking about developing student ethics through individual and team sports, developing health and wellness through life-long sports, and more.  Silly!

We don’t want our system to look like that.  Instead, we want to find the finest PE teachers in our district and pay them to help us develop the rigorous metrics inside the framework above that makes perfect sense for what they do.  That is exactly what we want to do with the pay for performance money – use it to pay great employees to build the system (add the “meat”) as well as participate in the professional development that will allow them to be successful in the system. Then, we want to transition to paying people additional money for being successful in the system.  If negotiations go well, that’s where we are.

As always, my team and I are interested in hearing your comments and questions. We would like to encourage you to direct them to the specific District department they are related to at Feedback Central. Since it has not always been feasible for me to provide detailed responses within this blog, comments and questions will be addressed by myself and my team in future meetings, blog posts and articles.

Q – We haven’t had a raise for going on five years.  What is the possibility of a raise?

Clarification – It is true that we have not awarded steps or COLA the past several years.  Please keep in mind that DCSD has continued to award Knowledge Level Advancement, Longevity, and has paid Extended Service Severance to a small percentage of employees.  Both KLA and Longevity are reoccurring costs – they are a permanent raise.  Over the past 4 years, KLA has cost the district about $900,000 per year including benefits (this is the incremental cost yearly – once the KLA level is awarded, the pay is ongoing), Longevity increases have cost the district $200,000 incremental costs yearly – ongoing budget for longevity right now is $2.8 M, and Severance has cost $2,000,000 on top of the committed about $1,600,000 yearly from the FY 2008-2009 Early Separation Agreement.  If you add these up, over the past 4 years they could have been used for over a 1% raise for all employees.  As it is, roughly 10% of employees benefitted to varying degrees.  During difficult financial times, I believe it is important that we review all significant expenditures and make sure that we are doing what is in the best interest of our students and staff.

In addition, we have absorbed year after year increases to PERA on behalf of our employees as well as increased costs in Medical Benefits for everyone.  While they are not viewed as a “raise,” these have been total compensation improvements.  I think we need to do a better job of talking about total compensation.

That said…I realize that the medical plan was dramatically changed a few years ago.  Personally, I am not a fan of the design for several reasons that I won’t get into here.  However, last year we added a PPO plan to help people who were “experiencing” the entire deductible year after year, and we are committed to continual improvement to our plans.

I have heard you loud and clear — that the deductibles are scary and that many of you are reluctant to go to the doctor for fear of being presented with a huge bill you cannot pay.  It wasn’t that long ago I was a young teacher, and I remember it very well.  Clearly economic down cycles (recessions) are not the best time to fix benefits, but we are going to do all we can with the goal of continual improvement.  Please keep in mind that having Cigna as an option (instead of just Kaiser) costs us over $3.3 M.  We believe you value flexibility and we are working hard to keep it.  Also keep in mind that many of you have significant dollar amounts sitting in your H.S.A. accounts – approaching $7 M in the aggregate for an average balance of $1,900 across about 3,600 account holders.  It seems that some people don’t feel comfortable with the plan and aren’t spending and other people do understand and are benefitting from it.  We need to find a way to make everyone as comfortable as possible while keeping a healthy medical fund and maintaining choice.

Q – I would rather see our students get what they need.  I could go another year without a raise.  Can we do that?

A- In a time of increasing revenues, we would be talking about where to spend our extra money.  That would be GREAT!  However, in a time of decreasing revenues, we can only add things for our students if we reduce in another area.  I am not advocating for one over the other — the dollars to the schools or to our employees (I know we need both).  I am simply sharing that when you have a shrinking revenue stream; reallocation is the only way to fund an increase to one particular part of the organization.  You can use one-time money but that is a temporary “fix” that depletes our savings and puts us in a less secure financial position as a district.

Budget Update

March 9, 2012

For understanding of the fund balance, please see my previous blog.  I am not going to revisit the fund balance conversation here.  Here, I just want to share the reductions we are anticipating and our current plan to address them.  I think I have touched on this previously so the details can be found in the blog and/or previous emails.

FY 2013 Reductions (next year)

Black budget used one-time money – $11.7 M  – for on-going expenses with the hope of passing a mill levy.  Since the mill levy did not pass, we need to work this delayed reduction into our budget on a reoccurring basis.

PERA increased $2.2 M so we must either pass part of it on to employees or cut to fill the gap. 

We negotiated $4.2 M last year away from pay for performance to backfill 4 furlough days.  We would like to pay GREAT employees more, and to do that, we need to pay great people to help us build out the pay for performance framework.  Therefore, we are currently working to reduce/reallocate $4.2 M through negotiations.

The state may not fund growth.  This means that PPR will be reduced by $124.40 per student if they don’t fund growth.  This is approximately $7.5 M. ($124.4 X 60,000 students = $7.464 M)

The homestead tax may come back and part of or all of the $100 M needed to fund it may come from K-12 education.  This is a wild card and could cost us $8 M (worst case scenario).  I don’t think this will happen, but it is entirely possible that we could have to absorb part of it.  We will leave this out for now, but know that it is there.

11.7 + 2.2 + 4.2 + 7.5 = $25.6 M (worst case scenario without the Senior Homestead ACT impact to k-12)

Q – How Will We Balance Our Budget?

A – We have to start with our values and priorities.  Smart budgets do not blindly give across-the-board reductions.  Smart budgets personalize or differentiate reductions based on priorities and values.  We are committed to (in no particular order):

  • Using available reoccurring dollars to reduce the cut (cost of business reductions)
  • Cutting away from students/classroom where possible – we want to put every dollar possible into the classroom
  • Leading where we must go
  • Lowering class sizes, maintaining specials/electives, preserving components of the middle school concept or variations of as decided by middle school leaders/staffs/parents
  • Maintaining and/or improving economics/benefits for all employees – attract and retain the best
  • Planning for a future  that leads to significantly better compensation for our great employees
  • Focusing on long-term strategies
  • Advocating for no reductions and for the funding of growth at the state level
  • Using one-time money for appropriate one-time expenses that align to our plans
    • Paying great employees for innovation and development work:
      • Modern Curriculum (GVC) – Dr. Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins
      • Balanced Assessment – Dr. Syna Morgan
      • Professional Learning – Pat McGraw
        • World Class Education Units
        • Restorative Practices
        • Student Advocacy
      • CITE/LEAD – Pat McGraw, Dr. Chris Cutter, Dr. Syna Morgan
      • World Class Education Targets – Dr. Jefferson-Jenkins, Dr. Chris Cutter, Dr. Syna Morgan
      • Opportunities for students aligned to our plan
    • School exploration of learning models (IB, Reggio Emilia, Artful Learning…)

Here is our current plan:

  • $50 SBB Reduction in Elementary (with a goal of $0) – $1.3 M
  • $100 SBB Reduction in Middle School (with a goal of $50) – $1 M
  • HS Teachers Teach 6 – meet student requests/needs, lower class size, keep electives – $3.6M – $5.7M
  • Negotiations $4.2 M – $5.6
  • Central Administration Reduction $1 M
  • Elementary Planning Grant $1 M
  • Cost of Business $5 M
  • Capital $2 M

Note:  Schools and departments are allowed to use their carry forward money for FTE for the first time in FY 2013 (next year).  However, the reality of one-time money (carry forward) is that eventually it will be gone and those positions will not be funded without an improvement in state funding.

As always, my team and I are interested in hearing your comments and questions. We would like to encourage you to direct them to the specific District department they are related to at Feedback Central. Since it has not always been feasible for me to provide detailed responses within this blog, comments and questions will be addressed by myself and my team in future meetings, blog posts and articles.

Responses to Chaparral High School SAC questions (Vision) and Cherry Valley Elementary question (Innovation Dollars)

Chaparral High School SAC

Q: You talk about a World Class Education.  What is that and why is it important?

A: The world has changed (flat) and our students have changed (digital natives).  Our system was built for the Industrial Revolution – it was built to provide workers for the hungry industrial machine and a few highly educated leaders for other needs.  Today our country and our students have different needs.  There is a convergence in the literature and research about what those needs are.  They include the following:

  • Backward Planning (UBD, PBL…)
    • 21st Century Outcomes (4 Cs+)
    • Simultaneous (not extra) Authentic Assessments of 21st Century Outcomes
    • Sustainable Learning Strategies (stop focus on know/understand and move to focus on synthesize and create) – higher return on investment of teacher time
    • Restorative Practices – teach, don’t just punish
    • Student Advocacy – give all students the opportunity to know themselves, lifestyles, and college/career pathways.

Q: So what will we get from that?  What is the desired outcome?

A: We want every one of our students prepared to compete on a world stage for any college or career pathway they choose (every district should want).

Response- We should be shouting that from the rooftops!  (I agree! – Liz)

History – Seeing the Big Picture – The Development of our Plan and Vision for Change (LONGER VERSION)

When I arrived in July of 2010, the Board let me know that they had three goals (these were the same three goals that they outlined during my interview too).  They were (and are) universal choice, pay for performance, and measuring the most important outcomes our students develop in DCSD.  They have stayed true to these three goals and worked on them at the policy level over the past 20 months.    

As I discussed in an earlier novel, I mean email – LOL, the universal choice goal began with the board “linking” with stakeholders through the Choice Taskforce.  Linkage is an important part of Governance.  If you are interested in learning more about Governance, I’d encourage you to review John Carver’s work on effective boards.  The Choice Taskforce began before I arrived in early summer of 2010.  They developed recommendations, that ultimately, the board directed me, and my team, to study, make better (add details), and then embed in our work.   

We also had the other two board goals to integrate with the first – pay for performance, because the board knows that WE HAVE GREAT TEACHERS in DCSD and they want to PAY THEM MORE MONEY (and they want to do this the right way – not based on giving the teacher extra work to do and not based on one test on one day once per year).  The fact that the board wants to measure the most important outcomes we develop in our students was their third goal, but it aligns nicely with an updated pay for performance system because you can’t pay teachers more for developing the most important skills in our students if you don’t know what those skills are and you aren’t measuring them appropriately.

Given all those dynamics, my team (who was relatively new) and I launched into the development of a district strategic plan.  One of our responsibilities is to take the board’s policy-level goals and merge them with the unique dynamics of our school district, the continuous improvement that our students need, and create one plan.  It is our responsibility to synthesize all of this information, goals, and more into a plan that is simple to understand.  I’ve read, and I believe (agree) that good leaders take the complex and make it simple.

Therefore, we put a new strategic plan in front of our board in March 2011 that contained commitments (or promises) to our stakeholders to align the work of our large system and 3 priorities (choice, world class education, and system performance) that clearly demonstrate what we want to have for our students, staff, parents, and community.  This is, as Stephen Covey would say, beginning with the end in mind.  This work is aligned to our board’s expectations as well as the convergence in research and literature about what we need to do to make sure that our students are prepared to compete on a world stage for whatever college or career pathway of their choice.  

Cherry Valley Elementary – INNOVATION DOLLARS

Teacher Q: How can we change when our planning time grant is on the chopping block?  What about PD?

A: It’s true that we are considering the $1 M planning grant as part of our FY 2013 budget reduction.  It was always part of the blue budget reduction plan.  However, if things improve, we would love to keep it.  If we can’t keep the grant, the board, the superintendent, and several other departments are committed to using their carry forward money to support great work and excellent teachers and staff.  What that means is that if YOU want to do work that is good for our students and aligned to our plan; please work with your principal or leader to submit a request for extra funding.  We are currently paying many wonderful teachers across our district to help us develop the guaranteed and viable curriculum, high quality assessment items for our balanced assessment system, developing world class education units, and more.  This is not going to decrease – we want it to increase using one-time money since that is an appropriate (and in this case, excellent) use of one-time money.

As always, my team and I are interested in hearing your comments and questions. We would like to encourage you to direct them to the specific District department they are related to at Feedback Central. Since it has not always been feasible for me to provide detailed responses within this blog, comments and questions will be addressed by myself and my team in future meetings, blog posts and articles.