What's going on with the BOE this summer?

Usually, summers are a quiet period in school districts, allowing a brief lull in the fast-paced administrative environment. Unique circumstances in Douglas County, however, mean that your Board of Education will be hard at work over the summer of 2016.

Tonight will be a special meeting on the 2016-17 budget, as well as a few related topics. Board members have had several weeks to ask questions and to receive information from staff. DCSD budget employees, led by CFO Bonnie Betz and Budget Director Scott Smith, have been working overtime to prepare a proposal for the board. Additionally, hundreds of hours have been spent preparing answers to board members’ questions and to provide background information. It is an impressive effort.

Some quick facts:
-       We’ll approve the budget this evening. This will allow us to progress to other important issues before the district over the remainder of the summer. By law, we must approve a proposed budget by June 30.
-       The meeting tonight is a special meeting, meaning that we published the agenda four business days in advance (twice the usual length of time), we are limited only to the topics at hand, and public comment is also limited to agenda action items.
-       Every department has submitted budget summaries in great detail. The amount of work that has gone into this is truly exceptional.

After tonight’s budget is approved, the board will have a work session on June 21st. We are overdue for another work session, and this one will contain another big-rock topic: the Master Capital Plan. Many people in the community have been attentive to various building needs over the course of the last few years, and DCSD’s planning department and the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) have worked very hard over the last few months to pull a substantial document together. A work session will allow us to delve into the plan in greater detail and provide a platform for a far more robust conversation than a regular meeting. Since there are board members who would like to discuss a tax measure for this fall, this will be the perfect time to hear the district’s capital needs update.

Additionally, the Student Advisory Group will have a presentation and proposal for us on the topic of P.E. waivers. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say. They have worked all year on this proposal with other students, principals, and staff members.

In the first half of July, I’ve asked board members to let me know their availability for another special meeting to discuss the interim superintendent. If Dr. Fagen leaves DCSD by June 30, then the emergency succession plan will trigger, with Dr. Steve Cook acting as superintendent. Mr. Ted Knight is also named in the succession plan, but by mutual agreement, Dr. Cook is the designee.

The acting superintendent is not the same as the interim superintendent.  To that end, the process to appoint the interim superintendent will be as follows.
-       This is a personnel matter, so will be handled with some confidentiality throughout.
-       Each board member will submit his or her preferred candidate. There will be one nomination per member, to keep equal opportunity for all board members to advance his or her candidate.
-       Interviews will be conducted in executive session at the special meeting.
-       A public discussion will take place, with certain parameters in accordance with state law.
-       A vote will take place to designate the interim superintendent.

The permanent replacement for Dr. Fagen will follow a much more involved process. At each stage, the board will have choices available to them. To begin, we will advertise for a search firm, but the board may decide to pursue candidates in a different way. I will engage the board in late summer to define the process and to determine the next steps. This will be a deliberative process that, like the 2009-10 process, will involve the public. During the search process, the interim superintendent will remain at the helm. 

Finally, as promised, the July 19 meeting will include a discussion on long guns provided to DCSD security. I am requesting a presentation from Operations and DCSD Security on the details that we can make available to the public, and the board may choose to take action. The public, as in any regular meeting, will have an opportunity to comment.

The following regular meeting will be August 16, after some of our DCSD schools will have begun classes for the 2016-17 school year. If you have thoughts or you'd like to reach me anytime, please feel free to do so via  email or phone at (720) 839-4494. 


BOE Meeting Update: 15 December 2015

Meeting note: due to inclement weather, the board meeting proceeded with an abbreviated agenda via Webex, an online platform with a telephonic component. Livestreaming was available to the public, and the board room was open to anyone who wished to come observe or make public comment.

The agenda was as follows.

1.  Suspension of rules to permit electronic participation
2.  Renewal of Lobbyist contracts
3.  Approval of the accreditation report
4.  Mil levy override setting
5.  STEM K-4 resolution

1. Suspension of rules to permit electronic participation

The board has certain rules that govern its regular meetings. In order for all board members to participate electronically/telephonically, we had to vote to suspend the rules. I voted yes due to inclement weather restricting the attendance of nearly all board members. Several staff members were present in the board room, as were a few members of the public and media. The motion passed via a 6-0 vote.

2. Renewal of board legislative services contract

The Board contracts with JLH Consulting and Public Affairs for legislative services. This contract must be renewed annually before the legislative session begins, which will occur before the next regular meeting. I voted yes, since I am familiar with the past work that JLH has accomplished and the benefit it has had for the district, and I am satisfied that this contract should continue. This motion carried 6-0-1 (aye-nay-abstention).

3. Approval of the Accreditation Report to CDE

Colorado State Statute, C.R.S. § 22-11-206(4)(a)(I)&(II), requires that this Accreditation Report be submitted with the FY 2014-2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Audit. CDE provides a form for districts to complete. It is meant to provide assurances that the district complied with state law and generally accepted accounting principles. Audited financial statements provide part of the assurances that the district has complied, as well as other information provided by the district.

The report was made available as part of the board agenda. Financial documents, including the Comprehensive Financial Report and Audit, were included. This report must be provided, statutorily, by 31 December to CDE, necessitating a vote during this meeting. I voted yes because in reviewing the documents, I am satisfied that the bar has been met for compliance with the law. The motion passed on a 7-0 vote.  

4. Mill levy override setting

Statutorily, the board needed to vote to certify the mill levy by 5pm on 12/15. This deadline was the reason that the board met an hour earlier than usual.

The mill levy override is authorized by voters, and stems from four separate authorizations, totaling $33,713,000. The MLO is calculated as follows:

(Amount required / Assessed valuation) x 1000

Voter Approved Overrides: $33,713,000
Assessed Valuation: $5,620,055,765
Mill Rate: 5.999

($33,713,000 / $5,620,055,765) x 1000 = 5.999

Since the total net assessed value in the District grew from $4.8B to $5.6B, a nearly 17% increase over one year ago, the recommended total mill levy rate dropped.

I voted yes to set the mill levy at the recommended level. The district provided a thorough explanation of the mill setting process and how it is related to valuations, past voter authorizations, and how it includes other factors such as abatements and bond redemption funding to satisfy our bonding obligations. The mill levy is set for the current fiscal year; the motion passed 7-0.

5. STEM Expansion to grades K-4 (beginning 56:00 on the livestream recording)

The purpose of this agenda item was to respond to a request by the Douglas County Planning Commission (PC) to hold a hearing on issues related to the STEM expansion. This request was made November 24. State statute dictates that not only is this hearing at the sole discretion of the BOE, but also if such a hearing is to take place, it must be within 30 days of the county’s request. This would make December 23 the last day for the hearing, otherwise STEM’s request would be deemed approved.

Due to the format of the board meeting, the original planned presentations by STEM, the planning commission staff, and the district were not able to continue as planned. I requested that Rob Ross, the district legal counsel, draft a resolution stating that STEM would be conditionally approved based on eight conditions that addressed the concerns laid out in the PC’s documentation. One of those conditions would be that a hearing would take place so that all concerns could be heard. Mr. Ross worked with Mr. Barry Arrington, the STEM legal counsel, on this resolution.

Some facts:
  • The STEM expansion had been under discussion for well over a year. STEM expanded their offerings to fifth grade for 2015-16. This program has been extremely popular, and STEM had made known that their plan was always to expand downward to K-4. The district had numerous positive and productive conversations with STEM board members and administrators about this plan. This effort was by no means rushed or hurried.
  • December 23 is the deadline for the hearing to take place. Unless a vote was taken by the BOE specifically to disapprove the STEM expansion, if there is no hearing, then STEM’s request to the PC would be deemed approved. Postponing the resolution until January 5, or any other date past December 23, would not have had any effect on the PC’s request to the district.
  • Contained in the resolution is a requirement for a hearing. This hearing will take place and the PC staff, STEM, and the BOE will all participate and will be able to voice their concerns and questions to the public. This hearing is unscheduled but must occur no later than March 1.
  • Postponing the resolution would have created an issue with the students that are seeking to enroll in STEM because the district’s open enrollment deadline is 5 January.
  • If the district were to force STEM to wait until the open enrollment deadline, then STEM would be accepting enrollments without knowing if their expansion were even approved. If it were not approved, then all of those students would have to be sent back to their neighborhood schools. There would be no opportunity for parents to make any other choice because January 5 is the deadline.
  • This resolution was not about open enrollment. It was about giving the PC, STEM, and the BOE the chance to have a hearing at a later time. The timing of any hearing held after December 23 is irrelevant in regards to automatic approval. The only thing we can do is what we were doing: set conditions that must be met for approval.
  • Public comment was solicited before a vote was taken. No one was in the room to make any public comment. This opportunity will be made available again when the hearing does take place.
  • The planning commission’s December 15 letter to the BOE acknowledged that the board might decide to go forward with approving the STEM charter amendment. They requested that, if we did, then we at least 1) require STEM to abide by the PC’s conditions of approval set forth in the PC staff report and 2) extract commitments from STEM to meet with its neighbors that attended the PC meeting and expressed concerns. As I note below, this was done via an amendment and the approval of the resolution itself, which contained all of the conditions of approval.
There were a few motions made on this resolution.

A letter sent from PC staff on December 15 made the additional request to ask STEM to meet with the two nearby businesses that attended the PC meeting to express concerns about the expansion. A motion was made to add a condition to require STEM to meet with these neighbors. I voted yes to alleviate any PC concerns around this. It carried 7-0.

A motion was made to postpone the resolution’s vote until a future time; January 5 was suggested but not made part of the motion. I voted no; as stated previously, January 5 was an arbitrary date that occurred after the PC’s statutory deadline of 23 December and would have occurred on the open enrollment deadline. The motion failed 3-4.

A motion was made to call the question (i.e. force an immediate vote on the motion on the table, which was the entire amended resolution). I voted yes, as I ensured that in the resolution, all PC concerns were included as conditions for approval, and I knew that we would not meet again as a BOE before the PC deadline of December 23. The motion carried and the resolution was passed, 4-3.

What happens if STEM doesn’t meet the conditions in the resolution? If they don’t, then the approval is not finalized and the expansion will not take place. Again, postponing or failing to approve the resolution does not affect the PC’s request to have a hearing if no action is taken by December 23. Failing to approve the expansion, however, will affect hundreds of children who are entering the lottery and open enrollment for STEM’s proposed K-4 grades. I do not believe that it is appropriate to inject this kind of uncertainty needlessly into the process for STEM children, whereby they are forced to wait until literally the eleventh hour to know whether the grades into which they want to enroll their children even exist.


Thoughts upon being elected to serve as Board President

It is my great privilege to have been elected on Tuesday evening to serve as the president of the Douglas County school board.

I want to thank my predecessor, Kevin Larsen, who served on the Douglas County school board for four years and as its president for two. He truly cares about the DCSD community and poured his time, effort, and heart into being a school board director. I know he will continue to do a lot of good work for students as a private citizen.

The Douglas County School District has a new board of education, and with it comes new opportunities. The district has opportunities, both to build on past successes and to seek continuous improvement. The board has opportunities, to come together with the sole purpose of providing a quality education for our kids. I am not interested in looking backward. We will move forward to serve our community.

We represent the people of Douglas County—all of them. We are agents; they have provided us with this district and entrusted us to manage it. We will do the work that it takes to empower parents to ensure that they can drive their children’s education. Our community wants a district that works for them.

By incorporating feedback from parents, students, citizens, and staff, our model of education is one of constant improvement. We will show the people of our district that we have one goal: cultivating a system that will help kids succeed. This will be our clear standard. I want us to educate students, not advocate for adult interests. We will put kids first—where they belong.

We won’t always agree. But as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan has said, “We have nothing to fear from honest differences honestly stated.” We will use our differences to contribute to a robust discussion and to share ideas. We can do this and come to a better understanding of one another, with the public as witness.

The citizens of Douglas County have chosen every one of us on the board to act on their behalf. They have placed great trust in all of us. I thank my colleagues for doing me the honor of allowing me to preside over this board. I look forward to working with them and the citizens of Douglas County to advance excellence in education for all of our students.


Special Meeting Rescheduled Due to Conflict

The Board of Education, although elected, is a volunteer group that donates its time to the people of Douglas County. No member is paid any salary, and each of us brings a unique background to the position of school board director. We benefit from this diversity.
The District worked with the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder’s office to set a date for the new board members’ swearing-in ceremony within the statutory deadline. This date was set on November 30th, within the correct timeline according to statute [C.R.S. §1-1-106(5)]. Although it is customary for this ceremony to occur in the context of a business meeting, a swearing-in may legally occur at any time after the certification date. So, the new DCSD board directors arranged their private swearing-in ceremony on November 23rd.
The November 30th ceremony was scheduled to meet statutory deadlines for swearing in new board directors, which was officially done on November 23 after the election was certified. Another item of business is the election of new officers. Within 15 days of the election being certified, C.R.S. §22-32-104 states that a special meeting must be called for the purpose of electing new officers. The last day to accomplish this without violating state law would be December 3.
Because the November 30 meeting date is outside our normal meting schedule, one of our members, Dr. Jim Geddes, has a conflict involving a scheduled surgery. Dr. Geddes is a surgeon and builds his surgery schedule around BOE regular meetings, planning months ahead to accommodate both his medical practice and his board duties.
For something as important as board leadership elections, every member should have the opportunity to have a vote. The timing of professional obligations such as those detaining Director Geddes might be unfortunate. However, this is a special meeting by definition, and statutorily, the board secretary calls the meeting on any date in the range.
The meeting date has changed to December 1 for this accommodation. Although a meeting date change would ordinarily not occur if a member had to miss a regular meeting, special meetings often come with unusual circumstances.
We look forward to seating new officers and moving forward with the business of the school district. It’s a privilege to serve the citizens of Douglas County as we work to provide the best education for our kids.
3 November: Election Day 19 November: Election results certified by the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder’s office 30 November: Statutory deadline for new board members to be sworn in 30 November: Special board meeting scheduled for swearing-in and board officer elections 1 December: New date for special board meeting after schedule conflict 3 December: Statutory deadline for special board meeting, 15 days after certification of election results


DCSD releases employee survey: FAQ

I am delighted to report that today, DCSD has launched a survey of all of its employees to solicit feedback on the four pillars of our strategic plan: safety, choice, world-class education, and system performance. This survey will help us provide a baseline of current opinion so that we can understand how to improve in ways ranging from effective communication to assisting teachers and building leaders in providing the best education for kids. 

This will be the first part of our effort to gather opinions from parents, students, teachers, and citizens across the district. Having worked on this effort for nearly eighteen months, I am pleased to see it come to fruition, and look forward to using the results to drive continuous improvement in our district.

Here are some questions that I have seen today upon the survey's release. I hope that this will help begin to answer them, and that the district community has productive conversations going forward.

What is the background on surveying employees?

In the past, DCSD has surveyed teachers and community members without substantial fidelity. Best practices for surveys weren't followed, such as using a rigorous protocol to ensure that the right respondents were taking them, nor were representative samples of the community guaranteed. DCSD had the disastrous experience of failing to ask demographic questions in its most recent survey. Although valuable information came out of that survey that was used in a number of ways, the district could not guarantee that its results represented the community accurately.

In the summer of 2014, DCSD released an RFP for a community survey. Several firms responded, with a variety of approaches to the District's request. I was fortunate to be part of the staff review process that looked over the packages and made recommendations about which to employ. However, ultimately, disagreement about the recommendations, as well as substantial cost, caused the majority of the board to choose not to take action with a survey for this past fall, a year ago. (Note: no formal board action was taken.)

Although I was disappointed (you might guess that I was in the minority on this issue), I continued to work with staff and the superintendent to determine a path forward on gathering feedback. 

What is this survey about?

This particular survey is for staff, by staff. It is meant to gauge the current understanding of the district's strategic plan. The questions fall into the four strategic plan buckets: safety, choice, world-class education, and system performance. There are additional questions about how employees feel about DCSD as a place to work, and around communications.

Who created and is administering the survey?

The district solicited staff across several departments for survey questions. 

Data integrity is an extremely important part of survey best practice. The questions are hosted on a third-party survey platform that ensures that there are unique respondents. The survey is anonymous--no demographic or employee data is solicited. Standard practices have been employed to allow employees to remain anonymous while allowing data to be aggregated into building-level indicators. No one outside the district should be able to take the survey, and no one will be able to take the survey more than once. 

When will the survey be completed?

Employees have until November 20 to access and finish the survey. 

How will the results be used?

Understanding knowledge gaps is the first step to making positive changes in the areas measured by the survey. The results will be used to form an initial picture of the state of employee implementation of the strategic plan. I am most interested in driving improvements as we continue to gather feedback and learn how we can support staff members.

So is this the whole result of the survey process? Is this the only survey that will be given?

No, it is just the beginning. After discussing survey approaches with staff, several paths forward emerged. Begin by measuring staff understanding of the current strategic plan. Understand the baseline viewpoints. Try again to work together as a board on a broader survey, perhaps for parents, students, and/or community members. Come back to staff with additional questions near the end of the year as we figure out what questions staff members have, and where additional improvements are needed.

We should never be satisfied with where we are at any given point. We must develop a more robust communications process and a better feedback loop to improve our assessment of how we are doing. Today's survey is a small part of that.