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.