Opportunities, Challenges and Priorities
Douglas County School District faces several critical issues in the next few years including attracting and retaining high quality teachers, addressing limited state funding while improving fiscal accountability and transparency, and improving declining academic achievement. As a member of the Douglas County School Board, my plan is to work collaboratively with district leaders, teachers and staff, parents and students, and members of our community to find effective solutions that will once again make Douglas County a destination district.
-Attracting and Retaining High Quality Teachers-
The majority of teachers and principals have stated that the district’s custom evaluation system is failing to attract and retain teachers. As a board member, I will work with them to find a better evaluation system that accurately measures effectiveness while encouraging teachers to work collaboratively with one another and focus more time on their students. Teacher pay in Douglas County has not kept pace with neighboring districts, making it more difficult to attract new teachers and retain high performing teachers. I will work with the community to come up with consent for the mill levy override question to be placed on the ballot for the purpose of increasing teacher compensation. Parents and community members have overwhelmingly said they will support such a measure and it’s vital that school board members work collaboratively with our community to ensure the measure passes so we can be a destination district for teaching.
With less than 1/3 of additional funding from the state being spent on school budgets, we have to prioritize spending on students. I will work to redirect funding from central administration to our schools. I will also stop the practice of allowing central administration to fund multi-million dollar projects without a budget and to be accountable on an annual basis for the associated expenditures. Finally, it is past time that the school board develops a plan to address the district’s capital needs of over $300 million. This will be one of my first priorities as a school board director.
-Improve Academic Achievement and Create a Destination District for our Teachers and Students-
It’s time to have some tough conversations around improving academic achievement in our district. In recent years, Douglas County School District has lost their Accredited with Distinction ranking, and for the first time has 15 schools on improvement or turnaround plans (as of 2016 and does not include online or alternative schools). At the same time, the district cut resources to some of these struggling schools. I will ensure principals and teachers receive the resources they need to provide our students with challenging curriculum and more choices.
The implementation of the Board of Education’s Strategic Plan has resulted in a working environment where staff members don’t feel supported and are distrustful of our district leaders. The community is starting to voice concerns over increasing turnover rates. My plan is to create a teacher and principal advisory group that reports directly to the Board of Education, helping us to direct the superintendent on improving academic achievement and district morale.
-DCSD Financial Needs-
DCSD’s 2016-17 projected revenue is over $650 million. In the 2016-17 Adopted Budget Book, DCSD increased central administration budgets by $18.5 million MORE than they spent in 2014-15. This does not include the special education department and there is no explanation for this increase. I will work with other board members to redirect funding from central administration to our schools. I will also stop the practice of allowing central administration to fund multi-million dollar projects without a budget and to be accountable on an annual basis for the associated expenditures.
The board must have a 3% TABOR reserve that is required by the state as part of the Tabor amendment. However, this board also has a 3% additional reserve for the same amount as the TABOR reserve plus 1% more for contingency. These reserves can be used to offset cuts in the future.
Finally, it is past time that the school board develops a plan to address the district’s capital needs that exceed over $300 million. This will be one of my first priorities as a school board director.
-Attract and Retain Teachers in Times of Budget Challenges-
DCSD paid teachers $5,000 less than Cherry Creek and $2,500 less than Littleton 10 years ago. Today, DCSD pays teachers $17,000 less than CCSD and $13,000 less than LPS. Teacher shortages are being felt throughout the state and are projected to increase. The Denver Post reported in its April 13, 2017 article that “As many as 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill existing slots in Colorado classrooms while the number of graduates from teacher-preparation programs in the state has declined by 24.4 percent over the past five years.”
While increasing pay for DCSD teachers is a must, DCSD must also focus on the climate and culture within the district. DCSD needs to improve preparation and training for our teachers, and listen to our teachers. Many teachers are in this profession for much more than a paycheck. DCSD teachers seldom left eight years ago because DCSD offered a great working environment and administrators built trust with our teachers. We must restore the great culture and climate DCSD used to have.
-Public School Education Choice-
I have always supported public school choices. My kids spent 6 years in a Douglas County charter school and 20+ years in Douglas County neighborhood schools. I was personally involved in evaluating three Douglas County charter schools’ applications while serving on the Douglas County School District Accountability Committee and worked hand in hand with charter school representatives in our state accountability committees. I have visited several charter schools in the past two months to listen to their concerns. I support magnet schools, vocational training, homeschooling and online schools to list a few public school choices. Under my leadership, I will ensure that all public school options are available and known to our parents.
-Vouchers and Education Savings Accounts-
I do not support using public taxpayer money to fund private schools. Public school funding is a big problem and we cannot afford to divert precious resources to private schools that will lead to weakened public education. Furthermore, once public money is diverted to the private institution, our board has no control to protect the civil rights for students and DCSD cannot demand the level of accountability we put in for our public schools.
-Bond and Mill Levy-
DCSD has not passed a mill levy override or bond measure since 2006. DCSD parents, however, have increasingly paid much more in school fees. Our neighboring districts have successfully passed both mill levy overrides and bonds to increase revenue. Those increases enable them to pay teachers better, to use that money for capital construction and to add additional educational programs.
The school district’s recent third-party community survey indicates that voters will support a mill levy override ballot question. In March 2017, a DCSD joint subcommittee recommended placing an initiative on the ballot to address funding challenges. Our community newspaper reported that “All seven school board members agree on the need to ask taxpayers for more money.” The time to act is now. As a board member, I will listen to the community to build consent on what ballot questions to ask voters. I will also ask the interim superintendent to give the board her recommendation on the amount of mill levy and bond funds she believes are needed. Based on facts from the interim superintendent and the community input, the board can then make the best decision on what to ask voters.
-Transparency and Accountability-
In the DCSD third-party survey results, teachers felt they were not respected by the school board. Incumbent board members have a documented hostility toward community and parent groups when those groups have different opinions. The arrest of award-winning documentary maker Brian Malone was a prime example. The most recent example is from the May 9, 2017 meeting. The incumbent board president cut off a mother of a child in special education during public comment simply for going a few seconds over the allowed time for public comment. The board president tried to have the mom escorted out of the meeting room! Many people in the community feel unwelcome and left out of decisions which will affect their children.
The board majority conducts its affairs based not on established common practice, but on the sole discretion of the majority. The harassment of then 15-year-old student Grace Davis, by Director Silverthorn and Director Reynolds, was a prime example. The appointment of the replacement Director in District E without a vote caused great dissatisfaction in the community. The board majority often refused to allow motions from the board minority and refused to consult the board minority in setting agendas. In effect, the board majority refused to work as a team to come up with a win-win solution for our kids.
The incumbent board majority has set rules to end board meetings at 9:30pm and to disallow public comments in a work session in order to limit public input. The board majority even walked out of a meeting to force it to end when things did not go their way.
The incumbent majority ignored the advice from 28 members of DCSD’s School Accountability Committees and staff recommendations to consider the mill levy and bond ballot questions in 2015 and 2016.
The ineffective Douglas County school board and infighting inside the district have in effect caused great harm to our school district’s reputation.
To achieve unity, our school board must include people with different opinions in the process. To do so, our school board must appoint people from all walks of life to serve on advisory committees. Our board should respect our staff’s recommendations and not make decisions based solely on political considerations.
Our board needs to follow the Robert’s Rules of Order as a guide for conducting meetings and making decisions as a group to avoid meetings devolved into chaos.
Our board needs to remove the automatic meeting end time of 9:30pm and to respect citizens attending meetings.
I will ask the board to have meetings in different school feeder areas so we can bring our meetings to the community.
I will lobby for staff and community surveys to be conducted every year to better understand what the community desires.
In short, I will restore trust and accountability to the school board by improving the culture and climate in our school district. I have a proven track record of success working well with others when serving on education committees on the state, district and school levels. With that experience, I can bridge the gaps and ensure all residents are listened to.
Responses to Chalkbeat Colorado’s candidate survey:
“We sent surveys to all the 2017 Douglas County school board candidates. Read their answers here.” Chalkbeat, October 10, 2017