Douglas County’s voucher system simply a tax rebate for wealthy
We in the Save Our Students group were concerned to learn that three of the school board candidates received an unprecedented $15,000 from Ed McVaney, a Front Range billionaire who in his retirement years has taken to building expensive private religious schools.
McVaney’s donations make up 83 percent of their campaign cash. Our concern turned to alarm, however, when we learned that McVaney has supported an entire slate of school board candidates at least once before — in 2011 he successfully funded a takeover of the Douglas County School Board by a slate of political extremists.
Those extremists, once elected, created a controversial voucher program that stripped tax dollars from the public school system and sent them to private schools. Here’s where it’s important to follow the money: The largest single recipient of that taxpayer money was McVaney’s private religious school. It looks as if he bought the board and its members created a system that funneled taxpayer money back to his school.
Vouchers and “choice” sound great in the abstract, but in the future that McVaney is trying to buy they are only available to the wealthy. For example, tuition at McVaney’s school this year is $15,400, plus classroom fees of up to $250 for each class taken.
By contrast, the vouchers from Douglas County amounted to less than $5,000, meaning that only the wealthy could afford to take advantage of the vouchers, because they still had to pay the remaining tuition of $10,000-$12,000 per child.
In the end, the voucher system that was touted as bringing choice to public schools amounted to nothing more than a tax rebate for the wealthy, allowing them to pull their tax money out of the public school system to help send their kids to an expensive private school that ordinary people still couldn’t afford.
But it gets worse. The voucher program took the most advantaged kids from the public schools — the least costly kids to educate – as well as the full per-pupil funding for each of those students. The public schools were left with the more expensive students to educate and with reduced funding with which to do it.
Public education has been the foundation of our merit-driven culture in the U.S for years. Unlike in some other countries, in the U.S. it hasn’t mattered whether your parents were rich, famous or powerful – as a child in America you could get a quality education and your success and failure as an adult depended largely on your willingness to work hard. The approach being pushed by McVaney and possibly supported by the candidates he has bankrolled will turn that American system on its head by giving the children of the wealthy all the advantages and leaving the rest of our society’s children to make due with the scraps.
Fortunately though, Douglas County’s problems have not come to District 51 … yet. The candidates who will be getting our votes — Greg Mikolai, John Williams and Tom Parrish – have raised 89 percent of their campaign donations locally and aren’t beholden to McVaney’s agenda. They are committed to fighting for our public schools and for our kids.
For the sake of all our children, we at Save our Schools hope that you will take the time to get informed and that you will exercise your right to vote in this election.
MVEA efforts are similar to those of other professional organizations
It is too bad that the only thing Rick Wagner and Josh Penry can do to advance their cause is wave the specter of the heavy-handed union thugs flush with money. I doubt this would match the image of your child’s favorite teacher who is most likely a member of the education association.
Indeed, they never question the motives of out-of-town billionaires donating large sums in a local “nonpartisan” race.
Perhaps an honest perspective would be more helpful. The educators of Mesa County join the association for many different reasons: bargaining representation, legal protection, professional development and/or access to discounted professional education materials. The vast majority of members give a minimum optional contribution for political activity. It is a drop in the bucket compared to spending of millionaires and their corporations.
The efforts of the education association are very much like that of other professional organizations representing doctors, lawyers, realtors and others. Our organizations are formed to represent our professional interests by lobbying, providing information and advocating for our members.
Those of us in the education association have spent years working for high quality, pre-service education, fair and thorough evaluation, continued professional development and high standards for professional educators.
Speaking up for our professional career is the right thing to do. We join our organization because we have education and experience to add to the decision-making about our schools.
Our leaders are classroom teachers who can speak knowledgably for us while we are busy in our classrooms. We care deeply about the difference we can make for our children and our community.
‘Yes’ on Amendment 66By The Daily Sentinel
Friday, October 18, 2013
There are a multitude of reasons to support Amendment 66, the public-school funding measure on this year’s election ballot. Perhaps most important for voters to understand is that the amendment, which will raise Colorado income taxes, does not push funding for public schools in this state to some extravagant new realm. It will only return funding for K-12 public education to the level it was at in Colorado prior to the recession. And it establishes multiple reforms in doing so.
A net gain for School District 51
Most people locally know that for decades, School District 51 has been at or near the bottom of Colorado school districts in per-pupil funding. Amendment 66 will change that by adding $830 in annual per-pupil funding for the district, plus additional money for low-income and special-needs students.
But there are additional financial benefits for the local school district and its taxpayers. Under the current Colorado school-finance formula, taxpayers here actually send more money to the state than the district receives in reimbursement for schools. Based on several different budget analyses, with the change in school-funding formula under Amendment 66, District 51 would see a net inflow of state education money of $1.5 million to $4.5 million a year.
Tax hit small for most Mesa County residents
A big reason that Mesa County will receive more than it pays is that, despite the claims of Amendment 66 opponents, the amount of additional money most Mesa County residents would pay as a result of Amendment 66 is relatively small, about $10 a month.
The amendment would boost state income taxes from the current rate of 4.63 percent to two new levels — 5 percent on the first $75,000 of taxable income and 5.9 percent on any taxable income over $75,000. So, if you’re a well-to-do family with taxable income of more than $100,000 a year, you will see a robust increase in your income taxes.
But most Mesa County residents don’t make that much money. The median household income in this county is $52,986 a year. Based on that income level, the average amount Mesa County households will pay is $122 per year — about $10 per month.
Statewide changes to reform education
Amendment 66 establishes a new funding requirement for public education by mandating that 43 percent of state income tax, sales tax and excise tax revenue be set aside annually to pay for public education. Although we’re not fans of budget measures being enshrined in the state Constitution, thereby limiting the ability of the Legislature to act as necessity dictates, in this case there is a sensible reason for doing so.
While it sets a base percentage that is to be spent on public education each year, Amendment 66 also repeals the requirements of Amendment 23. That constitutional amendment requires that per-pupil funding for education increase every year by at least the rate of inflation, and it contained no accountability requirements for how the additional money is spent.
In contrast, Amendment 66 requires the state to prepare a return-on-investment study and a cost study to help identify problems that affect student and school district performance. Additionally, the state is mandated to make detailed spending data available to the public regarding each school district and individual school. That’s information that is not readily available now.
The ballot measure, working in tandem with Senate Bill 213 that was passed by the Legislature this year, will also make a number of other needed changes in school operations.
For example, it provides increased funding for kindergarten and preschool programs. It also allocates money to help school districts implement earlier reforms, such as the 2010 measure that eliminates teacher tenure but requires evaluations of all teachers and principals. Finally, it changes the way a school district’s population is calculated. Instead of basing population on the number of students who show up a few days each October, per-pupil funding will be based on a district’s average daily enrollment throughout the year.
All of these are sensible reforms that, combined with restoring school funding to pre-2009 levels, will help improve schools statewide, and especially in District 51.
Vote “Yes” on Amendment 66.
Mikolai, Parrish, Williams are best school board choices
As a registered voting Repbulican, I am appalled at the antics of the few far-right-wing fanatics who purport to be the spokesmen for the Republican Party during this School Board election.
I would like to think that most Republicans in Mesa County are like me and don’t vote because we are dictated to by a few people with a significant political agenda and a goal to carry that agenda on the backs of children, but are thoughtful in our research on issues and candidates.
I have either personally interviewed each candidate for the upcoming school board election or have sat and listened to the candidates in public forums.
As such, I have come to the logical conclusion that the only three highly qualified candidates for District 51 School Board are Greg Mikolai, Tom Parrish and John Williams. Their comments and answers to questions asked in interviews or at forums have not changed depending on the audience.
Mikolai’s qualifications as an educator at Colorado Mesa University far outweigh those of John Sluder, and Mikolai’s experience as board president in leading the district through $30 million in cuts that could have much more deeply affected our classrooms and students but didn’t because of his leadership, make him far more qualified to serve as a member of our board.
Mikolai is committed to educating all students, including those with special needs. He has the practical knowledge a member of the board needs to lead us through what may be more slim years financially. Far and away, Mikolai is the most qualified candidate from District E. He has no political agenda.
He is in it for what is best for students, not for a political party wanting to march its way into taking over our state Legislature, as stated in a recent email sent by the extremists.
The addition of Mikolai, Parrish, and Williams to our school board is the only way to take our district to the next level of learning and growth for students. Please join me in voting for the three best candidates for the school board. Our children deserve nothing less.
District 51 board election should be about our children, not sideshows
By Jim Spehar
Monday, October 14, 2013
It would be tempting, as ballots are being mailed today, to focus on the various sideshows we’ve seen in the course of the campaign which finds seven people seeking three seats on the District 51 Board of Education.
There’s the dust-up over the Mesa County Republican Women injecting GOP partisanship into what, by state law, is supposed to be a nonpartisan election via their endorsement of three candidates. But, in fairness, there’s plenty of blame to go around in this and previous elections, when the Mesa County Democratic Party contributed to school board candidates.
And, there’s the fear-mongering, the injection of Douglas County politics into our local election. There are more important things to worry about than trading selective examples of what “reform” by the current Douglas County school board has brought, good or bad, to that district south of Denver.
For instance, our kids, the education they’re now getting and will receive in the future, and the impact that will have on our own community.
Over the past 65 years, I count at least 27 members of our extended family who’ve been educated in District 51 schools. There’s a good chance at least two more fourth-generation students will follow. Five in our family have worked in its schools. Another is a past member of the school board.
My own entry into local politics came via helping parents and teachers battle the District 51 board and superintendent over treatment of one of Bonnie’s principals at Wingate Elementary, Bud Roberts. I later worked collaboratively with the district as a county commissioner and City Council member. As a businessman, I worked on bond and mill levy campaigns. I’ve served on an accountability committee and done all those other things involved parents do to support their kids.
I’ve attended four forums for school board candidates this year, as well as the screening of the advocacy film about Douglas County. I’ve had individual conversations with several of the candidates and with past and current board members.
From that perspective, here are some thoughts about the current school board election.
First, we ought to be grateful for all the interest on the part of candidates and the community. The events I’ve been at have been well-attended, some standing room only. Rather than a dearth of candidates and uncontested seats, seven people stepped up to campaign.
We’ve heard a lot about what’s supposed to be wrong with District 51 and too little about what’s right. And a lot about going back to the “basics” and being “old school” as well as about preparing students with “21st century skills.”
I’m approaching this election the same way I viewed my own learning and the education of my children — by focusing on what survives a graduation ceremony and serves well throughout life.
That’s not old-fashioned rote learning, the accumulation and recitation of facts and tables. What serves best over time is learning how to learn, how to recognize what you need to know at any given point in time and how to get that information.
That’s where the rubber hits the road, whether you’re college-bound or headed into the workforce immediately after high school. That’s what’s important whether you’re headed for a lifelong career in a single job or, most likely, you tackle a variety of jobs over the years.
That’s why I’ll be voting for John Williams, Tom Parrish and Greg Mikolai. They get that.
Williams from the perspective of a parent and active business leader who’s left deep footprints in District 51 long before his recent appointment to the board.
Parrish as a teacher, principal and administrator at the district level and the kind of leader who’s given credit for nurturing the effort by John McConnell that’s resulted in the nationally-renowned Math and Science Center.
Mikolai, who’s helped guide the district though more than $30 million in budget cuts, because that perspective will be valuable as finances stabilize and new spending is prioritized. And, perhaps most important, because he has a vested interest in getting things right with two sons in District 51 schools.
You’ll get your ballot in the mail later this week. Vote!
Jim Spehar graduated at the top of the second half of his 1964 class at Grand Junction High School. Your thoughts are welcome at email@example.com.
Put character over affiliation to elect school board members
In Mesa County next month the election of three school board members will occur. Affected by this will be about 20,000 people in Mesa County: children. Regardless of where you live, all Mesa County residents will vote for three candidates.
What’s the real issue? Do we want a balanced school board whose members know how to work together and listen to the community, or do we want to turn the board’s members over to politics: Democrats versus Republicans?
I believe the first choice is the one. It should not be about the Mesa County Republican Women’s endorsements or Rick Wagner’s article in Thursday’s Daily Sentinel with only minimal pieces of accurate information. Let’s not let our school district turn into a Washington, D.C., of dysfunction and division.
Please seriously consider John Williams, Greg Mikolai and Tom Parrish, who are endorsed by Save our Schools. Williams not only chairs “Explore 51,” a committee that meets regularly with community members, but also regularly reads with kids. He’s donating his time with a paycheck of zero dollars.
As school board president, Mikolai has experience that is extremely valuable as School District 51 faces many issues critical to education.
Parrish has worked as a teacher, principal and supervisor of all elementary schools. Fifteen years ago, he was the principal at Wingate Elementary. Our seven-year-old daughter was struggling with separation anxiety. Parrish spent time with my wife and me as we discussed next steps to help her. He ended up holding onto our little girl in tears as we left her at school early every morning for the next couple of weeks. Her struggle was resolved.
Please don’t vote by your party, but rather by the candidate’s character. This election will be pivotal.
DOUGLAS C. PETERSEN
Strong Schools group tries to keep politics out of race for board
By Emily Shockley
Sunday, October 13, 2013
An assemblage of local business professionals and educators have become the latest group to endorse candidates in the District 51 School Board race.
Strong Schools, Strong Communities sponsored the candidate’s first forum Sept. 23 with Colorado Mesa University students. After the forum, the nine-member board chose to endorse John Williams in District C, Tom Parrish in District D, and current school board president Greg Mikolai in District E.
The candidates are the opposite of the ones endorsed last month by Mesa County Republican Women: Pat Kanda in District C, Mike Lowenstein in District D, and John Sluder in District E. But the selections made by Strong Schools, Strong Communities were not picked as a partisan response, according to the group.
In fact, the group formed in August for the specific purpose of attempting to keep politics out of the non-partisan school board election.
Strong Schools member Chip Barbieri, Chief Executive Officer of DT Swiss, said members of the group got together after noticing the school board election “was starting to get very political.”
The only time the group, which includes former Fruita and Grand Junction mayors Ken Henry and Teresa Coons, respectively, and former school board candidate Rick Langley, discussed political affiliation was to make sure they had an even split of Republicans, Democrats and independents. It turned out they had three of each.
“The nice thing is, with all those differences we don’t gripe like we see in a lot of things, we don’t let our biases get in the way,” Barbieri said.
Coons said the group wanted to select candidates based on non-partisan qualities, including experience in education, willingness to collaborate with other board members, and knowledge of current issues in public schools.
Member Sarah Shrader, chief financial officer for Bonsai Design, said the group liked that Mikolai had experience on the board, Parrish has experience as a former District 51 teacher and administrator, and Williams was recently appointed to the school board and is involved with the Explore D51 class and the District 51 Foundation.
Group member Gayla Slauson, a Colorado Mesa University professor, said she worries some people will vote for a candidate based on political views. Slauson, a Republican, said she wants voters to look at a candidates’ educational qualifications rather than what party a candidate belongs to.
Langley said the group, which may continue after the election, hopes to serve as an example for the board of how people from various political backgrounds can get along.
“You can function without politics involved,” he said. “We want to re-emphasize leaving that political card at the door.”
Parrish’s years of service will make him an asset to board
Tom Parrish deserves people’s vote for school board. We had the privilege of working with Parrish for many years while he was principal of Wingate Elementary School, and later, an area director. We have observed first-hand his commitment to student excellence and his dedication to students, educators, families and the community.
Here are just a few of the reasons Parrish will be a strong asset on the board: He has a strong and compelling vision for students and their academic achievement. He served District 51 for dozens of years and has a valuable and in-depth understanding of local, state and federal requirements and policies. He is skilled at bringing people with disparate views together to solve knotty issues and dilemmas, something he learned from his years as a school leader.
Parrish is invested in the success of District 51, as evidenced by his children attending school here and now his grandchildren. He will bring a depth of wisdom and knowledge to the demanding position of school board member.
We are very excited that Parrish has chosen to run for this important position and support him whole-heartedly. We hope you will, too.
Money a topic at schools forumCandidates also debate standardized tests, curriculum reformsBy Emily Shockley
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
District 51 School Board candidates debated the relevancy of state standardized tests, whether money can help a school, and if older changes are having an impact in local schools or need to be replaced with new reforms Tuesday morning at a candidate forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at its office.
District E candidate John Sluder touted the success of a $2.5 million federal grant that helped Western Colorado Community College, where he teaches, introduce six new certificate programs.
His opponent, incumbent Greg Mikolai, was confused after Sluder commented later in the forum that well-funded Washington, D.C., schools are failing while lower-funded Utah schools are performing well.
“I do not currently see a direct correlation between higher money and higher scores,” Sluder said.
Mikolai responded that well-funded schools in Massachusetts produce high student test scores while Wyoming, also well-funded, does the same.
“John alludes to money not solving the problem, but he already talked about a federal grant at WCCC. He wouldn’t tell you that’s not an effective use of dollars,” Mikolai said.
Sluder responded that the grant was helpful because it included one-time funding. The four-year grant ends in 2016.
District D candidate Tom Parrish said money is effective in schools if it is used in an area that can be measured for success.
Parrish and other candidates agreed the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program may not be the best way to test student or teacher success due to lack of student accountability for scores and the time it takes to get results back.
While the new teacher evaluations rolled out this year through Senate Bill 191 are not linked to teacher pay, some school board candidates suggested they should be.
Sluder and District C candidate Mike Lowenstein said the district should run more like a business and that merit-based pay should be a priority.
“In a business when the workers are good but the product is not that good you look at the management,” Lowenstein said, labeling teachers as workers and management as the school board.
Lowenstein said he wants to visit other districts to see what they are doing and implement elements of those reforms here. Mikolai said District 51 has laid a foundation for student success and gradual gains are being made despite budget cuts. If he had extra money, though, he said he would spend it on extra school days or interventions. Sluder said he would spend any extra dollars to “pull administrative burdens off our teachers.”
District C candidate Pat Kanda said he would spend more on curriculum and teacher compensation. Parrish and District C’s John Williams would spend money on teaching coaches.
The chamber plans to endorse three of the candidates Thursday based on member interviews.
My mom, who graduated from high school in 1948, asked me a couple of years ago how I make it as a high school teacher in “this day and age.” She ranted about how the kids are so into drinking and sex that they must be impossible to teach.
I thought about this for a bit before asking, “Didn’t kids drink when you were in high school?”
“Oh my, yes!” she said, and then went into a series of anecdotes about kids loading the back of their cars with beer or harder liquor on the weekends, or bottles snuck into school dances. She laughed when she told a couple of the stories of wrecked cars (this was before seatbelts!) and hangovers.
When she finished, I asked, “What about sex? Weren’t there kids ‘getting busy’ in the 40s?”
“Oh my, yes!” and she was off on an entirely different set of stories about lying to cover up where her friends were, and pregnancy scares, and girls who “went away” for a few months to “visit their aunt.”
Her stories feed into my belief that very little has changed with our kids. I bring this up because I often hear older folks complain that the kids when they were in school were different. They were more respectful. They studied harder. They were in every way “better.”
I just don’t believe it. I started high school in 1969, graduating in ’72. I don’t remember a better set of kids in my classes than I face now. We had kids who were disrespectful. We had kids who didn’t study (I think I was one of them). In fact, we had way fewer kids who headed off to post-high school studies. We had more dropouts.
So, I don’t see much change there.
I also hear numerous stories about how the working conditions for teachers have deteriorated. Certainly the conditions aren’t exactly the same, but I don’t think the working conditions were ever “ideal,” whatever that would mean for teachers. We’ve always been asked to do too much with too little.
I bring this all up to talk about what I think is better. My contention is that kids and teaching haven’t changed much, but there are some obvious improvements from my point of view:
First: E-mail. I love that I can communicate with parents and they can communicate with me on our own schedule. I don’t have to phone during their dinner, and they don’t call me just as I’m getting ready to go out with my family. They can communicate their concerns or questions, and I can reply at my own pace. Plus, I can attach handouts and assignments.
Second: Sharepoint Sites. Kids can find out what we did in class, get the handouts, view video, join online chats, etc., all on their own. I like that this is a 24/7 resource for kids. They don’t have to wait for class or for an audience with the teacher to get what they
Third: Class at a Glance. What a powerful tool teachers have at their disposal with Class at a Glance! It doesn’t tell me everything I need to know about a kid, but when I combine it with test results and info about their other classes from Parent Bridge, it tells me a lot.
And Fourth: Parent Bridge. Parents don’t have to wait until the report cards come out or for parent/teacher conferences to find out what their students are up to. With a handful of key strokes, they can tell how their kiddo is doing in class, what they did on the last test, if they’re missing any work, etc. The kids can check also. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a fruitful discussion with a student because she had a question about grades from Parent Bridge.
I’m not a big fan of standards based learning or core curriculum. They’re certainly not revolutionary. They won’t magically remake the schools’ mission or method of delivering instruction. They’re new names for old concepts.
But I am a big fan of tools that teachers can use to do a better job. I think the four changes I’ve listed here do just that.
~Jim Van Pelt